Friday, May 14, 2010

Avraham Tessler (1908-1991); Avraham Lozowick (1930-1985)

My Father died 25 years ago today. My father-in-law died 19 years ago today. Both were impressive men, respected by their peers and successful at what they did. Both died before the advent of the World Wide Web, and neither of them left much trace on it, if at all. So the purpose of this telling is to create at least some record of their lives that Google will be able to find.

Avraham (Bumi) Tessler was born in a small town in a remote corner of the Habsburg Empire. He was the sixth, I think, of 13 children, two of whom were stillborn. His father, Eliezer, was a wealthy man by the standards of Eastern European Jews of the time; he died before the Nazis could reach him. Avraham's mother, Dvora, lived longer, and was murdered at Auschwitz along with some of her children and grandchildren, in 1944. Bumi, as everyone in the family called him, went to cheder at age three, but also insisted on gong to the secular school. He never told me much about WW1, but he had been impressed by the death of the Kaiser, Franz Josef, when he was eight. After the war it turned out they were living in Romania. He later learned and was ordained at the famous Sphinka yeshiva, married and started a family, and when the Second World War began their town was moved into Hungary. He was sent to the Hungarian slave labor battalions, a fact which eventually saved his life as the Hungarians didn't hand those men over to be murdered. He lost all of his family, however, and most of his siblings. (Four of them survived the war, and one had been in Mandatory Palestine all the while).

Finding himself in post-war Budapest, he started all over. In 1949, as the Communist takeover of Hungary was reaching completion, he, his second wife, and her parents, escaped destitute to Vienna. They started all over yet again. The vagaries of life left them in Vienna; he eventually had a retail business smack in the middle of town, and new children of the ages his grandchildren should have been.

He knew six languages (He taught himself English after the war assuming it would be useful). He visited Israel for the first time in 1960; today, all of his grandchildren live here. Although he lived a long life, that stolen generation meant that he didn't see them grow beyond grade school. He spoke with them in an archaic Hebrew, a language he knew from the prayerbook, the Yeshiva, the Bible.

He loved gadgets, and in his late 70s would eagerly engage 20-year-old salesmen of electrical equipment in discussion of the capabilities of their wares. I haven't the faintest idea how they fit this knowledgeable old codger with the antiquated suits and the strange accent into their picture of the world and its types of clients, but they were always courteous and eager to be helpful.

He would have loved the Internet; had he lived to be 99 he would have been an early adapter of iPhones, though I doubt he'd have been able to text his grandchildren at a pace they'd have thought reasonable. None of which interfered with the fact that in the dingy little synagogue next to the train-track where he regularly convened with other men from his world, he was held in high esteem for the wealth and depth of his Jewish learning, and his dignified manner.

He was probably killed by Saddam Hussein. In early 1991 the thought that his grandchildren in Israel were about to face chemically armed missiles was too much for him, and he began the descent that lead to his death.

Avraham Lozowick was born a generation later than Avraham Tessler, in a blessed land. The son of parents who had escaped Eastern Europe on time, he grew up on the west side of Chicago, in an area where everyone was either Polish or Jewish; there may have been some Irish, I expect, but no WASPs. Al Capone's mom lived nearby, so they say, and his father once turned down an offer to buy a sizable chunk of stocks in an obscure company with the unconvincing name International Business Machines. But I won't vouch for the truth of those tales. He was a staunch Roosevelt Democrat and a precinct captain, was Phil Lozowick. Avraham couldn't be sent out into the world with such a Jewish name, so he was named Arnold (as if that was less Jewish). Like most Jewish boys of his time, he was as successful as could be. He started studying at Yale at age 16, and finished Harvard law school, 6th of a class of 600, by 23. He went to the army and signed on an extra year so as to be sent, along with his wife, to Germany: what an adventure that must have been in the 1950s, when international travel was still something reserved for the rich, not for young Jewish children of immigrants.

Germany in the 1950s had no Jews - and their eerie absence resonated in a way that their crowded presence back in Chicago never had. Less than a decade after his military service, we all packed up and moved to Israel. The name Arnold was tucked away in a shoe box, and Avraham was proudly brought forth.

30 years later, or 40, American attorneys moving to Israel work in the hi-tech sector; in the 1960s Israel exported Jaffa oranges and diamonds, and the few Americans coming worked for the government. Avraham set up and ran the legal department at the central bank. He never really figured out how to deal with the standard Israeli hurly-burly of commerce, government and culture; somehow resembling the immigrants of Germany a generation earlier, who had always expected things to be done correctly even though they never were, he recognized that his codes were different. Yet he was so committed to them, so obviously qualified to be insisting on the right way to do things, that most people around him would at least sometimes accept that when dealing with him, they had to use his rules (which were, after all, the book's rules). When he died suddenly, one day, his funeral was mobbed by hundreds of people from the top of the economy, and passersby stopped to ask what important person had died.


Anonymous said...

thank you

Laura Beck (Laura SF) said...

Lovely, thank you. My father passed away just before Yom Kippur, 2004 (at the age of 69) and I still miss him terribly.

My grandmother was about your father-in-law's vintage - born in 1909 (in the Ukraine, Russia), died in 1995 (in NYC). I collected her stories and wrote them up as a present for my mother.

I love hearing stories of those generations.

Thank you again,

sparrow said...

Thank you Mr Lozowick for telling us about these two impressive men. Yes it is a pity that many biographies will never be found because they weren't recorded in cyberspace.

Now, perhaps you could tell us about the wives:-)

Anonymous said...

Very cool stories.
What prompted Avraham (Arnold) to move home to Israel?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing these stories. May there memories be a blessing.


Anonymous said...

until the next time Yaacov gets around to it here is the BBC with some must listen to Israeli voices - besides Arieh Handler there are also quotes from a letter from a nurse who was in Jerusalem at the time - the gut those people had - admirable (and yes the BBC being the BBC there is a half sentence about Palestinian refugees but it really is only a half-sentence the rest is all celebration of the people who made it happen.


"On May 14th 1948 a small band of Jewish nationalists gathered in a museum in Tel Aviv to declare the establishment of the state of Israel. Arieh Handler was one of them."