Bobtshke Kilikovski Cohen, the zogerke who measured cemeteries
In the memorial book to the Jewish community of Volovisk (Vawkavysk, Belarus), I found my second description of a real life feldmesterin. Interestingly, like Gitele the Gabete, and unlike the feldmesterins we often encounter in Yiddish literature, Bobtshke Kilikovski Cohen was a respected and pious member of the community, who also acted as a women's prayer leader (zogerke). She later moved to New Jersey but unfortunatelty the description of her in the Yizker Bukh doesn't say if she continued to practice as a feldmesterin and zogerke there. If anyone who knows the Cohen family happens to read this post, I'd love to hear from you!
The following is taken from Dr. Moses Einhorn, ‘Personalities’ Volovisker Yizker Bukh, (1949) 261 – 262. You can read the original online here.
Bobtshe was a daughter in law of Sholem Potshter. Her husband was called Leybe and he was a wood trader. Her father was David the Rosh-Yeshiva. Her brother was Fishel, a Hebrew teacher. She could study Talmud, and she herself had composed a book of women’s prayers which were then hand written by Hershel the scribe. In the days of awe she acted as a Zogerke for the women in shul, and at tashlikh the women would gather around her and she would read for them. She was therefore known as ‘Bobtshe the zogerke.’ When an orphaned girl was going to be married, Bobtshe would always bring the bride to the cemetery, in order to invite the dead to the ceremony. In a case of severe illness, when it was necessary to measure the cemetery, people would ask her to do this as a mitsve. Everybody knew and respected the good-hearted Bobtshe.
She raised an orphan boy in her house until his wedding. In her later years, she came to join her children in America, and in the new world remained active in charitable activities. She helped to found a retirement home in Bayonne, New Jersey, where she lived with her daughter Dobe Pink. She died in 1934, at the age of 81. The whole Jewish community of Bayonne took part in the big funeral, where Rabbi Chaim Segal and two other rabbis delivered eulogies.
Bobtshe’s son, Hyman Cohen, who lives in New York, is the founder and president of the New York ‘Volkovisk Center’ and is very active in aid work for the people of Volkovisk (Vaukavysk).
The remains of the Volovisk cemetery that Bobtshe used to measure. From the Vawkawysk wikipedia page.