“Chulent” by Rose Genzer (née Hertz)

This little story is about Rachel who lived in a village called Mielec. Mielec was in a land our great-grandfathers and our great-grandmothers called “The Old World”. The people who lived in Mielec were much like the people who live here in the “New World”. Some were poor, some were not so poor and some were rich.

Photo of Rose Hertz circa 1920, taken in New York — photo courtesy Scott Genzer

But there was a difference in the customs of the people in Mielec. Customs are the way people like to live. The villagers of Mielec liked a certain custom, which was to prepare their Sabbath meal on the eve of the Sabbath day. This meal was made of lima beans, potatoes and beef. It was called Chulent.

On a certain Sabbath day, the villagers wore walking to the baker’s to pick up their Chulent. Among the villagers was Rachel and her sister Rebecca. Rebecca kept house for Rachel and their father.

Because they were very religious and observed the Sabbath law which did not allow them to light a fire on that day, they put this meal in the ovens and kept it there through the night and the next day until it was time for lunch which was after the Sabbath services. The poor people of the village did not keep their ovens burning when they were not needed also to warm their homes because they wished to save fuel for the winter. Instead they brought their Chulent to the baker’s who kept his huge ovens burning through the Sabbath day services.

When Rachel and her sister reached the baker’s, Rebecca with a thick towel in her hands, removed first one pot and then another, for she was a sensible girl and it was easier for her to carry the meal in two pots Instead of one large pot. She wrapped each pot carefully in a thick towel and they began to walk back home.

Rachel, as she always did, asked Rebecca if she could carry one of the pots. And Rebecca, as she always did, said “No, you might fall.” Today, Rachel asked again. And Rebecca said “no” again. But Rebecca thought, “If I do not keep asking her, she will never allow me to help her,” so she asked again. And again. And to her surprise, Rebecca put one of the well wrapped pots in Rachel’s arm. “Now be careful”, she said.

Rachel walked along feeling very important. Just like the mothers and the big daughters who were walking with them. But she stumbled……..and fell. Rachel’s arm was covered with the scalding food that came pouring out of the pot.

This was all she remembered when she awoke in her bed. Her arm was bandaged and it hurt. Her father was sitting near her bed and he got up and kissed her cheek. Then he called to Rebecca who came running in and when she saw Rachel smiling at her, she blew a kiss to her.

Rebecca then opened the door wide and in came, one by one, all of Rachel’s friends in the village. What a joy! How she loved having them! All her pain was suddenly gone.

And who in the “New World” could thank Chulent for making a little girl feel so important and so happy?

Rose (Rachel) Herz was born in 1907 in Mielec, the youngest daughter of Benjamin Herz and Hencha Chava Tänzer. She immigrated to New York in 1914 with her older sister Beckie and married a fellow Mielec’er, Leo Genzer, in 1930. While living in Brooklyn, Rose took writing classes at Brooklyn College which inspired her to create numerous short stories and plays – many of which are reflections of her life back in Mielec. Rose passed away in 1972 in Queens, NY. A collection of her works will be published in Fall 2021.