Kimberley Ex-Pats Newsletter #23

September 2019

Compiled by Leon Chonin, Toronto

LEON CHONIN <chonin@rogers.com>

It has been so inspiring for me to receive acknowledgement from former Kimberley chaverim who have enjoyed some of my articles that have been published on the Kimberley Jewish Community Kehilalinks website. Your feedback is encouraging and helps us to decide on the most popular material content that will create interest and interaction between our former Kimberley residents. I have covered some aspects of Jewish life in Kimberley, but I am sure there are others that I have not thought of and your suggestions will certainly stimulate research into the topic.

I was so pleased that several Ex-Kimberley people, some of whom have not been in touch before, have emailed us since the article I wrote about Jewish Education in Kimberley. (Eli has now posted this article and you can read it on the website here: https://elirab.me/kimberley-ex-pats-newsletter-22-2-2/)

From Marion Lewis (née Schild) Cape Town simonl@iafrica.com

Hi Leon, I remember in 1952 or 1953 you and I were in school together. We were in Sub A or B at Belgravia Junior school.  I was Marion Schild at that time, and now I am Marion Lewis living in Cape Town with my husband.  We have two children, a daughter Avril, living across the road from us in Sea Point and a son Simon, married in London. We have three lovely grandchildren.

We all had happy childhoods in Kimberley and were free to grow up in a normal society and all had a good education. I enjoyed reading your article on the early days with cheider classes.  Because I was of German parents, there were some children who did not understand much about the holocaust and how could there be German Jews in South Africa! My parents agreed that I did not have to attend cheider any more as the teacher did not want to get involved in the dispute!  Things were different in those days and believe it or not, we survived!

I married Leslie Lewis in 1966 whose sister CynthiaLewis was married to Lampy (Leib) Maresky, he died 6 years ago.  The Lewis’s always bragged that they found their diamonds from Kimberley.  Lampy’s parents were Sarah and David Maresky and his siblings were Mannie (Emanuel) and Ray who married Gummy Gamarov.  Lampy became a very well-loved physician in Cape town and he was highly respected in our community. I was very excited to connect with Harold Hecht a few months ago.  I have been trying to find Ruth Witepski but to no avail.  All I know is that she is married and living in Japan and is a nursery-school teacher.  Michael her brother lives in Johannesburg, but no one seems to know how to get in touch with him. I am in touch with Delia Benn (née Brown) and Bobby in America.  Here in Cape town we are friends with David Diamond, Daphne Gillis (née Toube), Sheila Grant, (née Frank) and Vicky Weinberg (née Capon).

Here is a picture of the Marion Lewis (née Schild) family, Cape Town

From the left: Leslie, Marion, Cathy our daughter-in-law, Avril our daughter and Simon our son. (Cathy & Simon live in London (UK). The children: Naomi (Simon & Cathy daughter), Matthew (Avril’s son) and Reuben (Simon & Cathy son). 

Thank you so much Marion for your email. It’s such an amazingly small world that Mannie Maresky son Neil was married to my brother-in-laws cousin, so we used to see him and Doreen on many yomtavim. (I am delighted to read that we had a crush on each other before I started shaving). Ruth Witepski I believe still lives in Japan and has a daughter. Her brother Michael is a Facebook friend but is non active. 

I appreciate your encouraging comments about my articles. I am trying to leave for our future generations a flavor of what Jewish life was like in the old South Africa but particularly Kimberley. If we don’t document our history, it will be lost and those who came before us will be forgotten.  Please keep in touch and if ever you visit Toronto again please look me up so that we can meet to call back the past and see if we still have that youthful sparkle?

From Beverly Solsky (née Buirski) Sydney solsky@tpg.com.au

Hi Leon
Hope you and your family are well. I read with nostalgia your piece on Jewish Education in Kimberley. I am not sure if you remember my sister Lynette and I? We used to live in Memorial Road a few houses down from the Jacobson’s. I remember my days in Habonim and still remember the songs we sang and certainly have a clear memory of you.

We left Kimberley to live in Cape Town when I was 12. I went to Belgravia Junior School and attended Cheder with Mrs Werner as our teacher. I so enjoy receiving the newsletters and reminiscing of the happy years spent in Kimberley.

We are now living in Sydney and every now and again I bump into Jack Klein, Robin Apter,  Shelley Jawno,  David Goldberg and Sharon Seidel to name a few. I see Shelley more than anyone else as we are socially friendly.

My husband and I are now retired and enjoying our 5 grandchildren who also attend a Jewish Day School continuing in the footsteps of their parents who all attended a Jewish Day School both here and in Cape Town before we emigrated in 1987. (You can see a lovely picture that Beverly sent of Rabbi and Rebbitzen Werner with 50 Kimberley children, including herself and her sister Lynette, and read her family story on the website under ‘Families’ Solsky here: https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kimberley/Solsky.html).

I look forward to reading the next Newsletter which I understand you will be editing. We visited your beautiful city some years ago for a few days when we visited Canada and Alaska. Wishing you everything of the best. Fond regards, Beverly Solsky

Beverly, how could I ever forget all my Kimberley chaverim,. I remember you in our Habonim group and I can recall your sister, but the faces seem to be a dim memory. 

 

From Eleanor Kotkis kotkis@worldonline.co.za  

Hi Leon

I am Eleanor Finberg now known as Eleanor Kotkis. My husband and I have been married 46 years and we live in Joburg. We both still work. I work as a pharmacist. We have two children who are now in their 40’s. My how time flies! My daughter lives in Melbourne with her husband and 3 children and my son lives in London with his wife and 3 children. So, we are left here all alone. My children went to King David Linksfield school which gave them a fantastic education. They have followed the trend and their children are now going to Jewish schools in both Melbourne and London. We see them about once a year and were lucky enough to celebrate our eldest grandsons barmitzvah in April in Melbourne. Our youngest granddaughter is 3 living in Melbourne. My parents have both passed away. My mother 14 years ago and my dad, Mickey Finberg, 12 years ago. They were living in Joburg at the time. I wanted them here, so they lived in my house for a few years and then in Sandringham Gardens which is the Jewish home for the elderly

Eleanor. Sent from my iPhone.

Thanks so much Eleanor for your update. I am happy to include your profile in this newsletter we are circulating around the time of Rosh Hashana. Keep well and my regards to Ronny.

From Brenda Nathan (née Garsh) Johannesburg brenmail@telkomsa.net

Hi Leon. 
Have just received your articles on the different aspects of life In Kimberley and so enjoyed reading them. Having left so many years ago I still value the years of growing up there. I left Kimberley for Johannesburg in 1960 but still remember the close

Community life we led.

Kindest regards

Brenda (Garsh) Nathan

 

It was really wonderful to hear from you Brenda after almost 45 years. I think we matriculated very much at the same time. Although I lived in Joburg most of my life we never bumped into each other in all those years. I recall you had an older sister Jill and if I am not mistaken you have family living in Toronto. Please keep in touch and tell us your family stories.  

From Daphne Gillis (née Toube), Cape Town

Hi Geraldine
Thanks for your latest newsletter.  It is always wonderful to go back and think about one’s youth. Just a couple of thoughts about Jewish education for Leon.  Goldberg was a Reverend, not a Rabbi, but he taught most of the Barmitzvah boys; no Batmitzvah in my time.  Also, we had regular visits from the inspector for Hebrew education from Johannesburg.  He was Rabbi Jack Klewansky who was married to my mom’s sister, Lily (née Blumenthal). I did not enjoy his visits as languages were not my strongpoint. I did however go to Cheder classes until the end of my Std 9 year, 1947.  Most boys left after Barmitzvah. and girls about the same time.
Keep up the good work. Kind regards, Daphne Gillis.
(You can read more about the Klewansky family under ‘families’ on the website  https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kimberley/Klewansky.html.Also, more on the Gillises (and Toubes) too, on the website under ‘Families’

 

From Trevor Toube, London,(Daphne’s brother)

Thanks Geraldine, for another interesting Newsletter.
Leon, you may not know that Anita Kaplan did Hebrew for Matric in 1955. Because she was doing the course, which included ‘Ivrit Chayah’ (modern Hebrew grammar) as well as Biblical text-works, Ivor Brown and I, who were a year behind her in school, attended all the classes – and that knowledge still informs the basis of my Hebrew. I was also the first child in Kimberley ‘in living memory’ [allegedly!] to layen the whole sedra for my barmitzvah (1952). I think I conducted the Friday evening service as well (I have certainly done that so very many times since – as well as most other services, so I must have learned to do so at some point). All the best, Trevor

Geraldine writes:  I have just come from celebrating Trevor’s 80thwith him and his family on 1 September in London. It began with a wonderful Shabbat Service at his shul, the New West End Synagogue in Bayswater, near Marble Arch, with a professional choir of 8 trained Jewish voices. Trevor, a very important minyan man – and much else for the synagogue, read the haftorah and a member of their choir,Benjamin Till, a professional composer,was commissioned to write a special new Yismechufor the occasion. They also sang Benjamin’s beautiful Ein Keloheinu. This beautiful service was followed by a great kiddush. (There are many South Africans in the community and a few months ago they apparently had a South African ‘brocha’ including chopped herring trimmed with grated boiled eggs and kichel!)  The celebrations continued on Sunday with a brunch at the home in Notting Hill Gate of his daughter Felicity.

Trevor, son of Abie and Violet Toube (née Blumenthal) pictured left at their wedding in the Kimberley shul in 1929) left Kimberley in 1957 to go to Rhodes University. He got his BSc (Hons) in 1960. Then in 1961,he got his MSc at Natal University, and received his PhD from Cambridge in 1965. Trevor – who was always reckoned to be super-bright, rose in the British academic field and was Senior Lecturer in Organic Chemistry at Queen Mary University of Londonwhen he retired. He then continued to lecture, this time to students from New York University. He married American, Sharlott Abramsin 1965, and they settled in North-East London, initially in Loughton and later in Woodford. 

Trevor and Sharlott had two children; Felicity, now a Queen’s Counseland David, the Director of Policy of Quilliam. He works in anti-extremism. Sharlott passed away in 2006and Trevor moved to Bayswater to be nearer to Felicity and his three Miller grandsons. Trevor’s son David, and his wife, who is a Judge, live in a village near Colchester with their two children.

Above is an iconic picture of ‘Blumenthal’s Corner’ Pan Road /Jones Street. Where the Toube’s ran their Central Jewellers emporium. It is opposite the SA PERM and Edgars and diagonally opposite the Dee Bee Bazaar with its iconic Clock Tower (once owned by the Klein Brothers) now at the Big Hole Museum.

(More pictures of and information about Jewish businesses can be seen on the website at the bottom of my business survey here https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kimberley/Business.html)

Where have we all ended up?

Looking at the spread of our responses, I thought that another topic that would be of historical and communal interest is the migration patterns of our former Kimberley Jewish residents. Obviously, we are all aware were most of our former residents have moved to English speaking countries and to Israel but perhaps it may be of value to know who went where and why they decided to migrate to that country. And if their children have migrated anywhere else! Such a research paper would need the collaboration of those in the various countries and I would need a volunteer from each country to gather the data for me. Are there any chaverim out there interested in helping me.

How Jewish are our grandchildren?

Yet another topic I am considering is the threat of assimilation to the future viability and survival of small Jewish communities and how they can overcome this dilemma. Anti-Semitism is another growing threat to the safety of the Jewish people worldwide and I have considered documenting how we coped in Kimberley with this plague which may also require some impressions from former Jewish residents on whether or not they ever experienced any form of discrimination. Our generation grew up after the end of the Second World War but during the war years there was a very strong Afrikaner movement who supported Hitler and were not well disposed towards the Jewish community. Today the threat is from the fanatical Muslims and the so-called liberal left wing.  Again, I would welcome contributions from all Kimberley Jewish residents and non-residents.

Keeping in touchOur Common Bonds

While we may all live in different cities and countries, we all share that common heritage that we grew up in a small united Jewish community and were a close and vibrant bunch of men and women, boys and girls that gave us the values we hold onto today. Let us try to remember those former days by remaining in contact with each other for as long as we are all able to read and write.

I want to attract regular visitors to our Kehilalinks website. This is an amazing place to record and document the people and events in the Kimberley Jewish Community. The best way I can do it if we can provide interesting and current information. Please send your stories and photos and share our website with all the old Kimberley folk living in your region and ask them to contact me with their family status.

It would really stimulate interest if you could provide us with a recent family picture so that we can give all our old chaverim an idea of our maturing years.  Here below, by way of example, is my own family in June 2018 at my granddaughter Gemma’s Batmitzvah. 

Leon Chonin Family Photo, Toronto 2018

From the left: Kevin Moshal (son-in-law), Melissa Moshal (daughter), Megan Moshal (granddaughter), Gemma Moshal (granddaughter), Jayden Sussman (grandson), Clifford Sussman (son-in-law), Tanya Sussman (daughter), Dylan Sussman (grandson), Barbara Chonin (wife), Leon Chonin. Front row: Benjamin Moshal (grandson), Evan Sussman (grandson)

Have a look at  the visitors’ book section where we post your emails to us https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kimberley/Visitors_Book.htmland our Newsletters which  https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kimberley/News.htmlare all up on the site. and fill in the form in the ‘contact’ section to start your own family page.

On behalf of the editorial team, (Geraldine Eli and me) I wish you all a happy New Year and a meaningful Yom Kippur. May you all be inscribed in the book of life for another healthy joyous year and may you all share these high holidays with your loved ones. We look forward to hearing from you.  

Best regards

LEON CHONIN chonin@rogers.com   

Newsletter no 23 Compiled by Leon Chonin, Toronto, September 2019

 

Kimberley, South Africa

KehilaLink

Source: kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kimberley/

 

THE CHONIN FAMILY RE-UNIFICATION

THE CHONIN FAMILY RE-UNIFICATION

(written by Leon Chonin April 20, 2019)

Eliezer Grob and Sora Lieba (or Leja) Chonin had two children born of their marriage. Edel (Yiddish name Idel ben Israel Leizer according to the conscription register but whose Hebrew name was in fact Yehuda ben Eliezer) and Mera Sheina. Edel was born according to the conscription register in 1912 and according to the marriage register Mera Sheina was born in 1915 hence Edel was about 3 to 4 years older than his younger sister. Eliezer Grob who was a religious and observant Jew was, according to Edel, a tailor. They lived in a shtetl called at that time Utyan in Lithuania. It was subsequently known as Utena.

In the book Shtetl by Eva Hoffman a vivid tale is told of the barbaric treatment of the Jews by the Russian Cossacks who kidnapped Jewish men and young boys to force them into the army. They would target the poor and the tailors. It was during one of these village raids that Eliezer was a victim of these marauding thugs when he was forcibly taken from his family. The precise date was unknown to Edel who was a young boy and could hardly remember his father but would have been after 1915 the date of Mera Sheina’s birth. He was never seen again and was probably killed by these Cossacks for refusing to enlist and fight or may have succumbed to his ill treatment.  

Sora Lieba had an older brother Sam Chonin (subsequently changing his name to Cohen) who had two daughters Dinah and Sadi. He left Lithuania long before Edel emigrated and settled in Beaconsfield, a suburb of Kimberley in South Africa. He opened a general dealer’s business on the main street of Beaconsfield.

Edel attended cheder as this was the only form of education available to the young Jewish children and like his father, he was tailor as there were few other opportunities for the Jewish people in Eastern Europe. They lived in a typical wooden shtetl home and were barely able to survive. They only spoke Yiddish at home but Edel was able to read and write in Hebrew.

When Edel turned 17 in 1929 his mother encouraged him to leave Utena to join her brother Sam in Kimberley, South Africa. She was concerned for his safety from the Cossacks who regularly raided the Jewish villages and the poverty they lived in with little if no opportunities to improve their quality of life. Edel boarded the Toledo arriving in Cape Town according to the ship’s passenger list on September 25, 1929. He left behind his mother who was about 46 years old and his sister who was about 14 years old.

Mera Sheina as a young girl

Mera Sheina according to the passport database register applied for and was granted a passport on November 27, 1929 very soon after Edel emigrated from Lithuania. When Mera Sheina turned 24 she married Leiba Ozur on February 19, 1939 in Utena and according to the marriage register the Rabbi presiding over the marriage was Aronas Kacas with two witnesses Vulfas Sapiro and Mendelis Peleris. Both families were residents of Utena.

Mera Sheina married into a family who would appeared to have been accused of anti-communist activisms. At the time of her marriage Lithuania was controlled by and governed by Russia and was also during the period when the dictator Stalin was in power. He had introduced draconian laws that imprisoned and killed innocent people regardless of race, nationality, religion or party affiliations. He and his secret police were on a mission to eradicate any form of opposition or activity that was deemed to be counter-revolutionary. Stalin would only permit the so-called “Communist Religion” and those in the “intelligentia” (the intellectuals or educated class) who opposed his ruthless laws were either killed, tortured or exiled. 

Leiba Ozur, Leya Ozur, Mera Sheina Ozur (Chonin)

In 1940 Leiba and Mera Sheina had a daughter Leya and in the following year in 1941 they together with the entire Ozur family were exiled to Siberia. The conviction order cited the laws of the NKGB (People’s Commissariat of State Security) of Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian SSR 1941-1945. They were sentenced to special treatment in the Tomsk region. Only one of Leiba brothers who was an anti-communist activist was sent to a Russian Gulag which was a prison that was responsible for the brutal torture and slaughter of many innocent people. Leiba, Mera Sheina and their daughter, Leya were banished to Siberian small villages. They lived in Voronich and Parbig settlements before finally settling in Tomsk which had specialized schools for deaf children. A Rehabilitation Order (rescinding or terminating the exile conviction order) appears to have been issued in 1957 which would have allowed the family freedom of movement and location. Tomsk is located in the South Western region of the Siberia. It appears as if there are today a mere 4,000 Jews living in Tomsk with an assimilation rate of close to 90%. Obviously when Leiba, Mera Sheina and Leya finally settled in Tomsk there would have been even fewer Jews than today’s population. Because of the severe conditions that they had to live in, wooden shacks, without heating and adequate insulation Leya contracted meningitis that left her deaf and dumb. Although they left the smaller villages to seek better living conditions for Leya they were unable to find adequate Jewish institutions that would provide the necessary support for Leya’s education and care. They tried to join a regular Jewish congregation but Leya was unable to participate because of her hearing and developmental impairment. They were left with little alternative but to seek support from non-Jewish institutions which exposed Leya to the influence of Russian culture and adopting atheism. It would also appear that Leiba who was a religious observant Jew, as Leya remembers he often prayed, did not encourage his daughter to remain faithful to her roots and her Jewish heritage. It should also be recognized that during the Stalin dictatorship era religious practices were forbidden if not banned.

Edel and his sister Mera Sheina just before he left Utena. He was about 16 years and his sister was about 13 or 14 years.

In South Africa as a mark of solidarity when Melissa (Edel’s granddaughter) had her batmitzvah in 1988 she was paired with a young Russian Jewish girl, Reeva Borsova, as she was not permitted to have her batmitzvah. Hence this pairing was intended to relay to the batmitzvah girls the privilege they enjoyed in having religious freedom while their Russian counterparts were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Mera Sheina died in 1964 at the age of 49 years from ovarian cancer when Leya was 24 years. While she was hospitalized and suffering from her terminal condition her daughter Leya recalls her mother appealing for her brother Edel to come and help her. Both Edel and Mera Sheina had no idea where each other where living. Both had tried to initiate contact with each other by using Russian authorities and through the assistance of the International Red Cross but without any success whatsoever. She died without knowing what had happened to both her mother and her brother living in South Africa. Leiba died in 1977 when Leya was 37 years old.

Without a traditional Jewish upbringing Leya married a Russian who was also hearing impaired and had a daughter Ludmila. Because of their disability Leya and her husband were unable to raise their daughter. Ludmila also married outside of the Jewish faith and had a daughter Nadezhda and a son, Mikhail. Nadezhda (Nadia) married Artur Fedotov who was the key to re-establishing the link with the Chonin family as he frequently engaged in research to trace family connections. He had created his family tree on Myheritage website that identified a similar family structure in the family tree of Leon Chonin on Geni website. Soon after identifying this link Ludmila died in March 2019 also of ovarian cancer a mere month before formal contact was restored between the families. Her husband had predeceased her when he passed away in 2006.

After the fall of communism in the 1990 the surviving members of the Ozur family emigrated to Israel leaving behind Nadia, her brother Mikhail, her mother Ludmila and her granny Leya. They were the only remaining direct descendants of Mera Sheina.

Gemma Moshal (Edel’s great granddaughter) as part of her school Heritage project also created a similar family tree on Myheritage website with the help of Melissa from the data sourced from Leon Chonin family tree on Geni website. Once again this created a link with Artur Fedotov family tree on Myheritage which inspired Artur to make contact with Melissa who then passed on the information to her father Leon Chonin. Almost at the same time Nadezhda (Nadia) after researching the Chonin name discovered Barbara Chonin name on the Ontario Ballet School website and left a message that she had called. These, sequence of events, led to the re-establishment of contact between Nadia and Leon. The credit for this miracle is largely due to Gemma’s project that not only initiated the research but gained her an award for this project that was presented to her in Tel Aviv, Israel.

While it is tragic that a brother and a sister who so closely resembled each other were never re-united in life but only after 90 years, since parting, did their off spring re-establish a unique family bond. These circumstances while heartbreaking for the family was not unique to the Jewish people in Eastern Europe. Millions were executed by the Nazi Germans and their collaborators, the Russian Cossacks under the Czar or by the Russian Communists under Stalin. Its important that we as a family recognize the pain and suffering endured by our family and by the Jewish people. We need to appreciate the liberty we have and never forget the sacrifices made by our ancestors so that we have the opportunity to live in freedom and safety.

Hashem works in amazing ways and it is hoped that the re-unification of the Chonin family will encourage the return of the entire family to their religious roots.

OZUR FAMILY
Back Row: Leiba Ozur, Zalmanas Ozur, Hanna Ozur, Sasha Ozur, Simelis Ozur (imprisoned in a Gulag)
Front Row: Mera Sheina Ozur (was Chonin), Ozur sister and her husband who remained behind in Lithuania but were shot by the Nazis

This article should also be read together with an article published on the following website

Chonin Edel

Chonin Edel

Kimberley, South Africa

Source: kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kimberley/Chonin_Edel.html

that describes the story of Edel Chonin in more detail.