I came, last night and only at age 39, to the shocking conclusion that I don’t know the names of my great-great-grandparents. None of them. I don’t know where they lived, how they died, what they did as a living, whether they liked borscht or not. Anything.
I am fascinated by history, past and details, but overlooked the path that would quench my recent curiosity because until last night, three glasses of wine and Amos Oz at the bedside table, my great-grandparents’ lives already seemed too far away.
I then decided to draft the text below. Who knows, at one night of alcohol running through the veins, an yet unborn person finds out that he has to know more? And I publish because I trust more on Internet than on my memory for paying Google Drive for the rest of my life.
LETTER TO MY GREAT-GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN
First of all, nice to meet you, I’m Nurit. Brazilian, despite the Israeli name. And also despite writing these words from Israel, where I live since 2017.
Marek was your great-great-great-great-grandfather, born in Poland in 1928 and who, as a child and with his family, emigrated to Brazil. Those who did not flee this country that hated Jews before World War II, hardly made it out in the following years. He had the bluest eyes people ever heard of and the sharpest memory anyone could ever imagine. He would remember dates, details, the taste of the dishes, the name of each city he had visited when life became comfortable. He loved the typical Ashkenazim food as much as fried meat pastel with green olives. My grandfather was not just a listener. He used to understand exactly what someone meant, as someone who sees the soul, and gave the most perfect answers, whether sweet or not. From him I learned about resilience, about love – I was very lucky to learn from him about love – about inspiration and perspective. Both in art, where he was self-taught, and in life. He died in 2008 in São Paulo. He deeply felt in love – the kind we hardly find – with your great-great-great-great-grandfather Gessi, who was born in Ibiraci, Minas Gerais, in 1929. Daughter of Russians, died the year after I was born and only saw her through my mother’s eyes, your great-great-great-grandmother Eliana. Born in São Paulo in 1955, she looked like a doll with Russian features. She was raised like a knickknack until life demanded she to become a lioness. And she became. She separated from your great-great-great-grandfather at a time when no one was this brave and raised three daughters and went to study dentistry – to follow his father’s footsteps – at night. When I had my own children, she used to tell them every night they were together the story of the Goldfish, a Russian tale that also flooded my childhood. She used to prepare the family’s most famous guefilte fish, chicken liver salad, and the kind of Russian-Polish foods that make any Ashkenazim Jew to lick one’s lips. But in spite of all this, she was purely Brazilian. She liked feijoada, guitar music, Toquinho, Nara Leão, craft fairs, her roots, samba and farofa. And thanks to her, who learned from her mother, mandioca flour has never been missed in my kitchen in Israel. Nor in my life love or care or presence or affection.
Iso, also your -great-great-great-great-grandfather, was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (a country that ceased to exist when I was a child) in 1926 and fled too late during World War II. My mother always said that he had the biggest smile in the world because whoever goes through what he went through learns
another meaning for life. I was the oldest granddaughter and he, my first boyfriend. Every day of the year he took the little balls of paper that had been stored in his hole punch, and on Carnival Sunday we would both go to the front of the white gate of his house and throw them all in Holland Street’s floor. Jumping. I used to wait all year for this day and he would smile for simple pleasures. He was always smiling. And was a cinephile who collected thousands of titles and a Brazil’s lover who kept, even after forty years, his unmistakable accent. Died in São Paulo on New Year’s Eve 1988.
Married to your great-great-great-great-grandmother Sol, a ‘carioca’ from 1932, daughter of a French mother and an immigrant father from Thessaloniki, she was as Zionist as her husband and extremely well educated. She would talk about politics, about art history, and about literature. When she was widowed, she went to work in the lingerie factory that my grandfather founded with his partner and, eager for culture, created a library for the employees to have access to a new world. She collected over three thousand titles, cataloged them and never spent another day without instigating, indicating and insisting that knowledge would transform their lives. As I write these lines, she is eighty-seven years old and still works and drives everywhere and, as a good matriarch, coordinates the life of the whole family. Your -great-great-great-grandfather Ronald, their son, born in São Paulo in 1954, worked from a young age at the family’s lingerie factory, where he earned the nickname Professor Gearloose, as the genius engineer in charge of the production gadgets. Workaholic and tireless. In 2009, he took a plane in a hurry so as not to miss the birth of his first granddaughter and since then, as if life had presented him with his best role, he became the best grandfather in the world. It was from him that I learned that paths are not always straight lines and that everything is just fine. After all, the paths are the ones who transform us, not final destinations.
As for me, I was born in São Paulo in 1980 and I am a little bit of them all. Half Ashkenazim, half Sephardi and also nomad. I’ve lived in Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Gravatai, Ra’anana and Be’er Ora, despite all my best memories live in a place called Campos do Jordão. Until now. I have always been a soul too old for my body and maybe that’s why I prefer writing to talking, solitude to crowds. To make money, I’ve done a bit of a lot: I’ve worked in marketing for large and small businesses, traveled miles as a saleswoman. I’ve done executive production for a play called “Oral Sex,” I’ve been a full-time mom, I’ve undertook, wrote a book, and run a project for sexual violence victims. But if I need to summarize in one word what I do with soul, I would have no doubt: I write.
I know how to pray in Ladino burning cloves to take out jinx, my favorite food is pão-de-queijo and I drink three cups of coffee while it’s sunny outside, plus two (or three) glasses of wine as the sun goes down. After smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for years, I don’t give up my other addictions. The greatest feat – the most incredible, surreal and unbelievable – of my life was to give birth. The world can evolve and change, and even without knowing how children will be born in your world, believe me, this will always bee the great miracle of life. I’m Jewish with all my soul (just like all the real characters in this letter), though extremely secular (just like all the real characters in this letter). With my husband Alberto – a doctor, Zionist, from São Paulo born 1973, with whom I felt in love at the age eighteen – I decided to raise my children in the middle of the Israeli desert. Because it’s Israel and because here, we have one of the things we value most in this world: t-i-m-e. And as for Taly and Beny, I hope with all my heart that they will tell you they were happy. That their parents lived “out of the box,” but allowed them to see the world as it is. And to understand the differences between people, to not being afraid of changes, to have the strength to realize dreams and the courage to face any path.
And I wish the same to you.
From your great-great-grandmother,
Nurit Masijah Gil