July 29, 2004

by Reb Yudel
Monkeys, parrots and the Jews of Sadgura

"Sadgura" ( Ukraine 4821' / 2558' ), from Volume II of History of the Jews in the Bukowina
The majority of the residents lived in bitter poverty.

They were fruit vendors in the market, street hawkers, or soda water vendors in the hottest time of year. The latter pulled a two-wheel hand cart through the streets and offered a cool drink.

These small businesses ranked high over those who had nothing and were forced to appeal to public welfare.

The professional beggars had their own guild. Among them were types who played upon sympathy. Often a beggar would borrow a baby from a poor family, and he and his wife would travel from village to village posing as ones whose home had burned down. [Footnote: As organ grinders, they invaded the weekly and annual markets, as well as the surrounding towns, with the sale of so-called lucky tickets, which were drawn by trained parrots and little monkeys.] Their cleverness paid off, because a good Jewish heart would never disappoint.

The Purim time was the high season for legal and illegal scrounging. Groups of costumed Huzuls received larger contributions for their mountain peasant dances. A Purim specialty was the so-called "Ameriker" [American]. They were fruit pickers by profession, who walked from house to house on Purim days as giants on 2-4 meter long stilts, covered for their entire length with trousers, and, resting on the balconies of the upper stories, they looked through the windows into the living quarters.

Though it brought them plenty of tips, this activity was not without danger, especially when it was icy, particularly as the horses tended to shy at this unfamiliar spectacle. Returnees from America were supposed to have brought this art back with them; hence the name. These people retained the nickname "Americans" all year long.

It should be noted that practically every poor person in Sadagura had a nickname; the family name was usually unknown and together with the first name was called the "German name." (The German names were forced upon the Jews towards the end of the 18th century by the German-speaking clerks of the Austrian administration.)