• Jewish Lifestyle and Home Environment in Interwar Lithuania

      Jewish Lifestyle and Home Environment in Interwar Lithuania

      Similar they may seem at the first glance, home interiors of interwar Lithuanians and Lithuanian Jews actually hides significant differences between the lifestyles of two ethnic groups. Perhaps the most these apartments differ according to the usage of furniture, the way the food was prepared and Jewish ritual items.
      As soon as visitors cross the doorstep of Jewish home, one can find the case nailed to the door frame, with mezuzah inside. Mezuzah (“doorpost” in Hebrew) is a piece of parchment inscribed with the verses from the Torah. This ritual object was used at home and in synagogues. The holy words of mezuzahs were believed to protect the home. When entering or leaving the room or the home, the Jews used to kiss the fingertips and touch mezuzah by worshipping it in this symbolical way.

      People who know little about the traditions of the Jews are amazed by the abundance and variety of dishes and utensils used in the Jew’s kitchen. Traditionally, the Jews used to separate food into three groups: meaty, milky and neutral. Neutral food included fish, eggs, honey and green food – fruits, vegetables, cereal and leguminous cultures. A fundamental law is to keep meat and milk separate when preparing or eating food, therefore, different sets of kitchen utensils were used: dishes to boil and bake food, to place meals on the table and vessels for washing dishes. Also, Lithuanian Jews never mixed dishes used for fish and other dishes. The fish was cooked in a separate pot and separate plates were used for eating fish. Although fish is considered as a neutral product, it is forbidden to eat fish together with meat. If by any chance meat was eaten after the fish, before starting to eat meat, the dishes that were used for eating fish were taken to the kitchen and people used to rinse their mouth before eating meat. Alltogether Lithuanian Jews had three sets of dishes: for milk, meaty food and Pesach festival.

      Shabbat is the most important and special Jewish festival commemorated on each Saturday. In Hebrew, “Shabbat” means “rest”. The Saturday was dedicated for the commemoration of the creation of the World, therefore, the religious Jews used this day for rest. Before the Shabbat, home is cleaned, beddings are changed, bath is taken and clothes are changed into clean and neat ones.

      Shabbat starts on every Friday evening by lighting the candles in the candlesticks. Candlestick with two or several branches used to be placed on the table (usually the number of the candles matched the number of family members). The candlestick with two branches symbolises the vow to “remember” and “celebrate” Shabbat. The Shabbat candles were lit by the women on each Friday evening, on a certain time before the sunset, who also used to say a prayer for the God. The already lit candles could not be moved to another place. The lighting of the candles used to symbolise the gratitude to the God – the creator of the heavenly light, Who separated the light from the dark and the Holy Shabbat day from other days of the week. During the Shabbat dinner the candles used to light until they completely burnt out.
      Having lit the candles the women used to say a special prayer and men with boys used to go out to synagogue. Women used to stay at home and wait for the family to return. Men used to pray for half an hour in a synagogue on Fridays and then returned home. There was a popular legend in Lithuania that a man brings two angels on his shoulders from synagogue: a white angel on one shoulder and a dark angel on another. The angels brought home used to check whether everything is neat, family is dressed in festive clothes and the food is prepared. If everything is neat and light – a white angel stays at home. If not – a dark angel stays, meaning that the next week is going to be unsuccessful for the people of this home.

      Having returned from the synagogue, men used to wash their hands. Then the family man used to stand by the table and say a prayer with a glass of wine in his hand. This is the Kiddush cup. The family man used to bless the wine and the festival, thus, the beginning of festival used to be marked with Kiddush (blessing) ritual.

      This exibition is based on Jew’s apartment exposition of Open-Air Museum of Lithuania.

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