Chapter 5. Hyman Perlin: Orthodox Jew

I was almost 6 years old the first fall we lived on the farm with my grandfolks. Each person went through the same routine every day. My grandparents would wake up first. My grandfather would go to the barn to milk the cows. Then, he would return to the house, say his morning prayers and, finally eat his breakfast. On mornings when I woke up early, I would sit on the steps and watch him put on his tfillin and tallis and say his prayers. My grandmother would occasionally speak to him during his prayers. But when he stood up to say "Shiminesra" (now called the Amidah), no one was allowed to speak to him and he wasn't supposed to speak with anyone. One morning I waited until he started saying Shiminesra, sidled up to him, tugged on the corner of his tallis and said, "Zada, I have a question."

He said, "Nu. Nu. Shh."

He realized that this was not an impulsive action on my part. He knew that I had been watching him for some time. My talking to him at this time and in this place was a calculated decision on my part.

That was the beginning of a special relationship that we had for eleven years until I left for college.

Early in the spring, 1934, my father and mother started packing in our Bronx apartment for our annual summer stay at my grandparents' hotel/farm in Mountaindale, New York (at the southernmost section of the Catskill Borscht belt). My mother was in charge of the entire hotel operation. We arrived before Passover to begin getting the hotel ready for opening when the first guests arrived on Memorial Day weekend and we returned to the Bronx around October 1 after the last guests left.

But this year would be different. My parents gave up the apartment and we would be living in the country all year. My father was a cementer in the raincoat section of the garment industry and there wasn't enough work (money) to afford to live in the city.

My mother ran the hotel but my grandfather, after consultation with my parents, made the major decisions. For example, when the government wanted a septic tank system installed, my grandfather decided which, of two adjacent properties, to buy. And, when a new well was to be dug on that property, he insisted on hiring someone with a divining rod to decide where the hole should be made. (A neighbor had tried to dig a well and drilled over 400 feet without finding water.) There was no signed contract. Everything was done with a handshake. His word was his bond. Incidentally, two veins of water were found, one at 80 feet and the second at 110 feet.

My grandfather, Hyman Perlin, was an observant Orthodox Jew who operated a dairy and poultry farm business 12 months a year (7 days a week and 52 weeks a year) and a small hotel 4 months a year about two and a half miles from Mountaindale. In contrast, an observant Orthodox Jewish businessman in New York City, whether in retail, wholesale or manufacturing closed his doors on Friday afternoon and could celebrate the Sabbath.

Jewish law forbids work on Jewish holidays and Saturdays. Halachic (religiously defined) law makes an exception. Milking cows is permitted to prevent pain in the cows' udders. My grandfather believed that feeding, watering and taking care of all farm animals was an obligation and responsibility of the farmer. Essential chores were done on Saturdays (no cleaning stalls, etc.).

Because he was observant, he didn't ride on Saturday or Jewish holidays. And because the farm was more than 2 and 1/2 miles from town, we went to the Mountaindale synagogue only for Yom Kippur services.

We had our own torah at the hotel. It was occasionally used during the summer. We did use it when the high holy days fell early in September. Summer residents would still be around. My grandfather would invite everyone to attend services. He would hire a ba'al t'filla from town to read from the torah and someone else, if necessary, to make the tenth man and later an eleventh man for the minion.

Interestingly enough, I visited a friend in Mountaindale in 1982. While we were walking down the street, an older man stopped me and asked, "Are you a Perlin?" I told him that I was. He continued, "I spent one of the worst days of my life at your grandfather's farm. About 50 years ago, he hired me to be the tenth man for Yom Kippur services. There were only ten men. When someone had to go to the bathroom, praying stopped. I was a prisoner for the day." I think that may have been the origin of the eleven-man minyan that I wrote about in my bar mitzvah story.

In the fall of 1941 my parents and two brothers moved back to the Bronx. My father found a job, my older brother started N.Y.U. and my younger brother started kindergarten. I was to stay on the farm with my grandparents until I was graduated from high school.

One question was "What arrangements would be made about taking grandfather to synagogue on Yom Kipper?" My father and/or grandfather spoke with Patty Michaels, the understanding police officer assigned to Mountaindale through the Fallsburg Town Board, about the problem. The unofficial arrangement was, although I was too young to get a license, I could drive only to and from the farm and town during daylight hours as long as I had an adult with me. I was tall for my age, played on the high school basketball team and looked much older than I was. No one was to know and no one questioned the arrangement.

A neighbor milked the cows on Yom Kippur for the last few years I stayed on the farm. Now that I could drive, we had an easier solution about transportation. I drove the car, with my grandfather in the front seat, to the outskirts of town the afternoon before Yom Kippur (just prior to Kol Nidre). Then, after evening services we walked home and walked back in the morning before morning services. I walked home at 11:00 A.M. to water the cows and horse and checked the water in the chicken coops. I walked back to town about 3 P.M. and my grandfather and I rode back home after sundown (after the shofar was blown).

I don't remember whether or not we ever attended Rosh Hashanah services. But I do remember that we sat in the same seats near the front. One of the most important things I learned about my grandfather came when there was a call for donations. Congregants called out how much each was pledging. As the amounts were called out, I asked, "Why don't you call out how much you pledge?" He answered, "I give more than most of the people. What I give is nobody's business."

The teaching staff of the Mountaindale Talmud Torah consisted of the rabbi and his wife. When I completed my education I knew how to read Hebrew words (without comprehension) and say several common prayers. Years later, I discovered that my Jewish friends who had attended large Talmud Torah schools had learned to read, write and translate to and from Hebrew and English. And, they particularly learned history related to the Jewish holidays. My friends knew why there was a holiday, its significance and the reason for the different rituals for each. With all this as a preface, I will now explain my observation of the Jewish holidays from the perspective of a boy growing up on a farm with a limited Jewish education.

Most people would categorize the Jewish holidays according to importance or whether the holiday is a biblical or historic holiday. I have chosen to categorize them on whether I was a participant, a spectator or neither. My grandparents observed all the Jewish holidays. The following are several observations that I remember:


Yom Kippur - See above.

Passover - (Pesach) The house was thoroughly cleaned. My grandfather sold the chometz. The cows were given only hay (no grain food) for the week prior to Pesach so there wouldn't be chometz in the milk. My family came up for the holiday and stayed for the summer. We each had a Haggadah (which we got free courtesy of Maxwell House - starting in 1934, they have distributed over 40 million to the public). My grandfather did all the reading and we kept the place as he read. I couldn't wait until he was finished so we could eat. No one was allowed to eat from 10 A.M. until the seder. We bought only Manischevitz matzoh.

Shabbos - My grandmother's celebration of Shabbos was described in another chapter. As far as my grandfather and I were affected the rule was very simple -"Do the chores, but not do work unless there is an emergency."

Succoth - We built a Sukkah every year. We had two walls in the garage, which were placed on a corner of the winter house. This holiday was the equivalent to our Thanksgiving. My grandfather bought a lulav and an esrog. We ate in the sukkah when the weather was nice. When it rained, he said several prayers in the sukkah and we went in to eat.


Chanukah - My grandfather lit the candles and said a brochah (prayer). öI don't know what my grandmother said but I just said,"amayn". There were no dredles and no gifts but I did receive Chanukah gelt (chocolate money).


Purim - The only thing I knew about Purim was that the word magilla was always associated with it. I never knew what the Jewish expression "a gansa magilla" (a long never ending story) meant until I married a young woman whose mother, Esther, was born on Purim. Then, when I finally read (in English) the whole lengthy story of Purim "How Esther Saved the Persian Jews" (the original magilla), I began to understand.

Shavuoth - I never knew the meaning of Shavuoth. It came around Memorial Day weekend and that meant, to me, the hotel would soon be open and seven day a week-work was ahead.

Simchat Torah - I knew the torah had to be rewound every year because I saw my grandfather as one of the participants in the rewinding.


Kaporis - Definition - It means "atonement." I always wondered what my grandfather was doing with a chicken under his arm as he said several prayers. I looked at a few references to find out about this custom. The reference stated that a rooster or chicken should be swung over your head three times on the day before Yom Kippur. The rooster symbolizes man who has erred during the year. The rooster is to be slaughtered for the man's sins. The rooster or chicken was then given to charity. I can only imagine what my grandfather, a man almost 70 years of age, would look like swinging a rooster three times over his head.


Although my grandfather was an Observant Jew, he considered himself an American Jew who had a more liberal interpretation of halachah than when he lived in Europe. He usually had an even temper. I lived with him for years and seldom saw him angry about anything. But, on one occasion he became visibly upset about an interpretation of halachah. Let me explain. When his best friend passed away my grandfather wanted to go to the funeral. For over twenty years they had helped each other. They cut trees in the forest and had the horse pull the tree trunks out of the woods to be ready for the sawmill; they had cut ice from the lake to bring to their respective ice houses and did other heavy work that could not be done by one person. He knew that in Europe it was against halachah to go into a Christian church. He believed that in America he could attend the funeral. He had three choices:

He could ask the rabbi if it was permissible, he could go and then ask the rabbi if it was permissible, or he could not tell the rabbi anything. He chose the first way.

The rabbi told him not to go into the church. This was not what he expected. "Grandpa attended the funeral. This friendship between Mr. Porter and him had transcended my grandfathers religious commitment." (Chapter 1)

But this is not the end of the story. My grandfather never discussed the incident with the rabbi. For that matter, he probably never spoke with the rabbi, in his position as rabbi, again (except to ask that the family torah be safely stored in the synagogue.)

The rabbi was also the schochet (the man who ritually slaughtered animals and poultry). We saw him several times a week during the hotel season and probably once a week the rest of the year. (My grandmother couldn't make chicken soup without a chicken.) There was always a feeling of tension. The hard feelings remained long after the incident.