Collection - Josh Gershater Collection

Josh Gershater Family History Series Josh Gershater, "The Family Gershater: Lithuania to Southern Africa"
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Josh Gershater Collection

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My father Meish 1902 - 1982 left his family in Vilna, Lithuania , and emigrated to SA at the tender age of 18. He arrived in Cape Town in July 1921, and made his way to Johannesburg where he lodged with his aunt Mumu Zlata Joffe. He had no English language skills, very little money, a yeshiva education and a burning desire to succeed. Over the next 14 years , four of his siblings joined him in Southern Africa. His luggage was light - a suitcase in one hand and a torah in the other. The torah written in Vilna was to be sold in Johannesburg ; the proceeds of which supported my grandparents Rabbi David and Leah Hannah Gershater and family in Vilna for a full year !

Meish lived in Johannesburg for more than 10 years; he taught Hebrew and helped young men with their Barmitzvah studies ; in Vilna he had been trained in the ritual of "Shechitah" , and worked part time as a "sheichet oyfes" in the Southern suburbs of Johannesburg. In 1929 he registered at the Johannesburg Technical College in the School of Pharmacy and graduated in 1935. The training allowed him to work during the day as a pharmacy apprentice and study after hours.

While at the Johannesburg Tech he met Elias Gordin, whom after graduating in 1935 had moved to Pretoria. Elias had opened "Good Hope Pharmacy" in the "Asian Bazaar" on Boom Street and developed a splendid reputation with the local Asiatic population. He encouraged my father to join him in Pretoria. Meish found a suitable pharmacy for sale in the suburb of Hercules. At price of 120 pounds , stock, fixtures and fittings and a 4 year lease, Meish became the proud owner of Hercules Pharmacy in 1936 on Rustenburg Road , in Hercules. The Pharmacy became the family pride. The fashion in those days was to live as close as possible to your place of employment. So, as children we lived in Hercules, and spoke better Afrikaans than English . "Oom Morris " was well respected by the local community. He also subsequently acquired property in Hercules and built a commercial strip plaza in the 1950's designed by 2 local architects, namely Oscar Hurwitz and later Louis Michael. The shopping plaza was a wonderful innovation for the local population
Meish spent his leisure time with the affairs of the "Histadrut Ivrit", "The Krakenova (Landsleit) Society" and the Miriam Marks Hebrew School. He had a deep interest in Labour Zionism and Israel. His phenomenal memory allowed him to recite passages from the Torah unassisted. His knowledge of Jewish law and customs was encyclopedic.

Meish and my mother Eva (nee Green 1902 - 2000) were married on the 9th July 1933 at the St. John Street Shul (the Grine shul of Oudtshoorn.) and became residents of Pretoria in 1936 .They began married life in a boarding house on Beatrix Street , run by a posh English lady, Mrs. Freen. In the 1950's Mrs. Freen opened the "Little Tea Room" on Andries street a block away from Church Square. A Friday morning treat for me ( not yet of school going age) was to accompany my mother to the tea room . The place had a definite Old English Colonial charm .I remember it well.

Eva who was born in Dysselsdorp (Western Cape) and grew up in Oudtshoorn. My grandparents Jacob and Rosa Green were from Shadewa in Lithuania and came to SA in 1898 with 4 children. Grandpa Jacob had a trading store in Dysselsdorp and then later moved to Oudsthoorn, trading in feathers and tobacco.

Eva grew up and was educated in Oudsthoorn ; she would relate with pride that one of her high school teachers was C.J.Langenhoven (who wrote the words to "Die Stem"). She dedicated her life to her husband and children, and left Pretoria 8 years after the passing of my father in 1982. She emigrated to Canada in 1990 to join her two sons and their families in Toronto. She passed away 10 years later.
My sister Fay (1935- 2014) was born in our grandmother's home in Oudtshoorn . Our parents with their new infant moved into their 1st home a 1/4 mile from the pharmacy in Hercules. There was no nursery school available for Fay and her first formal education was at the Loretta Convent on Flower street in Gezina , followed by Clapham High School. Fay was an accomplished pianist trained by Mrs. Gooch and Goldie Zaidel ; she often performed as a soloist with the Pretoria Orchestra. In her 20's she ran a piano studio for Goldie Zaidel in our home at 77 Charles street in Brooklyn. She eventually gave up her music career for an ECE Diploma from TUKS . She married Chaim Salzmann in 1966 and they moved to Geneva Switzerland in 1968.She became principal of the Jewish Nursery School in Geneva - a post she held until her retirement in 1990.

My brother Raziel (1939 - 2006 ) was an outstanding scholar and sportsman. He attended Pretoria Boys High School and then studied medicine at TUKS. He graduated in the 1960's together with Michael Jaffe, Jossy Faktor, Bentley Novis and Lewis Spitz. All five of them made incredible contributions to varying medical specialties. Raziel furthered his studies in England and the USA and emigrated to Canada in 1965 ; he was appointed Chief of Radiology at North York Hospital in Toronto and held this post for 25 years. His wife Jeanne Adelaar was born in Onderstepoort (1939 - 2007). They married in 1967 in New York City. Jeanne had a B,Sc. from TUKS and pursued her career in computer science in Toronto. Their 3 children were all born in North America. Tal born in 1969 is an educator (B.Sc. B.Ed U.Queens), David 1970 - 2000 (B.A. U.Toronto ) , and Elize born in 1972 , like her father is a Radiologist (FRCP Canada).

I was born in 1943, and spent a short unsuccessful time at the Rachel Spero Nursery School - I was told by my mother that supervising me was a formidable task ; I had some strange " behavioral quirks" . The principal of the school, Mrs. Grossfeld recommended to my parents to bring me back a year later - I never went back ! 7 years at Brooklyn Primary School and thereafter Pretoria Boys High . I studied pharmacy at The Pretoria Technikon, graduating in 1969. Both Raziel and I had the privilege of studying Hebrew and Jewish studies with Michael Silber and later Rev.Sigbert Silberman. Both these men were brilliant educators who imparted a huge amount of knowledge to us both. I must also not forget that as a teenager Fay was an enthusiatic member of Bnei Akiva. Raziel and I were staunch members of Habonim. Our Sundays on Beatrix street, at the Miriam Marks Hebrew School, and Jewish Memorial Hall , "slap chips" on Church street are all etched in my memory!

My wife Adele Kossowsky (born in East London in 1943) and I , were married in 1967. We have 2 girls Darryl born in 1970 is a Social Worker ( MSW U Toronto) and Lee-Anne born in 1972 is a teacher ( M.Ed. U Toronto) . Both girls were born and educated at Carmel and Pretoria Girls High and thereafter in Canada. I took over Hercules Pharmacy in 1969, due to my father's failing health, and sold the pharmacy in 1988 when our family emigrated to Canada. Our family has been resident in Toronto for the past 34 years. I worked in the first aid and medical supply industry in Toronto and retired in 2020. Adele , worked as a bookkeeper and is retired.

During the Covid epidemic (2020/2021) I had the opportunity to compile and edit a history of the 5 Gershater siblings who emigrated to Southern Africa between 1921 and 1937. During the time of my research I was able to put a good picture together of the family, how they integrated into the South African culture and became firm members of the Jewish community ; their trials and tribulations , the hard work they did, to give the next generation, myself and my 13 first cousins, the ability and skills to pursue their lives in Canada, USA, Australia, Israel and South Africa. Only 3 of the cousins remain resident in Johannesburg.

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Unless otherwise stated the copyright of all material on the Jewish Digital Archive Project resides with the South African Jewish Museum.

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