Sign in or register
for additional privileges

Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder): On Mustard Hill (Zalmen Pt. 10)

On Mustard Hill (Oyf di mostard-berg)

from Zalmen the Cobbler: Chapters about his 70 years of Life in America (Zalmen der shuster: kapitlen vegn zayne zibtsik yor lebn in Amerike) by Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder). Los Angeles: Chaver-Paver Book Committee, 1955: 234-238.
Translated by Caroline Luce, edited by Hershl Hartman.

If I were not to tell you about Mustard-Hill near Boyle Heights, I would be missing a piece of history. On Friday and Saturday nights people sang very beautiful Yiddish folksongs on Mustard Hill. A young woman had come from New York, who was called Lyuba, and she knew a world of Yiddish folksongs. Lyuba got married because of Mustard Hill. That is, she met a young man there, they pleased each other, and got married.
If one were to add up how many matches Mustard Hill produced among the Jewish young people in those years, quite a substantial number would be reached.
Mustard Hill, of course, is still to this day located near Boyle Heights, but today there is an entire city there with hilly streets and little streets called City Terrace.
Why did people call it “Mustard Hill”? Because it was completely covered with little plants that were closely related to the plants from which mustard sauce was made. When I arrived, only one house was being built there. Some rich Jew from Chicago, who had asthma, built the house because he believed that in the high dry climate he might not cough so much at night. But alas, he coughed anyway, there on the hill. The strollers there on Friday and Saturday nights said that they often used to hear him choking.
My Goldie, as soon as she arrived in California with the kids saw the hill, she somehow grew wild about it. She always wanted us to climb up the hill and when we climbed up the hill, she laughed constantly in her delicious resounding laugh. Every shabes night like:
“Come, Zalmen, let’s climb the hill.”
She knew what she wanted, because the hill made people feel young again, and people embraced one another and spoke beautiful words to each another as in the first years of marriage.
We often went to Mustard Hill with an entire company of young people, and there we sang, told each other stories and laughed. Making my Goldie laugh didn’t require some joke. She laughed when she saw pretty flowers, she laughed when she saw the sky filled with stars, she laughed when she saw pretty fruit trees. When she saw trees fully loaded with oranges for the first time, she couldn’t stop laughing:
“Look, Zalmen, real oranges, ha ha ha.”
Then a cousin came here from New York to us, Basya, or Bessie as she called herself here in America. A woman already a little into her elder years, but still entirely attractive. Why she had still not been married, Goldie determined, was that she was a quiet woman who did not care to stand out. Truly, she was a quiet woman with dreamy brown almond-eyes, thick black hair and an attractive neck. All her years, since coming to America, she worked as a finisher in the shops and, understandably, the shops had made her cheeks pale and wrinkled her face here and there.
In short, one shabes night we took her up Mustard Hill. A joyous group was there as usual and Goldie’s cousin also became joyful and laughed along. And really her laugh had a lot of feminine charm. I was certain that if in New York she had laughed as prettily as here on Mustard Hill, she wouldn’t have remained an old maid. I have already once said, it seems to me, that beautiful womanly laughter is exactly like the beautiful colors of the flowers that we are drawn to.
And now we come upon a fellow of thirty-five years, who was called Abrasha. He was a cloakmaker and had a bald spot on his head like a full moon, but possessed of a thick black mustache. He was a quiet fellow and not distinguished among the crowd of merry-makers and entertainers, except for one thing: he could recite marvelously beautifully a poem in Russian, that was called “Tikha Ukraynskaya Notsh,” that is, “A Quiet Ukrainian Night.” He recited it with so much heart and so much feeling, that people became quiet, still. People literally held their breath and in the course of it the California sky also sparkled with stars, and everyone was carried back to their home across the seas, and who knows how many remembered experiences it aroused in each one. He was always loudly applauded. But ask him to recite a second poem? No! Not because he didn’t want to, but because he simply didn’t know another. It was the only poem that he knew. People even gave him a nickname: “Abram Ukraynskaya Notsh.” And even though people laughed that he learned in his life only one-and-only thing, and even though he had already recited it for the crowd who knowns how many times, nevertheless somehow we never grew tired of hearing it over again. And, after singing our fill and having laughed together on Mustard Hill, when it became hauntingly quiet, almost always someone said, especially one of the young women:
“Let Abram recite 'Tikha Ukraynskaya Notsh' for us."
And Abram never declined the request, stood up, cleared his throat and began in a very yearning voice.
Later, when the Dramatic Club was established in Boyle Heights, they included him as a member, thinking that a person who could deliver such an impressive recitation could surely act in a play. But they had made a big mistake. He never could speak a single word on stage.
And here, among the joyful bunch, Basya, the pale New York shop-worker, sat and rejoiced and laughed with her beautiful feminine laughter, and it didn’t take long before this Abram “Tikha Ukraynskaya Notsh” sat near Basya. He had, it is understood, that night also recited that poem, and with such feeling, with such heart, as never before.
It turned out that Basya and Abram had already known each other for years and years. Not really as acquaintances. No, they had never even spoken a word to one another in New York. So how then? They both lived in the same tenement-house on Broom Street, she as a boarder on the second floor, and he as a boarder on the third floor. They knew each other, so to say, at a distance, but never once even greeted each other.
And as you no doubt already suspect, a match was struck between them and it didn’t take long either, something like six or eight weeks. And as long as they were match-making each other and people saw them on Mustard Hill; after their marriage things went well for them without Mustard Hill. 
Today he is already a grandpa and she is a grandma. They live very happily and lovingly, as may be the case with all our good friends. And always, on certain occasions, people will tell the story of how they met and wonder how it could be? Having lived in New York for so many years in the same tenement-house, he a lonely man and she a lonely women, and only in California on Mustard Hill had they felt a flicker in their hearts, and it pulled them each to the other.
Comment on this page

Discussion of "Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder): On Mustard Hill (Zalmen Pt. 10)"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder), page 10 of 13 Next page on path