Pre-Birth Memories

There are family memories of history and life events long before I was born. They were related to me by my parents long years ago, in days of youth when I could better understand.

My mother was born into a family whose geneology is recorded from 1727 to 1927 in various towns and cities of Austrian Galicia, a part of Poland prior to its 1918 independence.

Over the course of those 200 years, every male in our family were hassidim of the Belzer sect. The family tree noting their names and places of birth was created in Lwow in 1927 to commemorate 200 years of our family’s rabbinic dynasty.

It hangs on a central wall of my home.

Sadly, both of my mother’s  parents died six months apart from one another when my mother was only ten years old. She, her sister and two younger brothers were orphaned.

Her mother’s sister and husband were a childless couple, an extremely wealthy couple, who took the four small orphans into their home and raised them as their children.

The home was quite large. I can still remember it from my many childhood visits. It had 6 bedrooms, 3 kitchens (one for dairy, one for meat and one for Pesach), two large salons with pianos, a magnificent garden of pear trees, apple trees, peach trees, cherry trees from which brandy was made, called Wisniak, plum trees for making marmalade and another brandy called Slivovitz, and grape vines producing white grapes, a small pool for birds to drink from, and beds of roses of various colors.

The family staff consisted of Pola, the pastry cook who had worked in the palace of Emperor Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and who was also the chef producing mouth-watering dishes.

There was Josef the chauffeur and gardener, Antoinette the French seamstress, and Julia, the Polish launderess who would yell at us children with “psiakrew”, a not-very-nice Polish curse.

The family’s wealth was derived from their large leather factory which produced animal hides for the renowned Czech shoe company, Bata, and which had branches in several European and American cities.

My mother’s childhood, though very much saddened by the death of both parents within six months, was a comfortable one. She was sent to university at the age of eighteen and studied oratory and literature.

After that, I know very little of her life until she met and married my father when she was 25 and he was 30.

Unlike my mother’s family, my father was born in a small shtetl village in Czarist Russia in the province of Grodno Gubernia, now part of Belarus.

He and his brother and four sisters lived with their parents in an Orthodox home. At the age of 5, my father went to cheder and learned how to read the prayers in Hebrew. From age 13 until he died in 1980 he prayed every morning. I can still see him putting on his tefillin and swaying back and forth as he recited his daily prayers.

Every year on Yom Kippur he was called up to chant maftir Jonah. He knew the words by heart.

When his younger brother entered a medical school, my father went to work in order to earn enough money to pay his brother’s tuition. Only when his brother was graduated from medical school and began working as a hospital doctor did my father pay attention to his own education. He went to law school and became a practicing lawyer.

The devotion of brothers and sisters in my father’s family, and total devotion to their widowed father, was legendary. Quite different from petty jealousies that often erupted in my mother’s family.

The aunt and uncle who took her in as an orphaned child, were not happy when my mother informed them that she and my father were going to be married. The Austrian “upper class” disliked her marriage to a Litvak, son of a poor Orthodox  Yiddish-speaking family.

In spite of their opposition, my father and mother married and loved and honored one another for 49 years until his death.

My mother succeeded him by twelve years. Her mind was very clear and at age 80 she went back to the university and studied classes in Hebrew Bible, concentrating on the books of the prophets.

She was a very gifted and creative woman who had a skill in writing short stories and poems.

She lived until the age of 86, still remembering events of her childhood years and sharing them with my brother and me.

And I, at age 85, continue to share the memories with my children and my adult grandchildren.

Hopefully the memories will be passed along to a new generation.  Memories of love and devotion.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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