Cape Jewish Orphanage (8): And then there were fifteen

In the previous post, My Brother Gerry: The Dust of History, I mentioned that Gerry was removed to “Tenderden (Tender Den!), Place of Safety” Wynberg. What were his siblings doing in 1951  when Gerry came home after running away from Tenderden? These details were part of Gerry’s Probation Officer ‘s Report (6/7/51).

(Ages appear in brackets. The ages do not include months, so if, for example, Edie’s age is given as 26, she might have been close to 27).

1. Rachel (1945), age 5 years, admitted for the first time to the Cape Jewish Orphanage. (Rachel was 5 years 11 months old).

2. Benny (1943), age 8 years, admitted to the Cape Jewish Orphanage (for a second time); in Grade 4.

3. Raphael  (1941), age 9 years, at boarding school in Wellington (8 miles from Paarl), in Std 3 (Grade 5). I (I was 8 years 11 months old).

4. Jerry (1940),  age 10 years, in Place of Safety, Tenderden.

5. Sammy (1938), age 12 years, staying with parents, and  at Claremont public school in Standard 4 (Grade 6).

6. Minnie (1934), 16 years old, staying with parents.

7.  Leslie  (1933), age 17 years, died in 1949 in Groote Schuur Hospital, Observatory, Cape Town.

6.  Joe (1931), 19 years old, working in a shoe store in Maitland, staying with his parents.

9. Sonia (1927),  23 years old, married to Israel Hurwitz, living in Camps Bay.

10. Edie (1926), 24 years old, married to Aaron Hayman, living in Maitland.

Sammy at 12 years of age was only in Grade 6. I was in Grade 5 at 9 years old. He must have started school later than I did at the Orphanage. He stayed at home, and failed a grade (in those days, there wasn’t automatic promotion). Sammy never went to the Orphanage. He went to Claremont Junior School. When Sammy was 13 he went to Wynberg Boys High school. He was there until Grade 9. After spending two years at boarding school in Wellington, I came home for three years. I entered Wynberg Junior School in Grade 7 (1953). Sammy left school in Grade 9 and joined my father’s bottle-bag-bone-scrap metal business. The final straw for Sammy was when “Bob”, his bookkeeping teacher  gave him a couple of hundred lines as punishment. My father now had a son to work in “the business”. The “business” is another chapter.

Here is the Probation Officer’s evaluation of my father and mother in his 1951 Report:

The father:

“Issie Gamaroff, aged 49 years. He is employed as a storeman at Wingfield Airport at a salary of ₤60 per month. He maintains a good standard of living and is very strict in his attitude towards his children. Mr Gamaroff is a man of temperate habits and regular worker.

The mother:

Fanny Gamaroff (nee Gilinsky) is 44 years old and attends to the household. She is a cripple. The mother creates a very favourable impression and shows a keen interest in her children’s well-being. She is very concerned about Gerry and has expressed with tears her disappointment in his conduct.

Compare the Probation Officer’s judgment of my parents in his report with the report of someone in authority at the Cape Jewish Orphanage. Both reports were written within months of each other in 1951. The Orphanage official who wrote it is now  dead. Nothing good can come out of revealing his name. Far be it from me to judge his state of mind at the moment of writing it, or afterwards. It does hurt though.

Orphanage description of Izzy and Fanny on the Occasion of Rachel’s Admission to the Orphanage 20 April 1951

The Orphanage official said that Rachel was very weedy and ill-nourished. My parents were described as people who have had 14 or 15 children, and  are so brutish and self-centred that they are totally unable to care for their numerous progeny. The principal went on to say that the Orphanage had five of the Gamaroff offspring until 1949. The committee has definitely decided that the parents only may visit Rachel and Benny on Sundays but may not take them out to their home.

Izzy and Fanny didn’t have 15, neither 14, neither 13, neither 12, neither 11 but 10 children. The official couldn’t suppress his contempt for the “brutish” nature of my parents unbridled lust for life. Many in the Western world would sympathise with the Orphanage official’s comments, especially if they are not Jews, especially not Torah Jews, that is,  Jews who believe that the Bible comes from Ruach HaKodesh (The Holy Spirit of God). But then my parents weren’t Torah Jews. But I am:  in the way that Yeshua was. But, there is more to it, of course. I wince because it is my parents who were the brunt of these brutish comments. The Orphanage official was living under a cloud of ignorance, of unknowing. I am reading the “Cloud of unknowing” (author unknown, which is not the reason for the title), where “unknowing” means something very different to ignorance. “The cloud of unknowing” is a book of contemplation about that cloud within which unites one to God. The main reason I mention the book is what I read about lust in Chapter 10, “How a man shall know when his thoughts are sinful; of the difference between mortal and venial sins.” Lust is the last (but not least) mortal sin mentioned on the author’s list. The author defines lust as “the desire for carnal indulgence or for the favour and flattery of others.”  What is interesting about this definition of lust is that it is not only defined in the expected way of unbridled sexual appetite, but also includes the desire for favour and flattery. Izzy seemed to be a self-made man – at least from the time he allegedly stole the bottle business from his stepmother when his father died. My view of Izzy was that he didn’t “lust” for favour, but rather dished it out. With regard to flattery, he loved to be appreciated for his violin playing. As his business began to prosper – after many years of financial tsorres – he became a self-sufficient man. As for confessed carnal lusts? He did enjoy a movie with – as he described (confessed?) to me –  “dancing girls.”

The Pastor, the Penseur and the Infidel

  In School years after the Orphanage: Wellington. I mentioned the influence of Andrew Murray. Here is Murray in front of the Dutch Reformed Church, Wellington (South Africa).

andrew murray closeup

Andrey Murray – Dutch Reformed Church, Wellington           

  The next photo is Auguste Rodin’s Le Penseur, The Thinker.  

rodinRodin’s Le Penseur

What a strange connection to make! –  a brooding naked Penseur and a soul-searching man of the cloth. If you strip away the form from the substance, not strange at all. They both had an obsession: Rodin’s obsession was to transfigure stone into flesh; Murray’s obsession was to exchange stone for flesh: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). For Rodin, the heart of stone must come alive; for Murray, it must be replaced. Le Penseur was originally attached to Rodin’s larger work, the Gates of Hell. Perhaps Murray, sitting on his chair in front of the church,  is studying the busy faces of people wandering by, wondering how many were on their merry way to Hell. Very unJewish! How was a sensitive Jewish non-intellectual to have any inkling that half a century later Murray’s statue would spring to life and feed my hungry soul?  There is more: it was Andrew Murray’s grandson, Professor Andrew Murray, of the University of Cape , who, less than a decade later, was to become my professor of political philosophy. Murray’s explanation of Plato’s levels of reality, between rancid puffs of pipe, remains etched forever in the minds of his students: “There’s the real (shadows, images, things), the really real  (understanding) and the really really real (intuition) – and so forth.”  (My brackets). The reals and really reals were spoken in a thick Afrikaans accent, but the “and so forth” was plum “Oxford.” Professor Murray studied for his Doctor of Philosophy degree at Oxford. Let me say something more about Auguste Rodin: When I was in Paris in the 1960s, I visited an artist. Finished and half-finished paintings covered the walls. Easels, brushes and twisted tubes of paint were scattered everywhere. A scruffy sofa and other soft furnishings hinted that the room was once a lounge. The artist had a son called Jean-Baptiste. He was about 14 years old. Jean-Baptiste and I went to visit the Rodin Museum. When we came upon “The Thinker”, Jean-Baptiste stood very still in front of the marvelous sculpture. I asked him what he was thinking. What else would you ask somebody gazing in rapture at “The Thinker”? Jean-Baptiste replied in a quivering voice: Ça me donne le cafard “It gives me the blues.” I was surprised that such a young person could be so affected by this kind of art. But I was forgetting that Jean-Baptiste was from an artist family. We walked around the museum and looked at other Rodin sculptures.  Jean-Baptiste limbered along. I tried to cheer him up, but it was no use.  He had, it seemed, lost all hope, all belief; in retrospect, he had – already at 14 years of age -lost the desire to live. I was also quite down in the dumps. Years later, I heard that he had killed himself. He was in his early twenties. I thought back to the cluttered “salon” that was his home. Did it have any connection to Jean-Baptiste’s turbulent soul? I often think of Jean-Baptiste, looking so limp and sad. Ça me donne le cafard. Expressions are always interesting, whether of faces or words. The French word “cafard” is of particular interest. It derives from the Arabic word kafir “miscreant, unbeliever, infidel.” “Infidel” is the figurative meaning of kafir. The literalmeaning is “cockroach.” A Muslim calls an unbeliever a cockroach. When, however, Jean-Baptiste said Ça me donne le cafard, he didn’t mean that he felt as depressed as a squashed cockroach. Cockroaches just don’t get depressed, and seldom squashed. No nuclear bomb under his butt can rattle a cockroach’s peace of mind. So then, what is the connection between cafard and cockroach? Le cafard has its origin in the French colonies of Algeria and Morocco, where soldiers of the French Foreign Legion suffered acute boredom stuck in their stockades. For entertainment, they took pot shots at the enemy within – cockroaches, les cafards. In the old South Africa, kaffir was a term used by whites to describe black people. When I was at the Orphanage and in Wellington, I hardly saw any black people. Most of the non-whites in Wellington were mixed raced “coloureds” (black-white progeny). The only black man I knew was the one I used to visit at the back of the Homestead in Wellington. I knew that “kaffir” was a derogatory term, but I would never think of my black friend as a “kaffir.” Of course, no white person – unless he was an etymologist – had any idea that the root idea of “kaffir” was cockroach. Most people know more about cockroaches than about the origin of words; they know more about entomology than about etymology. For this reason, during the Apartheid era, South African whites, in general, would’ve had no idea that kaffir meant not only an infidel but also a cockroach. But, even if they had known the dual meaning, that would not have stopped them from using the term; rather, it would have added a laugh.