2009.04.30 07:17:17
Daniel Woloshen

My active time with Congregation Sons of Israel (aka the Big Shul) began in 1951 at the age of 3 and ended about 1969 when I graduated from college.


Both sets of grandparents (Simon and Esther Rosen on my Mother’s side and Israel and Fanny Woloshen on my Father’s side) attended services there as did my parents Morris and Leah Woloshen, my sister Debbie and most of my uncles, aunts and cousins.


Originally, my father’s father belonged to Anshe Sfard ( aka the Little Shul), but for reasons shrouded in the veil of time,  left there around 1920 to join the Big Shul, which was more Polish than Russian although he was Russian. There was a fight, I think.


My Uncle Mandel remained a member of the Little Shul until he died.  I vividly remember running back and forth between the shuls during the High Holidays. The cantor at the Little Shul was also the local butcher, and he had a beautiful voice.


All the cantors in those days sang with great feeling (tam) and you could hear the old world cry in their voices channeling the wanderings, the pogroms and the martyrdoms of the ages- and the women in the balconies would be spilling tears, especially during Kol Nidre.  While today’s cantors may be technically better, they don’t have the same feeling.


My father and I were both bar mitzvahed at the shul, he in 1928, me in 1961.  For most of the years I was growing up he chanted the Haftorah on Yom Kippur. He almost knew it by heart.  He had a nice tenor voice inherited from my grandfather- which was not, in any way, passed down to the next generation.


During Hebrew school years (from about 1956-1963) we were compelled to attend Saturday morning services, where Chaim Weisman would chant Shacharis with his distinctive, high pitched, nasal Polish (Pailishe) accent.  In 1961-2 there were many bar mitzvahs including those of my best friends Avrom Herbster, Alan Pierce and Jimmy Cherney- my cousins Eric Rosen, and Steven Green, my classmates and friends like Paul Ordman, Jerry Shore, Jay Levy, Bob West , Leo Remis, Stuart Lampert, Neil Richman, Jerry Goldberg, Mark Waldman, Chucky Schultz, Paul Polansky, Jay Shapiro, Mark Weisman, Steven Gaman, Dave Goldstein and others- all under the stern tutelage of Moshe and Hilda Shiffman.


After services I would, without fail, walk through the slightly forbidding, mainly gentile side streets, over to my Grandmother’s apartment on Main Street and, there was always cholent, pitscha, and chicken soup for lunch- sometimes brisket and mashed potatoes.  My Uncle Mandel was there sucking the marrow out of chicken bones from the soup.  He was a bit of a character.  A natty dresser, a lifelong bachelor, a tough guy factory foreman who enjoyed his scotch and women- but unfailingly made the trip from Dover, NH to Peabody on weekends to take care of Bubbie and Zadie.   He often took me swimming on sweltering summer afternoons to Devereaux beach in Marblehead and to the Turkish baths on Walnut Street in the winter.  Those baths are long gone.


For services, our family (the men and boys) always sat in the pews on the left hand side near the front, all the better to hear the sermons of Rabbi Dr. Noah Goldstein and the Yom Kippur pleas for money from Dave Kirstein.


There was a handful of bearded men who might have been transported from a Chagall painting, draped in tallesim, dovening with great intensity- and as with many of the old shuls, people chanted at their own pace, carried on conversations and in general created an environment of what appeared to be chaos and cacophony, but which somehow worked better than the more measured, if not slightly Episcopalian flavor of today’s suburban services. Even the shofar sounded a bit different than it does today- but that may only be nostalgia.


Those days represented the last vestiges of the shtetl, imbued then, in the 50s and 60s, with the spirit of living men and women born in Europe in the 1870s and 80s whose legacy lives today in the Big Shul.


Dan Woloshen

September 2008