The Shtetl Life of Avram Bronfman
By Jacob Bronfman
Ms. McNair’s Class
February 12, 2008
For my ancestry assignment, I decided to profile my great-grandfather Avram Bronfman. The assignment said we should use primary sources, but my primary source is dead, so I used two secondary sources: my grandmother Judy Bronfman and the Wikipedia entry for “shtetl.”
This paper is dedicated to Avram Bronfman, without whom I would have had to profile Judy Bronfman.
1. Judy Bronfman: Judy Bronfman is a very good resource for information on Avram Bronfman. She is knowledgeable and very kind. She also helped me with some of the writing. (But it is definitely my own work. She just helped me with the wording of a few sentences.) She is also quite stunningly attractive, and has the skin of a 45-year-old woman; she could easily be mistaken for a young Ava Gardner. I would definitely recommend Judy Bronfman to anyone else who is doing a report on Avram Bronfman, even though she often falls asleep while you’re using her. If you type hunched over, she will help you sit up straight, while, at the same time, giving you more information on Avram Bronfman.
2. Wikipedia entry for “shtetl”: This was a very helpful source of information about shtetls. There were many maps and interesting pictures. The worst part about this source was that it referred to the Yiddish language, which made Judy Bronfman give me extraneous information about why Zachary Bronfman and Natalie Goodwin Bronfman never sent me to Hebrew school and why that was a big mistake. The other worst part about this source was that it had a picture of an old Jewish cemetery in the shtetl of Medzhybizh, which caused Judy Bronfman to ask me if I would visit her when she was under one of those stones, and when I said yes, she said, “No, I know you won’t,” and started laughing even though it wasn’t funny. The best part about this source was the links to specific shtetls.
Avram Bronfman was born in the shtetl of Horodenka in Ukraine in 1894. A shtetl was a kind of town that was small enough so that Jewish grandmothers got to see their Jewish grandchildren all the time, and not just when they took them to Best Buy to buy them computer and video games. In a shtetl, grandchildren actually enjoyed seeing their grandmothers and did it because they wanted to.
Avram Bronfman’s parents were Eliyahu and Esther Bronfman. Like many Jewish last names, “Bronfman” refers to an occupation. It means “one who produces bronfs.” (Personal Communication, Zachary Bronfman. Please note that Zachary Bronfman was working on an important business proposal at the time and it is not clear if he was paying attention. When asked what a bronf was, he said, “Uh huh,” and when asked if he was listening, he said, “Yuh huh.”)
Avram had a younger sister, Freyde. Freyde’s great-niece lives in Santa Monica and is fat and has never come to a single family reunion. Freyde’s grandson lives in Omaha and married what seemed like a delightful Jewish girl named Leah who in fact has given him nothing but grief. Still, it’s nice that he married a Jewish girl in the first place. It shows a certain measure of respect for one’s parents. On the other hand, Judy Bronfman sometimes says inappropriate things that are better ignored, because in her heart of hearts she doesn’t mean them. (Personal Communication, Natalie Goodwin Bronfman.)
From 5 years old until he was 14, Avram went to school at whatever the Yiddish word for school is. He was a wonderful student. Whenever he finished his lessons, he ran straight home to complete his homework, stopping only to visit his grandmother for several hours, and he did it because he wanted to, not because his parents told him he had to. That’s a big difference.
In 1908, the Bronfman family had financial difficulties, so Avram left school to help out at his father’s bronf factory (Personal Communication, Zachary Bronfman). When he was 19, Avram had the good sense to marry a young Jewish girl from his town. He didn’t need to find himself, he didn’t need to see what was out there, he didn’t need the freedom to make his own way (emphasis is Judy Bronfman’s). They bore a single child, Judy, who, through a rigorous regimen of cleansers and common sense, would keep her skin looking young well into her 80s. And they built a house, inside of which you can be goddamn sure no Christmas tree would ever find itself, that’s for goddamn sure. (Please note: I here lost access to my first source, Judy Bronfman, due to Natalie Goodwin Bronfman’s request for a word with her. The remainder of the assignment was completed using only the Wikipedia entry for “shtetl.”)
The concept of shtetl culture is used as a complex metaphor for the traditional way of life of 19th-century Eastern European Jews.