My Mother’s Family — Part 7

My grandmother was born to a poor orthodox Jewish family in Bialystock and never learnt to read and write. She was illiterate. When she came to Israel she spoke Yiddish and Russian. Here she learnt , mainly from her Arab neighbors to speak Arabic and many years after she was married, due to the fact that the main language in her family was French she came to understand and speak this language in a limited fashion. She used to speak Yiddish with grandfather and with her children and grandchildren. This is how I learnt most of my Yiddish. With her grandchildren who did not understand Yiddish such as those of her daughter Rachel she tried her best to speak French. During the years through which she lived close to families of Sephardi Jews she learnt Ladino and used to speak quite freely in this language. When she had to sign her name she signed by pressing the thumb of her right hand on a stamp ink-pad and then on the document. She was a beautiful woman, modest, quiet; I never met a more lovable woman than her. Despite the huge intellectual chasm that lay between her and her husband they both lived their entire lives together in peace and love. I never heard any of them raising their voice to each other or getting angry with each other. Let us not forget that while my grandmother came from an orthodox family, was keeping a Kosher kitchen, lighted candles every Friday night and fasted on every Day of Atonement – yet my grandfather was totally secular.

Two years after they settled in Jaffa their first daughter Rachel was born.The baby became ill and the doctors in Jaffa could not diagnose her illness so my grandfather took her to a doctor in Rishon-Lezion who was considered in those days to be the highest medical authority in the region but he was not successful either and the baby died. At that time there was no cemetery or burial-society in Rishon-Lezion and so grandfather took his dead daughter in his arms and accompanied by Itzhak Chernov he buried her under an ancient Sycamore tree. The old cemetery of Rishon was later laid at that place.

In 1887 the suburb of “Neve-Zedek” was founded a small distance from Jaffa. The whole area designated for this suburb was purchased from Aharon Chelouch. The price of a plot of land in this suburb was about 3 Turkish Gold Pounds. Many of the people who built their houses there were aware of their safety and were afraid that due to their being far from the city they were vulnerable to thieves and criminals. A group of these settlers came to grandfather and asked him to move to the suburb with them. The reason for this request was the fact that grandfather was considered among the Jews and Arabs alike to be a “Jewish hero”. Being brave and physically strong he always used to defend the honour and safety of Jewish people, especially Jewish women. The Arab “shabab” (youngsters) frequently used to try and pester Jews, especially Jewish women in the marketplace, in the street or on the beach and they frequently used to get a taste of “Hawaja Moritz” (Mr Moritz’s) strong arm and crawl away hurt and wounded. During the hours of darkness grandfather never moved around without his revolver. Altough grandfather’s economical situation was already good at that time he could not pay the sum required for membership and buying a plot at the new suburb. The men who came to beg him to join told him that they will help him by getting him a loan free of interest but he refused.

Finally grandfather rented a house from Shimeon Rokach in Neve-Zedek. It was a very poor suburb. There was not a single oven in the whole suburb and the women had to go to the Arab bakers in Jaffa to get their bread. There was no running water in the houses and only one small well out of which water was raised with a bucket attached to a rope. As soon as grandfather arrived, he managed to fix some kind of installation with which water could be drawn without the bucket and rope. Roof-tiles were not yet produced in Israel at that time and had to be imported from Europe. They were expensive and therefore the roofs were covered with wooden planks and clay in between them. As soon as the first heavy rain came it rained into the house freely. Shimeon Rokach was a rich man and could cover his house with imported tiles but he was a miser and grandfather described him as an antipathetic, forceful and despotic person who thought himself to be the King of Israel. The way he spoke and acted enraged grandfather. One rainy night grandfather had to crouch all night in one of the corners with his baby son in his arms for the rest of the house was drenched by the rain. This caused a big quarrel with Rokach and grandfather almost hit him with a mattock. Despite all these difficulties my grandparents liked living in this suburb for the neighbors were very friendly and this made life’s hardships a little easier and warmed their hearts.

In 1889 my grandfather grew tired from arguing with Shimeon Rokach and returned to Jaffa, in the Ajami suburb, near the French School where he lived before. He went on working as before but his revenue was slightly less as the competition grew and the economical situation in Jaffa worsened. On February 5, 1891 he had another daughter. They gave her the name of the one who died but added a second name as used to be done in those days: Haya-Rachel. This was my aunt Rachel, the senior sister of my mother.

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