Rabbi Haskell Bernat
My name is Haskell Bernat. I was born in Boston in 1935. I was very young, less than two, when my father taught me the Shema before going to sleep.
We lived with my zaydie and bubbie and we had a Pesach Seder that was so large with family and friends, that tables were set in every room. My grandfather made his own "hazeret" with the most powerful horse radish root he could find. When he made the Hillel Sandwiches one of them was always so powerful that that the recipient, usually one of my uncleʼs friends, would begin a powerful blasting sneeze which would always bring gales of laughter from my zaydie. He had a loving but wicked sense of humor. We always waited to see who would get the famous sandwich.
I love Shabbat meals with family. These meals are a true break from the outside non Shabbat world when we create a Shabbat world of caring, loving, singing and talking that can set the mood for the week and at least from Shabbat Kiddush to Birkat Hamazon we can be our best selves.
I am the one circled in the photo at the wedding of one of my uncles. My parents are right above me and my cousins are next to me in the first row. My maternal grandparents are on either side of the bride and groom. The older couple pictured in the photo is my Zaydie (Naftuli)Hertzie, and my Bubbie, Dina. My Zaydie lovingly called her Dinka .
We lived in Dorchester, a section of Boston. on 11 Irma St. where as much Yiddish could be heard on the street as English. My first language was Yiddish. We lived where the streets were safe then and I was able to walk by myself to Kindergarten. I knew I was getting close to home when I passed the two Shuls at the end of the block. We attended the Sefardish Shul ( not be confused with Sephardim), but actually Ashkenazim that used a Siddur that had more Hassidic elements. This liturgy (Type of Prayer) was called “Nusah Sfard”. Although I walked alone , my aunt Frances and my cousins Shirley and Haskell (yes the same name- he was called Big Haskell and I of course was left with Little Haskell) who lived on the same street kept an eye out for me.
Because my English was so poor, my uncles and aunts, six of them, called me the “greener” – short for greenhorn, a not polite term for a new immigrant. When I was two and a half years old I was sent to a Settlement House (an early form of a Jewish Community Center). My three uncles (Billie, Phil and Izzie) used to play Basket ball there on Sunday mornings and would take me with them – more fun than ever. Two of them also were amateur boxers. Uncle Billie actually won the New England Gold Gloves Championship. Guess what I got for my Fourth Birthday – my own Boxing Gloves!
The sad time came when we moved from Boston to New Bedford, a train-ride of about an hour. We used to come back to Bubbie and Zaydieʼs house about every two weeks (I think my mother ,Gertrude and my father, Solomon were home sick). In New Bedford I began Hebrew School and went on Shabbat to Junior Congregation where I learned to lead the davenning . The experience was so positive, that I am sure it led in part to my becoming a Rabbi. At the New Bedford JCC I won a number of Jr Ping Pong tournaments.
We left New Bedford for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, when I was Twelve and had my Bar Mitzvah there right before Israel declared Independence.It was a glorious time for Jews. For High School I left for New York to attend Yeshivot for five years, then the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University (Gavriella is graduating from the same program). For Rabbinical School I entered the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion, also in New York and then to HUC-JIR in Cincinnati for 2 years of advanced study. Then back to Boston (Lexington MA) as Rabbi of Temple Isaiah where the Library Is named the Rabbi Haskell M. Bernat Library. What an honor! It was there that I become an Abba to two daughters – Your Ima, Dina and Dodah Aviva. Dod David was born before them in Brooklyn, NY. Abba was the most important Title in my Life until I became Zaydie.
My wedding to Gladys (Goldberg) Bernat :
In the picture: Haskell (Zaydie) and Gladysʼs three children, David, Dina, and Aviva. Dina is Shaiʼs mother.
The most interesting part of what my Zadie told me about is learning about the library at one of his Shuls being names after him. I also liked hearing how his Zaydie made one very strong Hillel sandwich at the Pesach Seder.
מילוןShlof gezundete heit; zei gezundt
Good night and good bye in Yiddish