Arnold Zable's Letter to the Late Chana Mrocki
Earlier this week we mourned the passing of one of the true treasures of the Bund and SKIF community in Melbourne, Chana Mrocki (Korman). On behalf of the entire community in Melbourne and across the world, we wish long life to Moishe and the entire Mrocki-Korman family.
Below is a eulogy written by Chaver Arnold Zable, which was shared at the minyen.
איר זאָלט מער נישט װיסן פֿון קײן צער
.כּבֿוד איר ליכטיקן אָנדענק
In these past weeks, I have been reflecting on what you have meant in my life. I go back to the beginning. I am seven-years-old. It is Sunday in shtetl Carlton. In the morning, I attend the I L Peretz school in Drummond Street, a fifteen-minute walk from our home in Canning street. In the afternoon, I make my way, four-blocks, to the Kadimah in Lygon Street. I walk with anticipation. I cannot wait to get there. Between the main building, and the cottage next door—which houses the library—there are a couple of makeshift fibre-board classrooms. This is where I first met you Chana.
You recalled that time in your 80th birthday speech, where you included everyone present, and made us all feel honoured. You told us your extraordinary life story, and you spoke of the way you saw me, back then, as a wide-eyed child absorbed in your stories. Now, this is the way I saw you back then: You were beautiful and mesmerising. You knew how to connect with us kids, even though I was seven and you only 16. You were gentle and kind, yet firm and authoritative.
You told us tales which resonate with me to this day. About ghetto fighters, and Bund heroes. About Beinish Mikhelevitch, the founder of SKIF, and how his hair turned white, in a night of fright, when he was transported to Siberia. And about Yiddish poets, writers and singers. You were a singer. A performer at community functions. And you were a great storyteller, but you also knew how to listen to others. And make each one of us feel special.
And this is how it has always remained. In the many times that we’ve met over the years, that first impression I had, as a seven-year-old, has been confirmed, many times over.
SKIF was my home away from a beautiful, but troubled home— and in this alternative home, you were my first helfer, and first mentor, and a person who radiated love. This is a feeling shared by many.
Strange and wondrous are the things we remember. Like the time you started going out with the portly Morrie. We are at an evening function in the Carlton Kadimah. Bei gedekte tishn. You are looking radiant. Morrie has a newspaper, with the headline ‘Turkey Backs Britain’. He reads it to us kids. ‘Turkey’s back’s bitten,’ Morrie says. Chana, you were with a man who could make kids laugh. Good choice for a partner, we knew immediately back then.
Many memories of you attending performances of Klezmania: you would travel anywhere and everywhere to see them. I recall you at the Apollo Bay Music festival, the National Folk Festival in Canberra. Countless times at the Boite World Music Café in Mark Street. Always there with your smile, and modest presence. Taking nakhes in your children.
You followed our lives. Took an interest in everything we were doing. Our journeys. Our passions. And you always gave generous, and honest, feedback when we spoke, or recited or performed at community functions. You took pleasure in our achievements. In this, you were selfless. Devoid of ego.
Dear Chana, I have been reflecting on other things too. You were of a unique generation. We were only about a decade apart in years—but it was a critical decade. You and your contemporaries were born on the eve of war. And you lived through it, in various ways, in your early childhood—being hidden, as Danielle was, or out in the Soviet Union as you were Chana, or as in the case of others, directly experiencing the Shoah—there are many scenarios.
But, paradoxically, the experience gave you a certain strength. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that you appeared so mature beyond your years, to my seven-year-old eyes, and a clue to your unique combination of authority and gentleness.
Us kids were of the second generation. Born in the early post-war years. We did not directly experience war...we were the children of war, of refugees, immigrants, survivors. Again, there are many scenarios. In my case, the Bund, and you, Chana, made me feel part of an embracing community, an extended family.
Since then I have always felt a deep love for Yiddishkayt and that sense of purpose that you Chana, and your generation, passed on to us...You were role models who have greatly influenced our lives, our concern with social justice. YOISHER. And community service. And the joy of it. The magic of it. Of celebrating who we are together. With a knowledge of our people’s great trauma, but also, a capacity to be there for each other, and for others.
You were also open to many other communities. Concerned about the trauma of present-day refugees. You touched people directly. I recall your connection to Lily, Dora’s mother: working class Greek-Australian. Lily instantly recognised your qualities. She was deeply impressed by your warmth and that way you had, of putting people at ease, and making her feel special.
The last time I saw you Chana, several weeks ago, at the Cabrini, were sad, but also, inspiring. I had the great fortune of spending several hours with you. You were remarkably at ease. You shared some of the key moments of your life, both happy and tragic. You told me things I had never heard before. You have certainly had your share of sorrows. You spoke directly. Typically, without false sentiment. With a kind of gentle, but tough realism. We traded stories.
Those hours will stay with me as your parting gift.
Again, Chana, you provided us with a model of courage and love, in the extraordinary way in which you faced your passing. Thank you so much Morrie, Freydi and Lionel, and your beautiful families, for keeping us informed, and allowing so many of us to share those final weeks, fare-welling Chana.
Chana, you were one of a kind. I, like so many others, will deeply miss you. Chavershaft. Always. Koved dein likhtikn ondenk.