Sunday, 23 May 2010

Moises Ville, A Family Detour

Looking at the map of Argentina, checking were I am. According to the time schedule of the bus, and the rough turn to the left, its 10 more minutes to my grandmother´s town Moises Ville.
Staring outside the windows, sure to find some sort of clue to what was here 70 years ago, but its night time, and dark outside, I can´t see anything but bike riders ridding on the road.
Stepping of the bus, already smiled from seeing the known name of ´Habaron Hirsch´ on a street sign, I knew I was in the right place, and not because I saw any better, but just because my heart started pounding inside my chest, and tears started emerging. Just before the first teardrop, I managed to ask a nice local girl if she knew where ´25 de Mayo´ street is (the address of Bebe, cousin of my grandmother, still living in Moises Ville).
Walking towards Bebe´s house, emotions flying all over, I saw ´Banco Comercial Israelita´ my second sign of the past.
Found the house. After knocking and ringing the bell, twice.. behind me appears a dark figure, answering to the wanted name.
Not thinking about anything but ´Finaly, I´m home.´ all that came up to mind, was to give Bebe a big hug. After seeing his surprised face, I didn´t do it again.
Bebe left me alone in the house (offered me Asado with his friends, but my head was full of thoughts, and my stomach wasn´t hungry). I asked politely to use his computer, and rushed to write a message back home.
The next morning, it took time before I believed where I was. Bebe did not let me do anything around the house. Made me coffee, we ate breakfast, and went out for a tour a round the town.
The sun was shining, showing me the beautiful people nodding their heads for a local ´hola´, to me or Bebe, or maybe the both of us. some stopping to ask who´s the new face. Not rude of course, in a small town like Moises Ville (1,500 per.), you would expect everybody to know each other. Some of the greeters where Hebrew speakers, and were thrilled to practice their Hebrew with me.
The first stop was Escuela Fiscal, the school in which my grandmother, Nejama (Anita) Menis, learned. More than 80 years have past since she started her studies, and the school is still active. The entrance was familiar, but that was that. lots of curious children watched over the corner of the walls to see the unknown visitor. Entering a classroom, I felt it was THE class room. Sitting on a chair in that classroom, I knew it was THE chair. I felt her presence with every step I took. The chairs, blackboards, doors, windows, a piano in the main hall, nothing has changed. children in the year 2010, are still learning in the same school my grandmother learned in. The school was built with the foundation of the village, so it must be 120 years old.
In the school´s backyard, still stands a very big tree. One which Bebe pointed to and said ´sacar un foto´ (take a picture). I did. I later heard from my mother (on the phone) that the tree was the one my grandmother used to climb on with her friends and family.
We continued our tour. Watching the buildings of the past. Synagogues, The Library, The Theater - yes, a theater. There where once 6,000 people in this village, all Jews, and Jews like their cultural activities.
Another building was the Jewish Theacher´s Seminar, now the Jewish school (with less then 10 students, all ages). In that same building, my grandmother got her teaching diploma. We kindly entered and asked to see, and photograph the 4 students attending.
Later that day, Bebe introduced me to ´Bat-Sheva´, a local tourist guide, who speaks Hebrew. She has the keys to all the public buildings, and to the cemetery.
First, to the tombs of my ancestors. A long list, mapping the graveyard, directed us strait to my relatives. Tuvia Menis (Father of my grandmother) and Heniya Menis (her sister, who died at the age of 13).
We returned to the village (the cemetery is 3 km from it), and entered the rest of the public buildings. In the library we met a former student of Leha (my grandmother´s sister, who was last to move to Israel and was an active teacher in the Seminar). The Theater is now a meeting hall, where the villagers celebrate graduations, and screen movies. Bat-Sheva said the Jewish community (now 300 people), celebrate Pesach here. Last stop on my guided tour was the Moises Ville Museo. I learnt a lot from the Hebrew speaking manager of the museum.
The next day Bebe showed me the Menis house, were my grandmother grew up. We went again to the cemetery, to see Monky´s grave (Manuel Menis, brother of Bebe), which we coudn´t find the day before.

During my stay in Moises Ville, I read the book ´A Pigeon and a Boy´ by Meir Shalev. It was the perfect one for the job. It is all in first person, writing to his mother, who died not so far ago, and now he is alone, making her wish for him, come true.

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