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Jerry Cantor - April 2010
Jerry Cantor - April 2010

Jerry Cantor was born in Boston, USA. After serving in the Marines in Woeld War II he moved to Israel, where he has been a member of Kibutz Mishmar Ha-emek since 1951.  Jerry was a technical writer and translator before turning his talent to short story writing. He has published a book of short stories entitled "Moonlight Enchantment".

The following work is copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.


 Kibbutz Sylvester

Today, New Year’s  Eve is celebrated in our kibbutz with the rest of the world in a big boisterous party with much noise, dancing and drinking till the first light of dawn.  But it was not always so. 

In those precious days, the New Year, called Sylvester by most eastern Europeans, was not celebrated at all in our kibbutz.  The celebration of Sylvester in Poland was always accompanied with a feeling of danger and the possibility of an impending pogrom.  Only the Jewish New Year was recognized as a holiday to be celebrated.  There were however a number of dissident members, including myself, who were unaffected by this non-recognition of the holiday celebrated throughout the world.  Most of us who had a positive view of Sylvester were raised in countries in Europe (except Poland) and the Americas.  We gathered quietly and stealthily in my apartment while the rest of the kibbutz went the way of all honest farmers to an early bedtime. 

Mordecai, our poultry expert, supplied us with chickens to roast, while each of the participants brought his own contribution of cakes, wines and hard liquers like vodka, cognac and a powerful Polish drink, Vishniak, made from fermented cherries.  Yankele, who was brought up in cosmopolitan Alexandria, came with his inexhaustible store of funny stories.  And Hanna, my cousin, a member of the Youth Aliya from Germany, had a special gift for making fondue.  Her husband Oren, a genuine local born in Tel Aviv who was fortunate enough to have spent his college years in Nancy France and a veteran bus driver, could sing bawdy French street songs, but only after the party had progressed toward midnight.  Maya, although she was Polish and had been brainwashed regarding Sylvester in her youth, spent a number of years studying acting in Berlin and was completely corrupted regarding Sylvester by her bohemian friends there.  My wife, although brought up with all the prejudices of the members, was willing to cook the chickens and prepare her wonderful eggplant salad. 

Avraham, our neighbor, also came with a bottle of cognac.  But his wife Chanale refused to join him because she thought that celebrating Sylvester was the height of Hellenism, a term referring to the adoption of a foreign Greek culture by the Jews of Palestine, during the period of the Maccabees.  In addition, since Sylvester had Christian overtones of anti-semitism for Jews, Chanale was doubly fortified against going to her neighbor’s party, but had a special fondness for eggplant salad, so. at the end of the party, Avraham always took some to her. 

After eating the roast chickens, salads and cakes and with a myriad of toasts to the New Year, Yankele had everybody roaring with laughter when he told the story of how Shmulik got locked in the boiler room with Esterka, one of the young volunteers, and was obliged to stay there two days without food until his distraught wife organized the whole kibbutz on a manhunt.  Luckily he was found by Lovka who was sworn by Shmulik to tell his wife that he found him in a ditch after he tripped and hit his head on a stone and lost consciousness for two days.  When Shmulik was dragged to the infirmary by his hysterical wife, the nurse was amazed that he had no signs of injuries to the head.  The nurse said is was one of those miracles which all medical personnel run across now and again during their professional life. 

Jurgen, whose Hebrew name was Yecheskiel, told a number of ribald jokes in his inimitable Hungarian accent.

When 12 o’clock arrived Maya moved from her seat on one side of the room to give me a kiss.  My wife pushed her away demanding the privilege for herself.  After a round of kisses, wishes were made for a happy new year and everybody went home pleased that they could celebrate at least one holiday with the rest of the world.

We continued our New Year parties until pressure by the young people made the celebration of Sylvester an acknowledged kibbutz affair and we ended our surreptitious activities.

Chanele, despite all the advances in kibbutz life, despite the landing on the moon and the discovery of water on the planet Mars, still refuses to celebrate Sylvester.