Wild Things to Do - Joffes And Idelsohns
Wild Things to Do - Joffes & Idelsohns
Copyright © 2009 Jon Seligman. All Rights Reserved.
Chaya Musha Yachad & Guttman Joffe
Kraslava, Russia (Latvia) - circa 1890
Now we go back to 1909. In the shtetl of Kraslava, Goodman Joffe after suffering from typhoid fever and after suffering a head injury at the hands of a Lithuanian just for being a Jew, takes his own life. He is survived by his wife Chaya Musha and his sons Arthur (Avram), Israel, Harry and his daughter Mary. Arthur's uncle, Lou Yachad who is already in SA returns for Arthur's barmitzvah and brings the 13 year old boy back with him to SA. Ora has a photo of the two of them hanging in her study.
Lou owned a general concession store on the mines where Arthur worked but they wanted him to have a better education. The store was far away from Johannesburg and Lou and his pals played cards every night and it turned out that Arthur was restless and chose not to continue his schooling. Yiska says that he had a wonderful mind, and that he could have been a solicitor but he didn't have the patience. He moved to Johannesburg where he worked for others and then made work for himself as a smous selling goods from a horse and cart. He gradually moved into wholesaling. His first store was in Pritchard St where I (Yiska) worked for 3 months. I had just got a secretarial qualification but I learned the wrong shorthand and couldn't write down the letters he wanted to dictate to me. I was good at taking orders. He stocked dry goods, cigarettes, cigars and tobacco were
big items. He paid me 12 pounds 10 a month but after a few months he told me I must go. I found another job which paid only three pounds. At 27 with very little money he brought his family out.
Arthur was devoted to his friends, he played bridge but was no fun to play with because his mind wandered. One day he went to deliver goods to Abe Bobrow who had married Shoshana in Jules Street. Abe to Arthur "I know a beautiful young girl for you." Arthur fell in love with Dena right away but she didn't care for him. He kept on visiting her and every time he came she wanted to run away. After some time he wrote her a letter, "if you don't care for me I understand and I will stop coming …". This plaintiff letter softened her heart and Dena agreed to marry him on one condition, if Yiska could come to the wedding.
Yiska sailed from the US and Dena met her at Cape Town docks. They travelled together on the train to Park Station in Johannesburg where they were met by Ima, Shoshana, Abe, Arthur, Uncle Jerry and Aunt Ester.
Yiska overheard Ima's anxiety over the shidach, Dena was 13 years younger and Arthur had some rather strange notions. What? She brought this up with Dena but was told that to terminate an engagement in Johannesburg was not at all commendable and that it ruins ones chances of meeting someone else.
Dena looked beautiful in a pink bridal outfit, there was no reception, Arthur would not have one. Then there was a reception at Mary's hosue and Yiska and Ima were not invited! "It must have been an oversight," says Yiska. Ima refused to go without a proper invitation and even the bride Dena didn't attend. This was never understood or mentioned again.
The newly weds lived at first in Bedford Road in Yeoville, then they moved to a larger house in St Georges Street, and strangely enough Ima and Arthur struck up a most harmonious relationship. Arthur called Ima Imshel. Their discussions were most congenial and invariably they talked about philosophy and psychology late into the night. Both were self educated and their talks always ended with Arthur kissing Imsel on the forehead. He was always kind and considerate to her. Of Arthur Yiska says that he was a good man but he was depressed and not a good companion, and that he didn't participate in his family's life. He suffered from a nervous condition which made life difficult for Dena and the children. This is a strong thread in the story of depression I was handed as my heritage. As I understand it his treatment consisted of regular and sustained electric shocks.
A similar relationship to Ima's and Arthur's developed between Arthur's mom Chaya Musha and Yiska. Yiska could speak Yiddish so much better than Dena and they too had long conversations. Chaya Musha 's two other sons, Harry and Mendel and her daughter Mary stayed with her, but it was too much for her, and she continually hoped they would marry. Mendel suffered from epilepsy which he used as an excuse not to get involved but he was essentially healthy and lived to a ripe old age. Chaya Musha pleaded for Yiska to arrange a nice young woman or two for her sons. On one occasion Yiska found one and set up a meeting. Mendel was the better looking and the young woman had her hopes on him. He said, "not for me, try Harry,"who said, "no thanks." Both the mother of the woman and Chaya Musha were very disappointed.
Uncle Lewis who brought Arthur out lost his right arm in an accident. His business suffered and Arthur paid off his debts. Dena's savings were also depleted but to Uncle Lewis all thanks are due. If not for him the Joffe branch of the family might not have survived or come to South Africa.
Arthur and Chaya Musha sent Mary back to Kraslava in Latvia to find a husband and she returned with Louis Seligman. As soon as the newly weds got a home Chaya Musha left Mendel and Harry to themselves and moved in with Mary and Louis. Mary was not amused. Arthur set Louis and a partner up in business and Mary was worried that once Arthur got married he would not fulfil his promise to her and her husband. This fear was unfounded.
Arthur and Dena were only married for a short while before Dena fell pregnant. When she went into labour it was Yiska who accompanied her to the hospital where Orala was born, a very tiny and premature baby. Arthur was away in Muizenberg where he continued to holiday without his wife and children. Ima was unhappy with the locum who she was convinced was not qualified as a doctor and there was much turmoil. Arthur was distressed that the baby was so small and he blamed himself.
Chaya Musha with Louis (Leibe) Seligman, Mary, Harry and Mendel
Dena was afraid to touch the baby, so Yiska once again stepped in along with Zilla. She bathed Ora, rubbed her with olive oil as prescribed in those days, dressed her, and carried her to her mother for her feed. She was the most dainty baby and she grew into the most beautiful child. Zilla and I loved her as if she was our own child, then after a month Dena overcame her fear and was very devoted. My mother for whom Ora was a great joy used to call Ora little piepsel.
At 8 months, Ora caught a cold which developed into double pneumonia. Dena, Yiska and Zilla were very very anxious and kept a vigil day and night but Orala was a fighter and recovered strongly.
Then Ima received a letter from father, he was ill and wanted Ima to return to America. Can you believe it? Ima was the most forgivng loyal wife. Before they had met Ima, the Cohens once asked father what is your wife like. He replied that she is a pure soul. Very reluctantly Ima left her daughters and her grandchildren and joined father.
I was engaged at the time and Ima asked my fiance to marry me before her departure. He refused. I wrote two letters, one to my parents in which I explained very little and one to my dear Aunt Rala in Springs. I mixed up the envelopes. Rala returned my letter and my parents upon reading the letter intended for Rala learned how neglected and unhappy I was. They promptly replied that I should terminate the engagement immediately which I did.
Shoshana had begun a beautician course which she gave up when she left and since it was paid for I took it over midway. My parents moved to Miami Florida but I remained teaching and working in the beauty salon. The owner had great faith in me but also took advantage of my generous nature and had me working six days a week plus three nights as well. I also went back to finish my high school education living in the WMCA. On three occasions I went to Florida to visit father who was becoming more and more paralysed and whose movement had become restricted to one little finger. One time Ima found him with a tie around his neck. In this greatly reduced state he was extremely restless and frustrated and indicated that he wished to return to SA to be with his family.
In New York rabbis, cantors, professors all called on father in the hotel. He couldn't reply but I interpreted what he meant by the movements of his one moveable finger. I remember the stewards were on strike on the ship and the twenty one day voyage was a nightmare.
We were met in Johannesburg by notable people and family. The first thing I said to my sisters was take over. I was exhausted both mentally and physically.
Ora was waiting for me on the verandah and I kissed her but she did not smile. She's lost her front teeth and was very embarrassed. Joel was there too and said "Hello Annie Eska." Danny had grown a lot in the time we'd been separated into a lovely looking boy and he something that sounded just like Aunty shiksa.
Ima and I moved into flat in Yeoville and in every flat we lived in from there on I had my beauty salon. On July 1, 1938 it was father's 56th birthday. Ima baked him a great big cake with lots of candles and 57 iced on top. A shiver ran through our bodies as he exerted great effort and with his with only moveable finger removed the top of the iced numeral 7. Six weeks later he died. At his funeral his three sisters, two brothers, his old Aunt Sara mourned the passing of a man dedicated to Judaism, whose life work enriched the Jewish world. In thirty years he accomplished what would have taken three scholars to complete in a life time. For his 80th, 90th, and centenary birthdays Yiska published articles about her father. A street in a new suburb in Jerusalem was named after him on his centenary. It is near Golda Meir Boulevard. A lovely companionship between Zilla and AZ developed in his last days. Out of love and respect he dedicated the 9th volume of his thesaurus of which only 10 volumes were printed. These works embrace Jewish tunes throughout Europe and the Orient and Yemenite as well.
Whilst lighting a yortziet candle to commemorate his fathers passing Eliyahu had a heart attack and died.
As a young girl Ora was only interested in stories, she wanted to hear and tell
A.Z. Idelsohn's Dedication to Zilla in the Nineth Volume of the Thesaurus with a note from Yiska to Ima
them all the time and she was an avid reader. Once I (Yiksa) was telling her a story which had the words with "all my heart" or something like that in it. I asked her if she knew where ones heart is, and without nay hesitation she pointed to her buttocks. She was a very lively little girl.
Joel born in Parkwood, the family had moved again. When Dena went into labor Arthur was fast asleep. As soon as the pains started he took a sleeping draft. In the morning when he woke and learned that he had a son he telephoned me, "Dena gave birth to a son, he weighs six and a half pounds." I wasn't sure what mattered most, the son or the weight.
I caught two trams to the house where the brit was taking place, my grandparents, Azriel and Devora Leah were there, and Azriel was already writing out little prayers of rejoicing and blessing on small bits of paper and sticking them to the walls. The baby was named Joel Goodman after his maternal grandfather.
He was a lovely baby who developed quickly and Arthur was also quick to show him off whenever anyone visited.
Joel was two years younger tried very hard to imitate Ora but could never quite get the attention. She laughed a lot and loved to dance and sing. Her favorite song was,
"I put my right foot forward, I put my left foot forward, and I turn, this is my dance,"
She was so dainty, she walked on her toes as she sung and danced it. Joel tried to imitate her but he couldn't think of the words nor do the steps.
When Joel was older he worked during the holidays in his fathers store and whatever he obtained he gave it to the black ones. This was his wonderful contribution all his life.
Can I tell you what happened yesterday or is too recent?
Please tell me.
Two black men in a restaurant asked me if I'm 89. I said no I'm 90. My friend told these men that my nephew worked as a lawyer in the Rivonia Trial to save Mandela.
The buxom one said, "Joel? I know him. I'm an MP"
He is well known amongst our parliament members.
Dena taught her children how to pray in Hebrew and English. I used to follow them upstairs to listen to them pray and Joel would get it all wrong and complain that Ora wouldn't let him pray alone. He came crying to me, "Ami Eska Ora won't let me say my prayer, I let her say her prayer." She was a very devoted sister but she wanted a free hand in everything. I would often stay to look after the children.
Dena although a proud and devoted mother had little patience for her children and liked to send them off with the nanny. The family mostly employed white nannies and I remember Johanna an Afrikaans women well. The children called her Honey. She was very competent and well trained but a little strict with Ora who often returned in tears after the daily walk.
One time Ora and I were sitting on the balcony and she looked up at the sky and said "Yiska the moon is broken."
I remember another time Joel and Ora were playing in the driveway. Joel could hardly walk and kept on falling but he tried again and again screaming a piercing scream trying to keep up with Ora. He never gave up. When my father and mother visited Ora would be the first to greet them, then Joel would say, "hullo renny, hullo rampa, I'm fine," before they could ask him how he was, "I want a sweetie."
Oh how I loved and enjoyed these loveable children including Danny and David who came later.
Danny was a very very sweet child. If you told him something you didn't like he'd leave the room and go sit under the piano. He was the most beautiful little boy. When he didn't feel well he'd also go to his cot and lie down with is hanky on his face and say this will heal me. I used to call him Pandofski. He was his parents favorite in a way and every morning he'd go lie between them in the bed where he confided to his father whatever didn't quite please him and also what pleased him.
One time Dena little Orala and I went on a three month holiday to Muizenberg. Our estranged brother Eliyahu went with us and we were invited to his wedding in Queenstown. I was the bridesmaid. After the festivities the bride's father took a liking to me and asked me to remain. He had his son in mind but I returned to Johannesburg with Dena.
Dena rented a house in Auckland Park and I met a young interior decorator and was foolish enough to marry him.
Father had several paralytic strokes and Dena, Shoshana, Ora, Joel, Tamar, Devora and I rushed over to be with him. Dena was pregnant with Danny but this did not deter from embarking on the long sea voyage. After three and a half years of the most unhappy marriage, my affairs were put in order and it turned out to be the most lovely trip. How the soul can embody healing.
Danny was born in the US. I was there with Dena and when her time came we went together to the Jewish hospital by taxi. After the birth Dena fell fast asleep but I heard baby cry to find the sister holding him. I went over and he stopped crying, looked at me, held my finger and the bond was established immediately. I sent a cable to Arthur, "it said baby boy, USA."
Abie began to write that he was pining for Shoshana and his family. Dena left when Danny was two months old. On the voyage back Joel needed constant watching. One day he threw all that could be thrown and that was within reach through the cabin's porthole.
In 1929 AZ came to SA for his parents golden wedding anniversary. There were 150 guests, and granny Devora Leha was very proud of her oldest son, when visitors came she would say, "Come see a photo of my son the professor."
Dena developed a growth on her back, Arthur was devastated. Yiska spoke to Arthur and he agreed to buy the house in 84 Oxford Rd Lower Houghton. Ima and Yiska moved in to town into bachelor flat in Africa House.
Yiska were regular visitors to 84 Oxford Rd, and would sleep there often. The Oxford Road house was a double storey with a tennis court and the school was in walking distance. It became the center of family life but ironically Arthur who had provided it couldn't really enjoy it. Whilst others came for tennis, teas on the lawn in the garden Dena was passionate about, festival meals that Dena prepared beautifully, Arthur withdrew to his room and slept. He complained of pain in the chest which the doctors said were mental and he was unable to partake in the world his hard work had made possible. Chaya Musha said to Yiska what is the matter, week after week sleeping and complaining, he has a lovely wife, a family house, he should be happy. Yiska agreed but could not comment. Arthur was fearful of his life and his obligations and his health and responsibilities and Dena was so patient with him. When Arthur returned from his holiday we would go on a separate holiday.
JM: Can you tell me more about the lifestyle at 84 Oxford Road? I remember this big double story house and the foot bell under the table so the servants could bring in the food and the tennis court and didn't Dena only used to employ white nannies?
Yes the ones name was Johanna, an Afrikaner, Dena didn't have much patience and always sent the children to the nurse. There was one coloured woman who stayed for a very long time till they went to the States.
Dena prepared for all the festivals beautifully, the tables were all arranged and even at Blue Haze, their flat in Berea.
One late afternoon Yiska went down to the shop and near the corner sat a little boy on the curb, rather familiar little figure. She went over to him and asked, "What are you doing here Joely?" Joel replied, "I boarded a tram to go to my violin lesson and I was reading a book and I did not realise I'd got onto the wrong tram till it stopped at the terminus." He came up to the flat and Arthur called for him before long.
Then Ima moved in to stay with Dena and Arthur. One time when oranges were plentiful the children heard a vendor calling moramzim moramzim, one and six a bag, I bought a pocket and we settled around the kitchen table where we washed and sliced the whole bag. Once it was empty the children couldn't believe it. Ima's hobby was to look after the chickens and every day Joel would run out in his pyjamas grinning showing lovely teeth, summer or winter shouting, "hello my goggelag, I'm going to marry you."
He was not always a happy boy. Once Dena and Yiska were sitting on the veranda, and they heard him come screaming down the hill. He complained of severe pain in his legs and was examined by Dr Sylov who could find nothing wrong. Later Joel confessed to Yiska that he had no pain and that all he wanted was attention. He always kept a neatly folded handkerchief in his pocket for comfort and could be found sitting under the Baby Grand Piano. At nine Arthur sent him off to boarding school and Joel cried but Arthur was determined. It however proved to be the start of a new life shared with boys who became life long friends.
The Joffes settled in to their new home and Yiska took Ora onto the tennis court under protest. Joel played tennis with her more willingly and he hit the net every time but kept on persevering in the manner that has no doubt made him so successful today. For Ora the court became a center of social activity.
When David was born I've never seen so much devotion of an older sister, if he cried she would run upstairs saying no one is meant to be with me and want to care for him alone. He had a very loud voice. One time she was holding him and she took his toes in her hand and said, "Can you imagine Hitler had such lovely little toes when he was a child?"
David did what he wanted. He was very very determined. When he was a little older he came with Dena to visit me in Cape Town. Josie and him played most beautifully. His body was beautiful and he was a very pretty little boy. David was very fond of me and we developed a wonderful friendship which lasted till this day. One time in Durban Dena stayed in a hotel but he booked himself out to stay with me. He did well at school and went to university doing wonderful work.
In his room at Blue Haze he used to play his music very very loud. He also started to paint and his colors were very good.
Around that time I wanted to marry Jack Krawitz, I was very fond of him and his children but Arthur didn't want me to marry a widower. On one of his visits to the Cape Arthur met Herman my husband. He came back and said I should sit at the heels of this man.
When I went to Durban to live with him that was forty years out of my life away from Dena and Orala but Orala always retained my love very steadily. She visited me often and was involved with lots of young men and she always told me her stories, she was one of the bridesmaids at my wedding.
Once Ora asked me how to cut a dress, I was a very good seamstress, I had learned this in America when I trained as a beautician, Ora wanted to make a dress to surprise her mother, I began to show her and then she said, "You can finish it yourself."
Dena taught Danny his maftir and haftora, Danny had grown from a curly haired boy into handsome lad, he's snuggle into his parents' bed where he would have long conversations. When asked what he would like to become he said a fixer and a finder.
Joel and Danny reached the age they needed transport. They wanted a motor bike but Arthur forbade it. They went ahead and bought one and hid it behind a wall without Arthur knowing. David who also liked to snuggle up in bed to Arthur said, "I've got a secret, but must you must promise not to tell anyone." He told Arthur about the bike and Arthur kept his promise.
One day we were sitting at Oxford Road with Dena and Arther and Fae and Ora who was 22 said I've got a story to tell you and we all thought she was going to announce that she was engaged to Mr Cohen who she had been seeing. She said "I've met another man and I'm engaged to Issy Morgan.
Arthur tied his shoelace instead of rejoicing. They hardly knew Issy. He would come visit and want to leave straight away just like he is now. Ima was very happy. Ora was dressed in pink and looked very pretty, the reception was outstanding. Afterwards they returned to Oxford Rd to find themselves locked out. David climbed to the top through the burglar bars and let everybody in. Ora changed into travelling clothes, hugged and kissed all of us, and David cried I don't want you to go.
Zilla made a speech at Ora's wedding it was recorded. When they returned Zilla who still lived with them at Oxford Road would always knock Orala on the tummy, "anything in it already?" Issy and Ora tried for 7 years and nothing happened and were even going to adopt. Dena once went into a shop and the shopkeeper said he was very happy that day because he had just become a grandfather. Dena complained to Ora. The next time Zilla tapped Ora's tummy saying anything in there yet, she got cross and said yes, I've got a baby in there. It was Ruth. We were all so happy.
Josie, Yiksa's son who is smoking a camel on the couch on the other side of the room, clears his throat.
"I've just remembered something, one time I burst into the lounge at Oxford Road and came across Ora and Issy smooching. I was only five but I knew I shouldn't be there. I ran out and there was Leon who was also interested in Ora, he had just arrived. "You cant go in there," I told him. Ora is busy with someone, I think he was a doctor. He once prodded my knee when he hurt it.
I (Josie) also remember a time me and my mom had a car crash near Standerton. Issy drove out from Johannesburg to visit me in hospital.
"A cousin of mine had died suddenly," says Yiska. "I was very upset but Herman said I drive very well and could manage the journey from Durban to Johannesburg. I had not slept for a few nights before. I was going off the road and Josie said mom lookout. The care went up an incline and hit a rock. Josie was looking so he hit his nose on the mirror."
"Actually I was asleep on the back seat and went through the windscreen," says Josie. I got up and all I could see was red. I tried to get cars to stop but they wouldn't except for this Afrikaans family whose children were very curious about what had happened. I was taken to hospital to be stitched up, I had no idea where my mom was then Issy arrived at the hospital and drove me and my mom back. I was so pleased to see him.
"Issy has always been very devoted to his family," says Yiska.
Yiska for the record:
Ora finished her matric and attended university for 6 months but after a few months she left and went to teachers college. She always knew exactly what she wanted. She had a very long career as a nursery school teacher and only retired recently.
Joel at 19 went overseas. He paid his way washing dishes. As you can imagine the jobs didn't last long he kept breaking the dishes, and sometimes he would forego a meal to buy a postage stamp to send his mother a letter. He then qualified as a lawyer and he married Vanetta who became a dear person to all of us. They have 3 daughters and 4 grandchildren.
Danny qualified as a fixer (civil engineer). He married Bella and they have 4 children, Tanya, Yael, Ilan, and Ari.
David qualified as fine artist. He married Leah and they have two children, Michael and Heather.
Josie married 15 years ago. He became a dentist, he is a very talented man ,a very frustrated man. I sit helpless but god has heard my prayers.
JM: Josie in his life has sailed yachts across the ocean, pulled and filled countless teeth, become a recluse, painted hundreds of beautiful paintings, been phoneless to avoid the attentions of women, nursed his mother.
Joffes and Seligmans at the Johannesburg Celebration of Gus and Ilana's Wedding in Tel Aviv - 1958
Dov, Shirley, Yankel, Harry, Getzel, Moke, Louis, Mendel, Danny, Ora, Julian, Issy, Selma, Johnny
Fern, Lily, Linda, Mary, Dena, Mary, Chaya Musha, Arthur, Doreen
Whilst in Johannesburg AZ asked his younger brother Jerry to arrange meetings in various homes to discuss the setting up of a Reform congregation in Johannesburg. Jerry was a fine musician, his father Azriel had laid a fine foundation in Judaism, and Jerry carried on as leader and pioneer of the South African Reform movement for three years until Rabbi Weiler one of AZ's pupils arrived in 1936. Even Arthur started to take an active interest in Reform Judaism, there were several meetings at his home, and everyone was pleased to see change in him.
Arthur loved to get away from his family to Muizenberg every year for a month at a time, I think Dena liked it too when he went, it offered her some respite.
Family for first time knew what it meant to be together. Dena was an avid reader, and she was very much interested in playing tennis.