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The eyshes-khayil of Hendrikov, from Y. Y. Trunk's "Poland" (1944)

Another short but sweet recollection of a real-life opshprekherke (healer through incantations) and feldmesterin (cemetery or grave measurer). Like a lot of the real women I've found, Trunk remembers her as a pious and learned woman – very unlike the sometimes witchy portrayals of these female ritualists. You can find out more about Trunk here. In the same rich memoir of his childhood and ancestry, he also described watching his female family members making soul candles, this time with lots of witchiness.


Beyond Warsaw is a little shtetl. It’s called Hendrikov. There lived a Jewess, a widow. She had a small spice shop, with half-empty shelves. The little shop didn’t like making money. The Jewess was one of the French eyshes khayils and was better suited to be a rebetsin than she was to stand around in a store. She was the only Jewess in Hendrikov who still wore on her head the old type of headdress with bands. One thing she had was the gift of gab, and quotes from tkhines and the tsene urene poured from her lips. She prayed from an old thick korben minkhe siddur  [a Hassidic siddur which contained Yiddish translations of the liturgy as well as tkhines.] She knew how to exorcise evil-eyes, and measure graves. She spent more time in the women’s shul than at home. If a poor old maid was to get married, she, this Jewess, would take her red scarf and go knocking on all the doors of Hendrikov to help her.  When it came to the women of the shtetl, she stirred every pot. Even Yekhtshe, the Kahal’s mikve attendant, was in her eyes not frum enough and didn’t sufficiently watch over the young women when they immersed.

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