Arts & Culture

Selichot in Krakow

As the days of awe draw near, we recite penitential prayers–selichot–to seek forgiveness for our transgressions. In religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem during the month of Elul, the streets and alleyways come alive with figures shuffling through the early morning darkness … Read More

By / September 8, 2008

As the days of awe draw near, we recite penitential prayers--selichot–to seek forgiveness for our transgressions. In religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem during the month of Elul, the streets and alleyways come alive with figures shuffling through the early morning darkness on their way to synagogue as they once did throughout Europe. This autobiographical story from acclaimed writer Michal Govrin recalls mournful melodies from a vanished Jewish world, and registers the loss of tradition and language with a rare degree of reverence, power, and elegance. At the same time, Govrin’s modern Hebrew tale nods to I..L. Peretz’s famed Yiddish story, Gilgl Fun a Nign. The melody that you hear, and the melody that haunts this tale, is sung by the author’s mother. — Adam Rovner, translations editor

The only one of my mother’s melodies to remain is the sing-song of the shamash from the Remuh Synagogue in Krakow, as he passed at night through the streets of the ancient ghetto, Kazimierz, knocking on the window shutters and waking the Jews for selichot, "Yidelekh, yidelekh, tayere koshere yidelekh, shteyen oyf, shteyen oyf lavoydes haboyre uleslikhes." Jews, Jews, dear, kosher Jews, please rise, please rise to worship the Creator and for selichot.

My mother, Rina Govrin (Poser-Laub), left her beloved native city on the eighteenth of October, 1944, on a train going from the Plaszow camp to Auschwitz. Her first husband had been murdered three years before, and her only son had been sent six months earlier with the Plaszow Kinderheim children to the furnaces. My mother never set foot in Krakow again. The memories of her beautiful city, the chestnut-lined boulevards, the river, the castle, the many synagogues, the Hebrew gymnasium, the opera, the tennis courts, the Zionist youth movement–all these filled our Tel Aviv home with the hum of bustling life.  As to what happened after, my mother kept her silence until her death, twenty years ago.