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By David Gurwitz

My father, Harry Gurwitz, was born in Rakov.
His mother's father was rabbi Leizer Halpern
I look almost identical to him.
My father's father was Avraham Gurwitz, one of the founders of the
free loan society.

Summer 2002
My mother, Betty Gurwitz, was born on September 29th, 1916, which corresponds to the second day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which happens to be the second day of Rosh Hashana. She died, suddenly and completely unexpectedly, on August 16th, 1989, which corresponds to the Fifteenth day of the month of Menachem Av. The Fifteenth of Av is considered one of the holiest days of the year, according to the teachings of our sages, (The attached files will provide more detailed explanations of the holiness of both Rosh Hashana and the Fifteenth of Menachem Av.)
I was not aware of either of these facts when my mother died. I knew very little about my religion, and a lot less about my mother than I thought I knew.
Yet it was her death, sudden and tragic, which followed by 6 weeks the death of my father to cancer, that propelled my wife and I to begin looking into our heritage. We haven’t stopped since.
My mother’s death, in retrospect, was one of the most influential events of my life. It was also one of the biggest surprises. It was part of a series of shocks that forever changed me.
First, some family background is necessary, in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the events.
In the summer of 1988, my father was diagnosed with cancer. He had survived the war-and the death of his entire family- first, by fighting in the Partisans of Poland, and, later, by joining the Russian army. After the war, he miraculously made it back across the Russian line to Berlin, which was divided into 4 zones- British, Russian, American, and French. He was taken off of a train headed to Berlin from Russia by members of the Jewish Underground, which had been formed after the war to assist the countless displaced Jews. My father was brought through the 3 zones until he landed in the American zone. He then helped to lead a large group of Jewish war survivors down through German, over the Swiss border, and through Switzerland to Italy.
My father, after this harrowing trip, lived in a displaced persons camp in Milan, Italy. There were dozens of such camps located all over Italy, which was very receptive to thousands of Jewish orphans- like my father- after the war. The US instituted a restrictive immigration policy after the war, and, through G-d’s hand, my father met a man in Italy who was able to qualify as a “guardian” and sign in hundreds of Jews from Italian DP camps, who were able to book passage on a ship bound for Canada in 1949.
My father was able to do all of this largely because of two reasons.
First, he had been a soccer player and gymnast growing up in Rakov, a city near Minsk, in Lithuania. He was in great physical shape. He remained in great shape until he came down with Parkinson’s disease, prior to developing cancer.
Second, my father’s father-who had co-founded the free-loan society in Rakov, owned one of the few cars in Rakov. My father was extremely mechanical, and was always tinkering with the car. When the Germans entered Poland in 1939, my father joined the Partisans. After living in the woods for a year became too difficult, many members of the under-fed, under-armed Partisans joined the Russian army. They had a common enemy. The Russians also had many trucks that needed drivers and repair personnel.
My father correctly surmised that driving a truck-which he did not know how to do- would keep him in the back lines, away from the direct fighting with the assaulting Germans. So, he learned overnight and drove a truck for several years for the Russian Army.
One time, a group of trucks were separated from the infantry group associated with them. German planes were constantly attacking during the day and night. My father, and the other drivers, had to hide the trucks in the thick woods during the day, and drove, at night. There were no highway lights. The only illumination was the light of the bombs dropped by the German planes. The experience caused such severe eye-strain that my father wore thick glasses for the rest of his life.
His background with trucks led to my father working as a truck mechanic for his entire working career.My mother grew up on the Lower East Side, the oldest of three daughters. Her parents emigrated from Russia before the war, and survived by using their ample skills as tailors.
My mother, as the oldest daughter, was caught in the bind that affected many women of marriageable age at that time in America- most of the eligible men were away, fighting.
G-d sent someone who barely knew my father, to accidentally meet a cousin of my mother’s father, in New York, at around the time that my father was planning to come to Canada. That meeting led to my grandfather bringing his oldest daughter up to Canada to meet my father. It was literally an internationally arranged meeting, as the parties did not even know anything about each other. They met, communicated in Yiddish (my father spoke Polish, Russian, Italian, Hebrew, and Yiddish at the time), got engaged in 10 days, and were married shortly thereafter, in Canada, in Kitchener, Ontario. July 10, 1950.
The Talmud teaches us that G-d, since creation, is busy making shidduchim- marriage matches. It says that making a good match is harder for G-d than splitting the Sea.
This shidduch was pretty incredible.
My brother Arthur was born July 10, 1951, in the Bronx, where my parents had settled. My father worked as a truck mechanic for many, many years without any pension. My mother worked as a bookkeeper. Money was always tight.
I was born on April 1, 1955, which was the 9th of the Hebrew month of Nissan, six days before Passover, and one day before the Sabbath known as Shabbos Hagadol, which was the last Sabbath prior to the Jews leaving Egypt, and heading for the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
My brother and I grew up in the South Bronx, 13 blocks north of Yankee Stadium, one block off of the Grand Concourse and 174th Street. The neighborhood was originally Jewish, Irish, and Italian. When I was 10 years old, it started to turn dangerous, due to increased immigration and people fleeing the Bronx. I literally used to have to wait to pick up my mother, when she came home from working as a bookkeeper at 6 PM, at the 174th Street subway station, standing with an iron bar and a can of Mace (pepper spray) in my hand.
My family finally moved to Co-op City in 1971, while I was still attending Bronx High School of Science. My brother got married in 1974. I went away to Brandeis University in 1972, and to Boston College Law School in 1977 (following a year between college and law school where I traveled throughout Europe and lived in Spain).
My parents moved to Florida in 1979, and enjoyed 9 years of relative calm and good health. They were living on their combined pensions (my mother from NYC, and my father from Texaco, where he went to work in 1968) of approximately $1,400/ month.
( Imagine that) My brother and I augmented their income, but they were proud and lived within their means.
When my father’s cancer became more intense, forcing him into a wheelchair, I spent a lot of time in Florida. My mother was taking care of him, essentially by herself, despite the fact that her two knees had deteriorated to the point that they were causing her severe pain and discomfort.
Six weeks before my father died, I was at their apartment, when I found, between two books, a photograph in an old frame that looked somewhat like my son Solomon, who was 2 at the time. When I showed the photo to my mother, and asked her where she got the photo of Solomon in such an old style frame, she told me that it was not Solomon in the photo. It was, quote, “Daddy’s first son”, from his first wife, both of whom had been killed in the Holocaust.

I was stunned. I did not know what to say.
G-d put the words in my mouth, as he does to all of us, when we ask properly. Sometimes, even when we do not.
I sat down on the couch, next to my father. I asked my father, “Did you have a son?”
He said, “I do not know what you are talking about”. He got up from the couch, when he literally was able to walk only with the help of a walker, and walked, unassisted, into the bedroom to rest.
I remained on the couch, stunned.
An hour later, he came back, and sat down, next to me. He asked me, “Do you know what you asked me?
I nodded, “yes”. I could not speak.
He said four words. He said, his name was…. And he switched to Hebrew.

He got up, and went back to the bedroom. That was all he said.
He passed away 6 weeks later, on June 30, 1989.
My mother decided after we buried my father, to have her aching knees replaced. The surgeon in Florida, who had performed several hundred knee replacement surgeries, had a slot available 6 months later, and my mother booked it.
Two weeks after the funeral, the doctor’s office called my mother, informing her that a slot had come up for August 15. My mother decided to move up the date of her surgery to that date.
She went in that day, assuring my brother and I that she did not need us to be there, at a hospital in Florida. My wife was pregnant with Chana, and my mother wanted to be able to walk with her and play with her.
I called the hospital that night, after the surgery, to speak with her.
I was informed that she was in a coma.
She died the next day. Never woke up. With two brand new knees.
Recovering from the loss of both parents, and the loss of a brother I never knew I had, took a long time. I am not sure that I have fully recovered.
My wife stayed incredibly strong during this period, and gave birth to Chana- named after my father, Harry- a few months after we buried both of them within 6 weeks of one another.
All of this time has been a period of tremendous spiritual growth. There have been many people who have been sources of strength and guidance for us.
Some of this spiritual growth must have affected my music.
I had started playing piano, and composing in college (a whole other story), and somehow kept it up despite the time constraints of the growing family, business needs, and increased Talmudic studies.
In the last few years, I have written many songs. I say “written”, meaning composed. I can not read music.
G-d put these songs in my hands, and I made a recording several years ago.
I gave one to my cousin Rich, who called me and said,” Don’t think you are such a big shot. You are very talented, but your mother was much better.”
I never knew that my mother played. She never told me.
It seems that she played a recital in Carnegie hall, and was offered a scholarship to Columbia. In the 1930s, this was very unusual.
Her parents were tailors, and had to move from their Bronx apartment. They could not afford the moving costs to move the piano. My mother stopped playing.
The concert to be given on Tuesday night, July 23, is in the memory of my mother, Betty Gurwitz, ZL, and in the memory of my brother, Benyomin Gurwitz, ZL.