26 October, Mihaileni: Maria Chiriloi
We are now in the furthest north part of Romania, at one point only 100 meters from the Ukraine border. Here, we find the village of Mihaileni, where I had heard there were still people who spoke Yiddish. It seemed like a long shot. As we pulled into town I scanned the street for the oldest person out there at the moment; There was one guy, a gentleman of about fifty-five, standing in the driveway of a construction supply depot, who looked like a good prospect. We told him about our quest and he he disappeared into the depot building and came back out with a book published several years ago in honor of an event that was a celebration of the history of the village. The book mentions Jews extensively. Jews and Romanians lived side by side here, their children played with eachother, they attended eachothers weddings. The gentleman proposed that we buy this book for $80. I'm not sure if he had a clear idea of how much that was in lei, but I did, and politely declined.
I again asked if he knew anyone who spoke Yiddish and he said that he did, in fact. He got in the car and directed us down a fairly smooth dirt road toteh home of Maria Chiriloi, the most gracious and welcoming person you could possibly meet, even in rural Romania. She welcomed us into her house and we sat around her dining room table and talked. I asked her if she would speak in Yiddish to us, and she did. How strange it was to hear her speak. She sounded just like my old Tante Chave, and her house even smelled like Tante Chave's. We chatted for a while, I kept goading her to speak yiddish while I checked the recoding machine actually getting this down.
Maria grew up with Jews, her best little girl friend was Jewish. She said their lives were quite integrated. many people in the village spoke Yiddish, German and Romanian. She and the gentleman who helped us find her both have a genuine fondness and sadness for the Jews and the history of jews in Mihaileni.