The Gerchuk home memories - תמר גרצ'וק

The Gerchuk home memories

  My maternal grandfather, Tzvi Gerchuk, of blessed memory, was born in 1898 in the town Alexandrov, Ukraine. Most of its residents back in the day were German peasants, whom the Czar, German Ecaterina, transported from her homeland along with herself, and lodged in that area. Thus, additionally to the Yiddish and the Russian spoken in his home, my grandfather learned Germen

       My grandfather's father - Arie Gerchuk of blessed memory was a tailor and failed to provide for all the young children, to whom his wife, Batya Rivka gave birth a year after year.  Most of them died of malnutrition, leaving only the strong ones to survive, among whom were my grandfather and his brother Abraham

      As it was the custom in those times, where there are Jews, be it a few, or the lowest beggars, a dilapidated cabin was found, to be used as an education institute called "Heder", where the little ones acquire knowledge from the rabbi.  Yet the rabbi, with all due respect, like most teachers of his time, crowded into his cabin as many pupils as possible, and then crammed the entire Alphabet into the heads of those hungry for bread more than for Torah, very briefly and swiftly, with the power of the whip in his hands. Since most those little famished ones returned home at the end of the school day with their heads empty and their behinds aching of blows and lashes,  my grandfather tzvi escaped from the rebbi's before he completed his schooling and adequately acquired the reading and the writing. He was only nine years old.    He was naturally rebellious, and acquired most of his knowledge as an autodidact 

      And so it came to be, that the young, light-haired and blue-eyed boy immediately began working as an apprentice at the region's tin-ware shop.  He so much excelled in his work, that soon he became the tin-ware shop manager, working in the day and learning at night, supporting his family all that time.  Meanwhile, he was learning and specializing as a locksmith

      When the time came, Tzvi matured and was recruited, as required by law, to the army of the Czar Nicolayev II.  The Bolshevik Revolution broke out in, chaos reigned in their land, and no alternative was left, but to defect the army.  Together with his elder brother Abraham, they abandoned their homeland for good.  They both lived and made a living in Austria and in Hungary for a short period of time, from where Tzvi sent money to his mother, who had widowed in the interim.  Later, when he immigrated to Israel, he brought her there
      Meanwhile, the two toured and explored the rest of the European countries, visited museum, theater halls, and anywhere the mind would be elevated, and the horizons would be widened. My grandfather's command of German and Russian greatly assisted him. While working in the day and studying at night, he acquired a vast knowledge in many fields. He guarded his dignity as the apple of his eye, guided by principles of justice and honestly all his life

     As the Zionist propaganda in Europe increased, the Gerchuks did not hesitate.   Thus, in 1920 the two young pioneers arrived in Israel, where they worked in drying up the "Hula" swamps, came down with Malaria and built the land
     During the British Mandate, my grandfather became known as an expert locksmith, and served as the Head of the Locksmith Department of the British Army.  During the War pf Independence and thereafter, he was obliged to struggle for his home's livelihood as an independent locksmith, with little success until the end of his life.
     His brother Abraham married Freida, the sister of Eliyahu HaCarmeli (Lulu), who would become Israel's first Sephardic Knesset Member 
     At the time, Freida was a member of "Nili" and served as a household manager at the Aronson experimental station.  She was caught by the Turkish, tortured, and did not reveal a thing. As a survivor she  was the main witness in the trial of the oppressor and abuser Dr. Hassan Beck
      Thus she received a decoration of valor from the Ministry of Defense.  Plus, I hold a copy an appreciation letter for her courage and her devotion to the homeland from Rivka Aronson, sister of Sara Aronson of blessed memory, "Hero of Nili" 

      My grandmother, Chaya (nee Wischniatzky-Losh), who arrived in Israel in 1925 from Bialystok, Poland, had a completely different background than my grandfather's, Tzvi Gerchuk
      It was related to me by my late mother that at the time, a wealthy, and all the more estimated family lived in a village, not far from Bialystok, Poland, name the Losh family.  The observant, G-d fearing parents had two boys and a girl named Sara.  Sara was beautiful, but one day, when she fell off her horse carriage, her leg broke.  Ever since she began to limp, all the prospective bridegroom had disappeared.  In the words of my mother, if they had patiently waited, that distress of theirs would have disappeared and been forgotten.  Yet Mother Losh and Father Losh hurried to find a bridegroom to their daughter, at any cost, requiring only one thing from the matchmakers – that the merchandise to be offered would be decent, educated, and G-d fearing.  His wealth and his appearance did not matter. After all, even though the perspective bride was a cripple, thank G-d she had more than enough of those.  Naturally, proper search leads to something, and so unfortunately it came to be that by the time Sara's leg  healed, swiftly, thank G-d, she had found herself in the town Bialystok, bound by marriage to a small merchant who was a great miser, testy and gloomy, dark and red-bearded, who mumbled and complained about everything, an ultra-orthodox Jew who fulfilled the commandment "Be fruitful and multiply" with great vigor.  Apart from that, he was useless to those around him, to his wife, and to his descendants.  His name was Nahum Wishniatzky, a man of Bialystok

        Meanwhile, her parents lost their assets, and both of her brothers died of the typhus plague, leaving her with a small dairy, which she nurtured with her own hands, working arduously.  The enterprise prospered and amazingly grew 
Sara's life was full of hardships, leaving its traces on her face, yet she gracious and though she ruthlessly labored as a sole provider, she continued to perform acts of good deeds and charity.  Through the years, their family had become wealthy, and my grandmother, Chaya Wishniatzky-Losh, who was the youngest of their children, had been born into a period of prosperity in their home

     At the time, Bialystok was ruled by the Russians. Anti-Semitism was thriving, and the longing of the Jews to escape from there and arrive in the Land of their Forefathers greatly deepened, thus in the day, in all cities and town populated by Jews,  Zionist youth movements were established,  preparing their members to immigrate to the  Holy Land.  Also, a Jewish school named "Tarbut" was founded in Bialystok, where Hebrew, the original language of our Forefathers, was taught.  Indeed, the beginning of The Return to Zion.  That change in our nation's life did not occur immediately.  In the subject years, Sara and Nahum Wishniatzky's descendants grew and matured, and their homes, too, became a place of social gathering and organization for the purpose of  immigrating to the Land of Israel.  The eldest daughter was a Hebrew teacher at "Tarbut" school in Bialystok, and Chaya, my grandmother, the youngest of daughters, was studying there. Like her siblings, she, too, intended to come to the Land of Israel

     Fate, however, decided otherwise, as due to difficulties in obtaining passports, the youth were scattered in all dire Argentina, while the rest were annihilated in the Nazi destruction camps in World War II.  Providentially, the parents had passed away previously, thus they had been spared an enormous remorse.  Eventually, in 1925, only one of them – tiny, 1.50 m tall, in her twenties, arrived in their longed for destination – Israel

     This brave and gentle pioneer was to become my grandmother Chayaleh, loved by all, and so she was called by everybody in Haifa, where she met my grandfather, Tzvi Gerchuk, and married him

     On the Second of August, 1929, the terrible massacre of Hebron occurred, tens of Jews were mercilessly murdered by Arab rioters, the followers of the Mufti Amin Al Husseini, simultaneously to the arrival of a letter from Poland, informing my grandmother of the death of her father, Nahum Wishniatzky, and to the birth of my mother, Nehama Gerchuk

   My Mother - Nechama Gerchuk, of Blessed Memory

     A few years before her death, my mother of blessed memory, Nechama Gerchuk, wrote in her autobiographical book, which was never completed:  "I was born fully handicapped, both inside and out.  Is it no wonder, then, that my nerves were not strong at all?  Why does the Master of the Universe would constantly strike me with revenge, projecting His rage with His unfortunate world on me, of all people?  There must be a reason for that.  Perhaps he once heard, and was struck, by my slip of tongue, saying that had I been in His shoes, I would have created a better world than this one

     Due to her deficient health, my mother was not granted yet in her lifetime, the opportunity to complete the writing of her books, in which she attempted to teach morals and values to youth, to draw the secular ones to religion, so as to turn our world into a more humane place.  She passed away after years of suffering and a stroke, blind, and her whole body paralyzed
     As a naturally curious-minded person, she also explored astrology and Kabbalah, in order to find out the reason why her fate had been so cruel, without her ever deliberately hurting anyone in her life?  Thanks to those out, she discovered a universe of knowledge, although there has not yet found any kind of science to provide adequate proof, beyond any doubt. On the day she was born, the second of August 1929,  the terrible massacre in Hebron occurred

       On that my mother commented, with her characteristic black humor: "Being born on such a blood-shed day is not a testament for great wisdom, since esoteric doctrines maintain that an unfortunate day predicts an adversity to the newborn baby.  Indeed, because of my first evil deed on earth, I endured much bitterness in my life, turning into an innocent victim by haters, and at the same time, by lovers 
      Furthermore, heavens sent me a demon named "Schliemazel", to cause me to fail every step of the way, and to stick his long, long tongue at me thereafter.  I shall nevertheless admit that I rebelled against G-d and against that demon, and did my utmost to fight my bitter fate, but to no avail, as my abominable illnesses weighed me down like a witch from the fairy tales.  Numbered thousand and one, they overcame me, marvelously working hand in hand, in unity unheard of these days.  Yet even though I was a set of broken and useless limbs, I was still full of life, initiative, and aspirations
        Parenthetically, those knowledgeable in astrology knows that my birth date is full of contrasts and contradictions, and that no matter what action I take on behalf of myself, will weigh against me, and my life, as stated, will be full of sorrow, limitations, and harsh disappointments, none of which were my fault.  Therefore, I soon became bitter as wormwood, but I admit I nevertheless loved the world and held to it tight, so it doesn't get lost for its natural, cruel hazards, which seemed as though they all threatened to destroy me to death as speedily as possible.  I assume I so loved this world, because I so despised the world to come, the hidden, awfully secret world, which I disdained as I knew only one thing of it:  That he engulfed everything, not leaving a thing behind!  Thus, in comparison to that world to come, our known world seemed quite pleasant to me.  Furthermore, as it turned stark naked on its axis, shamelessly revealing before our eyes even its filth and horror, since naturally, only obvious defects are repairable by man, I hoped that I would sometime know how to repair it.  And even if I did not, at least I would restore that same chip he had been missing since its Creation, may the All-merciful protect us

      However, all was thrown to the wind when it became clear that the windmills I had built in my imagination were too big for me, as they had been for Don Quixote.  I was deeply disappointed, and then, when I normally grumbled about all the ugliness and the malice in this world before the Creator, who derided me as usual, I would eagerly search for the beauty in this world.  I found that, too.  It even sufficed for sharing with other worlds.  I admit that I ascribed important, perhaps more than necessary, to the external beauty, lacking any real content.  I didn't care at all if I would be regarded as evil, despicable, and a total fool, as long as I would not be regarded as devoid of charm and beauty.  Briefly, I wanted to be beautiful, but was even far from being just pretty, since I was born meager in body and looks.  Since my appearance meant so much to me, I find it imperative to dedicate several more lines to that appearance of mine, although it does not appeal to me

      Thus, picture a small bag of bones; a hair mane as tall as the Eiffel Tower, walking on a pair of matches; my champignon pale face, which may be sunflower seed grey or cucumber green, depending on my mood, might become fresh-tomato red only when somebody spits in my face.  Yet, I declare that I am well aware that it isn't rain, and neither will I sprout mushrooms, nor sunflowers, and not even sour lemons for anybody 
      True, if my eyes were almond-like, I would be willing to offer them to those who spit at my face, but my eyes were like small, black olives, perhaps to prove me that even if I were big-eyed, I would have not achieved a thing, neither in this life, nor in life in the world to come.  Near the end of the illustration, she adds, "for many years, I've been raising so tired each morning, as though I crossed half the world by foot, and feeling inexplicably sad, which has frequently troubled me.  Yet, despite being split into two contrasting parts of personality, I have always been an optimistic, and through all my pain and suffering, I have always been able to see a tiny, flickering light at the end of the dark tunnel.  I admit that unreasonable belief of mine, that tomorrow may be better than the preceding day, has always granted me with miraculous strengths to deal with the adversaries of my life".
      Her colorful, dynamic paintings, with the lively, bright, and sharp shades, reflect joy of life.  She was passionate of life, and struggled for it, even in situations which many would not withstand, and lose hope. Her prominent quality, extremely so, was kindness, pity, and sacrifice, once encountering an inhumane treatment, even if it was not directed at her, she would be awe-struck, shocked with human cruelty

      I, meanwhile, am capable to swallow a fly, gaping in wonder while the Creator introduces me to a human being so genuine

      To her very last day, she whole-heartedly believed that proper education may transform everything  

Therefore, she continued writing. While writing, she would narrate the paragraph once completed, and it often seemed perfect.  The next day, she would narrate a re-write, a new work, which surprisingly, seemed of higher quality.  That paragraph had sometimes undergone more than ten modifications, thus I learned the thinking  process connected to book editing

  She was a perfectionist writer

      For me, that perfectionism is manifested in artwork.  I have trouble obtaining satisfaction.  I may distance myself from a certain work for months, until one day I sense what I want to modify, and from that point on I continue and complete the work
      As a child, she affected my developing an independent way of thinking, and my ability to acquire a different outlook, develop a unique imagination and creativity
      She was always saying, "I only offer you an advice, and a viewpoint of the situation, which is different than yours.  I do not impose anything on you.  You shall make your own choice". The truth is not always pleasant to hear, but that honest and straightforward approach was the foundation of my growth

       Throughout my life my mother was to me not only a mother and a mentor, but a soul mate.  As early as she was a child, she read the marvelous book The Love of Zion,  by Abraham Mapu, and promised herself that if she gave birth to a baby girl, she would name her Tamar, after the work's main character.  She, however, did not give birth to a heroine, and that hereditary handicap, along with the puny body, lacking liveliness, and the heart which twitched with every murmur, came down to me, regardless of the name she so admired – Tamar 

      Twenty years when we were closed up went by.  It was a choice imposed on us due to her severe health condition, deteriorating by the day, as well as because of the meager energy left for us in the exhausting daily struggle for survival.  It is our artwork that filled our existence with significance, and provided us with that vital serenity so necessary for going on and facing the cruel reality
      As a matter of fact, my mother had never considered writing as a way of making a living, until her parents' deaths only a month apart.  The sorrow, or rather, the struggle for sanity urged her to do so
      I was a nine years old child when we became devoid of adequate means of living.  As a divorced woman, (who dared, in a matter of days, flee the claws of a husband, (my father) who turned out to be a mean, sadistic and violent), whose health was poor – with holding her from earning a living - underwent complicated surgeries, and spent her time in and out of hospitals, writing became a soul savior, during the long convalesce periods in the interim

     In the chapter "An Old Lady's Sugar Coated Hopes", my mother wrote: "As a believer, in spite of all my doubts, I chose to open my life story with a prayer, and that would be my only wish:  May the future grant me the possibility to wipe away the days August 20th, and September 19th, 1963, from my personal history, as if erasing an intolerable misspell on a paper, with an eraser.  Those were my mother's opening words of a chapter in her final, incomplete book, relating of those crucial dates – her parents' death – Chaya and Tzvi Gerchuk, of blessed memory
     With those words and with that mood, experienced by all of us upon losing our most precious soul, I conclude this chapter in the life of my mother, Nechama Gerchuk, of blessed memory
                       
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