“Voss fahr ah (what kind of) title is that?” you may ask, Are you suggesting that we have Yidden who are Amalekites!? Chas vesholom – Heaven forbid! Let us therefore define the word “ahmoliker.”
Ahmoliker is the past, as in “a long time ago.” So, the translation of our title would be “The Once-Upon-a-Time Jew.” In our context, it refers to Yidden during the time of your bubbies and zaidies if you are a yunger mentch (young person), or your parents if you are a zoken (elder) or pre-zoken.
While “Jew of the past” is indeed the literal translation of the word ahmoliker, when you say that Yankel is an “ahmoliker Yid,” there are several possible interpretations. Nu, you may say, zog shoin – tell us already what you are talking about!
Let me explain: There is a beautiful Yiddish melody by cantor Leibele Waldman, in which he chants that he is constantly searching for the ahmoliker Yid but he cannot find him.
It’s like this: Once upon a time, not too long ago, Yidden had a special affinity for one another. When you met another Yid, the greeting was “sholom aleichem!” and the response was “aleichem sholom!” Yidden were eyedle (refined).
Currently, responding to a greeting occasionally occurs, but, too often, when two Yiddelach cross paths (you should pardon the expression), there is little or no eye contact. How can eye contact be possible, when each person carries an iPod or some other contraption?
On Shabbat, while walking home from shul, I crossed paths with a yeshiva student. As he passed, there was no greeting: No “guht Shabbos, no “good morning,” nothing. I may as well have been invisible! Slightly dismayed at this lack of derech eretz, I called out “guht Shabbis!” Nu, what can I tell you? He gave me a look like a chicken in “Bnai Odom” (kaporess)!
Not very many years ago, if a Yid did not appear in shul or at a Jewish gathering for an extended time, when he returned, the greeting included a hearty, “sholom aleichem” or “voss macht ah Yid – How is a Yiddle feeling?” Today, you can be absent from Purim to Pesach, and upon returning you’re missed as much as kids miss school!
Similarly, there was a time when Yidden communicated with each other during snow storms or other tsuzetsteh (messed up) occurrences. Hynt (today), there can be a storm that covers your house from window to the ground (as recently witnessed), but kainer zate nisht, kayner hairt nisht (no one hears or sees) anything except in their own back yard.
Our family barely escaped from the Fascist Hitlerites in Italy. After arriving in America, we traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, and resided in a fahrzetst apartment for a short time. Nu, you may ask, why fahrzetst? Iz dee enfehr (the answer is), it was so cold that there was an ice coating on part of the kitchen floor! This is not a bubeh miseh (tall tale). At night, my mom, a”h, went to each bed and placed a warm water bag next to the feet of each child!
A day or two passed, and one morning, the bell rang, and there, holding several packages, was an area rav by the name of Rabbi Isaac. After a hearty sholom aleichem, we opened the packages he brought and were pleasantly surprised. There were warm robes for our mishpacha, which we donned without hesitation! Rabbi Isaac’s gemilaht chesed (kind deed) was never forgotten.
The ahmoliker Yid’s simcha (celebration) or, chass vesholom, sad occurrence was shared with the community. The birth of a child was a wonderful simcha, and in shul the father of the baby was called up to the Torah. After the Torah reading, I remember congregants sang “Simen tov umazel tov!” Today, if you begin singing the tune, you may end up singing a solo, and you are looked at like a fahrtumult (confused) person!
Once upon a time, if you were a shliach tsibur (prayer leader), after services you were given a yasher koach (a congratulatory expression), even though you may have been a kahlikeh (unskilled as a reader).
Today, a shliach tsibur is often in gehakteh tsoress (big trouble), because there are congregants who complain that he davens (prays) with the speed of a racehorse at Pimlico, while other daveners complain that his pronunciation is appropriate to that of a pre-bar mitzva boy!
If that were not sufficient criticism, some semi-deaf congregants complain that the baal tefila cannot be heardm because his voice resonates like a sufferer of laryngitis!
Nu, you may say, awchen vay (woe) unto us that we just don’t have the positive traits of the amoliker Yid. However, baruch Hashem, that cannot be the case, because, as a people, we are super bnai rachmonim (compassionate people).
There are many Jewish organizations that assist the needy not only in our community but also members of other faiths. Once upon a time, we were known as the “people of the book.” Today, we should also be recognized as the “people of good deeds”!
Interestingly, a non-Yid will occasionally act like an ahmoliker Yid, such as a worker in my neighborhood who shleps (drags) my garbage can back to my house after the truck collects it.
An ahmoliker Yid has hartz (heart). While reviewing an antique Yom Kippur machzor – I enjoy reviewing alteh (old) Judaic books – I turned to the first page and examined the Kol Nidre prayer. The page had paraffin marks from candles and blotches that appeared to be from spilled water. Such marks on Yom Kippur, a fast day? That was highly unlikely. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the splash marks were not from spilled water but from tears that were shed on the holy day – “souvenirs” from an ahmoliker Yid!
My mother-in-law, Mrs. Esther Greenspon, a”h, was an ahmoliker Yiddeneh. I recall her bursting into tears at a levaya (funeral), something that Americanized Yidden refrain from doing. She had many other wonderful ahmoliker attributes, material for a future essay, iy”H.
My father-in-law, Reb Mordechai Greenspon, a”h, was also an ahmoliker Yid. He was a superb baal korah (Torah reader) and shaliach tzibbur, who officiated for the shul on a regular basis. He was also a skilled baal tokayah. In addition, he was a first-class shochet. In his senior years, he became a shamash in a large synagogue. He went beyond his list of duties. For example, he would not permit the janitor to collect sefarim from the benches but personally did so himself. When necessary, he corrected lettering in a sefer Torah. He also repaired worn prayer books. If a newcomer to the shul did not know how to conduct prayers or how to put on tefilin, he taught him. My father-in-law was also skilled in plastering, painting, and a variety of household repair skills. Today, changing a light fixture or even a light bulb, requires the services of a home improvement firm!
By emulating the lifestyle of the ahmoliker Yid, we can increase the quality of our Yiddishkeit and accomplish an important dictum of our holy Torah: Ve’ahavta lereh’acha kamocha – Love others as much as yourself!
How many of the attributes of the ahmolilker Yid exist in our lives?
- Do we greet others with a sholom aleichem or another greeting?
- Do we assist those who need help?
- Do we honor Torah persons, such as the rav of the shul?
- Do we smile rather than frown when we enter a room full of people?
- Are we cognizant of and sensitive to the feelings of others?
- Are our comments the same as our true feelings?
- Do we celebrate with our fellow Yid when he or she has a happy event?
- Do we show sorrow when there are, chas vesholom, tragedies?
- Are we concerned about the Yidden in Israel and other parts of the world?