My Grandparents, Zalman and Chana Reizel Kaye (Komesaroff)

My Grandparents:

Zalman (1886-1958) and Chanah Raizel (1887-1955)
Kaye (Komesaroff)

Born Ukraine, immigrated to Melbourne, Australia 1913.

Written by Chaim (Keith) Freedman in 1960, aged 13.
Edited 2003
Most of the photos were taken between 1950 and 1955.

“Rozalia” 72 Princess street, Kew, Melbourne, Australia

Although I didn’t know my grandparents for very long before they died, my memories of them are still very vivid. The main picture of my grandmother (whom I called Nanna) that seems to remain fixed in my mind, is that of her in the place she loved best: in the kitchen at 72 Princess Street Kew. She always seemed to be cooking the favourite dishes of one or other of her children or grandchildren. My favourite dish was `Piroshkes’, a Russian potato pastry. I can see Nanna standing at the head of the kitchen table, sleeves rolled up , flour in her hair, pounding and twisting a large lump of dough with her muscular arms. I can almost taste the mixture of potatoes and onions from which I used to sneak a nibble, although I didn’t really have to do this secretly as Nanna never really minded. Anyone who came through that famous kitchen, with its inviting smells, was tempted to open the refrigerator or peek into saucepans to see what was cooking.

Keith and Neville in garden in front entrance to house.

Nanna was never lonely in her kitchen as it was always a hive of activity. People continually walked in and out, and although Nanna sometimes grumbled about the interruptions, I don’t think she was ever happier than when someone was there to watch eagerly as she worked.

I remember my grandfather (whom I called Pappa) coming home from work. He would come through the back door, almost hidden behind a pile of parcels. He rarely came home empty handed, but would bring home all sorts of things including cakes, fish, drinks or anything that he had seen during the day which he thought his family might like.

Pappa always appeared very tall to me and I would eagerly await the time when his large figure came through the door. He used to call me `Keithi’ or more often Chaim Kopel, my Hebrew name. I remember how he used to ruffle my curly hair and I would follow him outside to help him unload the car. I think I was more of a hindrance than a help , but Pappa never let me know this. He would load me up with parcels and I would stagger across the back lawn into the back porch and finally deposit my load in the little storeroom at the back of the house.

Keith and Pappa in front of rose bed in back garden.

This room was a source of mystery to me. It contained all sorts of suitcases, boxes and parcels of varying shape and size and always seemed to be dark and dusty. I used to often wonder what treasures these cases contained.

This storeroom also contained pickling and fruit preserving apparatus. Each year, at the appropriate seasons, Nanna and Pappa would each set to work, Pappa to pickle cucumbers and Nanna to preserve fruit which came from the numerous trees in the back yard. I can see Pappa on the back porch, sleeves rolled up. Wearing one of Nanna’s aprons, surrounded by basins containing cucumbers and a number of earthenware crocks. No one ever really knew his recipe for pickling cucumbers and many, including my father, have tried in vain to copy it.

I used to love watching both Nanna and Pappa at work and I would run in and out from the back porch and the kitchen where Nanna was up to her neck in fruit and large bottles. Eventually I think I tried even their great patience and would be sent outside to play.

Nanna making preserves in the kitchen.

The backyard was huge. On the left side was the gravel drive which led up to the big double wooden garage. This garage was full of `junk’: boxes, tools and goodness knows what else were piled around the walls and rested on top of a sort of loft formed by the rafters in the roof.

Neville and Keith playing cricket in from of garage.

At the side of the garage was a narrow woodshed. This was a source of terror for me, and I rarely entered is as it seemed to be teeming with thousands of insects. It was always full of various types of wood from thick logs to broken up fruit boxes. I can remember standing and watching, awe-inspired, as the gardener Mr. Wheatley swung the huge axe to split heavy logs. I remember how occasionally, when he wasn’t looking, I would pick up the axe and try my hand at chopping wood. However, after nearly losing my legs a few times, I gave this practice up.

Back garden – Tessie, John, Keith, Nanna and Pappa

The wood was used to feed the `Wonderheat’ fire in the breakfast room. I used to enjoy sitting on the floor watching, enraptured as the flames danced before me and I used to see all sorts of pictures, and imagine myself involved in many adventures, in the bright yellow flames of that fire.

Departure for Queensland – Nanna, Tessie, Keith, Pappa, Neville.

I can remember my grandparents’ house far more clearly than our own for we seemed to spend most of out time there. It was an enormous house, over thirty five squares[1] in area.

Plan of Rozalia drawn by Neville Freedman

The house was almost hidden from Princess Street by a thick hedge. On the left was the long gravel drive which led to the garage at the back. The garden was full of bushes, trees and colourful flowers. A short path led to the wide veranda which stretched right across the front of the house and a third of the way up each side. To the right the veranda led to a part of the house which had been divided off and let to an old lady, Mrs. Oakey.

Keith, Nanna, John, Pappa, Tessie – around the swing in the back garden

To the left the veranda ran alongside the drive to a French window which lifted upwards to open into the drawing room. In about the middle of the front of the house was the large, wooden paneled front door, surrounded on each side by a fine opaque glass panel. This door opened onto a short passage from which Nanna’s and Pappa’s bedroom led off. This was a large room containing a big double bed; a wardrobe facing it; a low ottoman under the bay window; and a dressing table with a marble top on the wall opposite the window.

Diana (Dina Burgess), Nanna and Pappa

On the opposite side of the passage was the spare room[2]. There against the passage wall was the cot which I spent countless nights in. I remember lying in that cot staring up at the high ceiling, from the middle of which hung a light supported by a white chain. Around the start of the chain was a circular pattern in relief on the roof, as there was in each room around the light sockets. I used to spend long periods after waking in the morning staring up at this ornamentation on the ceiling which never failed to hold my interest.

The end of the passage was marked by two curtains which were gathered at the wall. Here the passage widened out and became the lounge. This was a long gallery with various chairs and couches lining the walls. At the far end was the radiogram. This was a very old fashioned type which just looked like any cupboard from the outside. The gramophone was towards the top and under it were about a half a dozen drawers containing countless records ranging from Enrico Caruso and cantor Joseph Rosenblatt to `The House That Jack Built’ and other children’s records.

Lounge without gramophone – note rocking horse

On entering the lounge from the passage there was an opening on the right wall. Here, in an alcove, was a linen cupboard and other storage cupboards. I remember standing there while Nanna got out the fresh bed linen and towels and helping her carry them to the bedrooms.

Leading off this alcove were two doors: one which connected with the tenant’s flat and was always bolted; and the other which opened into the bathroom. The bathroom contained a bath; separate shower recess which has Nanna’s initials `A.R.’ in the terrazzo[3]; and basin. The toilet led off from the bathroom and was enclosed on two sides by walls which were frosted glass from halfway up.

Opposite the alcove, on the other side of the lounge, a door opened into the drawing room. This was the most beautiful room imaginable. The walls were painted blue; around the room were numerous richly upholstered chairs and on one wall an immense black floral couch. It was so big that when I sat on it I almost disappeared as I sank into the soft upholstery.

Drawing room (before mirror installed)

In the middle of the wall against the drive was a bay window which had a high semicircular couch around it. On the wall opposite this was the crystal cabinet which contained all sorts of fascinating articles. Under this was a green inkpot in the shape of a beetle and a bronze alligator nutcracker, both of which I used to enjoy lying on the carpet and playing with.

Against the front wall of the drawing room was an upright piano. Although I had no idea how to play it properly, I loved to spend hours sitting at it, banging away pretending I was a famous concert pianist, and composing all sorts of marvelous musical pieces; at least I thought they were marvelous. I can remember one particular day, not long before Nanna died, I was sitting at that piano playing, when my mother came in and told me to stop as I was disturbing Nanna who was sick in bed. I hadn’t been stopped for more than a few minutes when Nanna called out. She wanted to know why I had stopped. Before Mummy could finish explaining the reason to her, Nanna insisted that I resume playing. She said: “It doesn’t disturb me; as long as he is happy.”

At the other end of the room, on the wall opposite the piano, was a marble fireplace and a mirror over the mantelpiece. The mirror had two blue side panels to match the blue walls[4]. In the center of the room was a high round table. In the center of this was an article which aroused my curiosity. It was a spherical green glass ball. I often wondered how the myriads of tiny bubbles happened to get into the middle of it[5].

At the far end of the drawing room a door led into a small hall which connected with the lounge, dining room, and breakfast room. There was also a door which led to the pantry; another of my favourite nooks. In this room shelves lined the three walls right up to the high ceiling and were always filled to the point of overflowing with all sorts of food. I used to love coming into the pantry with Nanna to fetch some particular food; sometimes climbing up on a chair or ladder to bring something down from a high shelf which Nanna could not reach.

Grandkids: Moura with Melanie (?), Pappa with Wendy (?), Nanna, Neville, Tessie with Keith. On Pappa’s right – Jennifer.

The door next to the pantry led into the dining room, a very long room with a big extending table down the centre and a large black leather couch at one end. There was also a sideboard, and several desks and armchairs. I can remember often sitting at the table while Pappa and Daddy were engaged in business bookwork. I used to collect the many different rubber stamps and would imagine myself a big business executive as I stamped away on the business letter-heads. Around the dining room walls and on various cupboards were many photographs of relatives who I never knew: my great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, old photos taken many years ago in Russia.

The happiest time of the year was always Yomtov, when all the family gathered at Princess Street. We would get up early in the morning and go to Shule (the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation in Toorak Road). There Pappa sat in the middle of the male members of his family: my uncles Myer and Bill on his right and myself, Daddy and Neville on his left, Neville and I often exchanging seats to sit next to Pappa[6]. But on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the Shule was crowded, I had to sit on Pappa’s and Daddy’s knee, being swapped from one to the other. When we stood up at different times during the service, I would stand up on the seat behind Daddy and Pappa, holding on to their shoulders and often looking up to the balcony on the right to where Nanna and Mummy sat. I was never bored in Shule, even though I could not follow the service properly. But I tried to, often asking Neville, Daddy or Pappa to show me the place. Sometimes Pappa brought one of his old books that he had brought from Russia (one had belonged to his grandfather). This was a big book which had a Yiddish commentary, and at times during the service he would turn around to discuss various explanations of prayers with two old men[7] who sat behind us, and they would hold lengthy discussions, reminiscing about the old days in Europe.

Even during the sermon I was rarely bored, especially when Rabbi Goldman gave the sermon, because he never failed to include quaint stories and parables.

Keith, Nanna and Pappa – front of house in the drive

After the service we would all go back to Princess Street where Nanna prepared lunch for us. I can remember many of these occasions, sitting at the table in the breakfast room. Pappa would make Kiddush and then Nanna would bring on the meal, after which Pappa `benched’[8], all of us joining in at the parts that were sung. Pappa’s favourite part was the last sentence נער הייתי .. “once I was young, now I am old” and he seemed to have a faraway nostalgic look in his eye as he sang this. After a while I was able to sing עשה שלום..” off by heart and gave an impromptu concert at lunch one day.

Neville’s Barmitzvah

Of all the Yom Tovim my favourite was Pesach. In fact Pesach was the highlight of the year for me. Preparations commenced a week before Pesach when Mummy spring cleaned Tanner Avenue[9] and made all her preparations and then went to help Nanna at Princess street. The cleaning of Princess street was an enormous task, but Nanna was not satisfied till every corner had been cleaned. Then came Erev Pesach. I would wake up early in the morning eager to get to work to help Nanna and Mummy in the task of bringing the Pesach dishes out from the cupboards where they had been stored since the previous Pesach and then putting the Khometzdiker dishes back into those cupboards. When all this had taken place the entire house had an atmosphere of cleanliness about, and all was ready for Nanna and Mummy to commence cooking for the Seders which were to take place that night and the following night.

I spent the day running from room to room watching the various activities and helping whenever I could. In the afternoon the preparations reached fever pitch: Nanna and Mummy rushed around anxious to have everything ready in time. Soon Daddy and Pappa would arrive home from work and Neville from school. The time had come for the preparation of the ritual items necessary for the Seder. The horseradish had to be grated; this was usually done by Daddy or Neville. The egg, the salt water, the onion, the chicken’s neck and other items for the Seder plate had to be prepared. But most important of all was the making of the Kharoset. This task belonged solely to Pappa. He alone knew the recipe which imparted the flavour which never varied from year to year[10]. He would sit down at the table with all the ingredients: apples, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, wine, and would spend hours chopping all them up into as fine pieces as he possibly could. Finally when he had finished and the Kharoset appeared to be the right colour and texture, one of us would be given the honour of sampling it.

By late afternoon all the preparations were nearing completion and Mummy, Daddy, Neville and I would return home to wash and dress ready for the Seder. Then we would return to Princess Street and pick up Pappa to go to Shule. Mummy remained to help Nanna add the finishing touches.

When the male members of the family returned home there was an air of serenity and holiness about the house. The hustle and bustle that had existed all day had subsided. Nanna had miraculously found time to prepare herself and was dressed ready for the Seder. In the dining room the table was set up, the old brass candlesticks which were over 100 years old and had been in the family for five generations before Nanna, were lit in the middle of the table. In everyone’s place was a Haggadah. The table had extra leaves added to it to make room for all the family. Soon my uncles, aunts and cousins arrived and all was ready for the commencement of the Seder. The climax of the day had arrived. Everyone seated themselves at the table, Nanna and Pappa at one end on the big sofa which had been draped in sheets and numerous cushions. Pappa was wearing a big white Yarmulka[11] and slippers. Then when everyone’s cup was filled with wine, Pappa commenced the Kiddush.

Pappa making Kiddush in the dining room, with Nanna, Tessie and Moura, c.1950.

Throughout the Seder I followed in my own Haggadah. No one could possibly lose interest in a Seder conducted by Pappa. Everything he did he explained, telling us the reasons behind the ritual, often accompanied by amusing anecdotes. Every now and then Pappa would say a short prayer, `Hineni’ which did not appear in anyone’s Haggadah but which Pappa believed was essential. This was always a mystery to us but we never questioned Pappa as his word on such matters was sacred.

Neville, Tessie and Keith - next to the garage


I retain additional memories of my grandparents which I did not include in my original memoir.

When we attended Shule together, it was understood that I would go up to the balcony where the women sat to visit my mother and Nanna. This was quite acceptable as I was only a little boy. It was a very special experience for me and I looked forward to it. I climbed the many wide marble stairs for three flights and quietly pushed aside the curtains which hung on the inside of the double doors to the gallery. The gallery was tiered and I found descending the steps of the rows quite precarious. Nanna and my mother sat in the second row on the right about three or four seats in. I sat either next to them or between them, I don’t recall exactly.

I was “shown off’ to their nearest neighbours, such as Mrs.Goldman, the wife of the much beloved Rabbi Goldman, who with her daughter Nina, sat in front of Nanna. The children’s services were held in the Minor Synagogue and Rabbis Goldman and Rapoport alternated in taken these services. I only went when Rabbi Goldman led the service as he had such an understanding rapport with the children. It was only years later that I developed a respect and friendship for Rabbi Rapoport and was invited to his home on several occasions for lunch after Shule. On one of these occasions another visitor was the British Chief rabbi Sir Israel Brodie, who had been rabbi of Toorak Shule until he returned to England in 1937. My grandparents were particularly close to Rabbi Brodie and I recall attending a function at the Melbourne Town Hall to welcome Rabbi Brodie on one of his return visits to Melbourne as Chief Rabbi.

My grandfather was a staunch supporter of Rabbi Goldman when controversy broke out between him and the Board of management. Pappa was a member of an ad hoc committee which included Nanna’s brothers Uncle Pinnie and Uncle Louis who sought to protect Rabbi Goldman’s interests. But the rabbi was obliged to leave the Shule and died not long after on Kol Nidrei night in Adelaide. When Jane and I were traveling in England in 1973 we visited Mrs. Goldman and Nina who had returned to live there.

I sat for a while upstairs until the appropriate point in the service when I was told to return to the men. Also attending that Shule was my grandmother’s sister who we called by various names which I always found hard to pronounce and only as an adult realized what the differences were. Her Hebrew name was Tsipora, pronounced in the Litvak fashion as “Tsipeyre”. Her Russian name was Cecilia, pronounced “Tsetsilya”. Her nieces and nephews used the shorter form Tsilya confined with the Russian for aunt “Tyotya” so she was “Tyotya Tsilya” – a real mouthful ! She sat towards the back of the womens’ section with her daughter Tybel Nathan, who always wore severe masculine clothes. She was unmarried.

Occasionally we would visit with Tsetsilya at her flat. I think it was somewhere like Armadale. It was rather old fashioned even in those days in the early 1950’s. We were entertained in the dark dining room, overshadowed by two portraits hanging on the wall over the sideboard: Lenin and Trotsky. Tybel was a staunch Communist, a Trotskyite; I don’t know whether Aunt Tsetsilya was also. Despite this they always came to Shule on Yom Tovim. I have vague memories of being very bored during these visits and would sit on the floor tracing the carved pattern in the dining chairs. After the great Breigus which broke out after Nanna died, we had no further contact with Tsetsilya, although we still used to see her at Shule with Tybel.

Although I described the drawing room at Rozalia I did not mention the many family gatherings that took place there. These usually included quite a crowd of people, in particular Nanna’s brothers Uncle Pinnie and Aunty Sarah with Uncle Louis and Aunty Fanny. I was quite fond of them all and they gave a lot of attention to the children present. Both Uncle Pinnie and Uncle Louis were great story tellers and I remember sitting on the floor at their knees listing to their yarns. Some of Uncle Pinnie’s stories were about his service in the Australian army during the First World War. Funny, but I don’t recall visiting them at their homes. Like Aunty Tsetsilya, after the Breigus we had no further contact with the great-uncles, although we used to meet Uncle Louis of all places in the men’s toilet at Toorak Shule and we exchanged polite greetings. But publicly, in the Shule foyer, we all ignored each other, and even if we came face to face with Tsetsilya, an occurrence we tried to avoid, no signs of recognition were made. It was all very sad and uncomfortable for a youngster like me to understand.

I don’t recall Pappa’s side of the family during Nanna and Pappa’s lifetime. Our close friendship with Pappa’s youngest brother Uncle Willie and Aunty Margaret and their children seemed to start after Pappa died. I do recall that Uncle Willie and his brother Uncle Pinkhas came to our house in South Caulfield to visit Pappa several times when he was ill, and they came there to sit Shiva for him. I think it was only for one day as he died during Khol Hamoed Pesakh which cancelled most of the Shiva. I recall that the rabbis told my mother she did not have to sit Shivah because of this but she insisted on having a Sheloshim Service at the Minor Synagogue.

When Nanna became seriously ill my mother insisted that she be cared for at home and would not hear of hospitalizing her. As her condition deteriorated, private nurses were required day and night. I was spoiled by the nurses and thought it all a game. I used to help by taking things to Nanna who was bedridden. I still bear the trauma of the only time Pappa lost his temper with me. I had gone to collect an empty bed tray after Nanna had finished eating in her room. I held the tray by both hands and skipped up the long lounge in the direction of the kitchen. As I skipped I bounced the tray on alternate knees. Then suddenly I noticed a strange jigsaw like pattern on the surface of the tray. It had a glass inlay which had shattered. I shamefacedly took it to the kitchen but met Pappa enroute in the breakfast room. He saw what had happened and began screaming at me – the Komesaroff temper was notorious. He certainly did not hit me, but I crouched on the floor and hid behind an armchair. It was ages until I came out and I spent the time tracing the pattern in the carpet. I don’t recall how it ended, but Pappa and I soon patched things up.

I related above how Pappa used to love shopping for all sorts of goodies, particular food. I recall certain items such as the soft drink “Creamy Soda” which was no longer available when I was older. There was also a selection of small goods “pressed meat” we called them, and I slyly used to tear off small pieces, particularly of tongue, when no one was looking. Strange that in later years and until this day I cannot stand tongue in any form.

Sometimes I went with Pappa to the Village Bell in Elwood where most of the Jewish shops provided our Kosher food needs. The women clamoured around the counter of the Greek fishmonger “George”. When Pappa visited the Kosher butcher he was apparently not satisfied to buy the merchandise on display in the shop and I would accompany him behind scenes, I suppose to select his particular prime cuts. I was terrified by the group of apron and headscarf clad women sitting on the floor out the back of the shop plucking the feathers out of the chicken carcasses.

We often went for Sunday drives with Nanna and Pappa. The favourite places of interest were up “in the hills”, that is the Dandenong ranges outside of Melbourne. There were holiday resorts surrounded by beautiful “Gum tree” (Eucalyptus) forests. It was a special treat to but “fresh laid” eggs and honey from the farmers in the mountains. In later years I recall going with Uncle Willie to visit his farm in the country (I don’t recall where) and seeing the egg packing and stamping process.

To be continued. September 2007

[1] A `square’ was a measurement of house size equal to 10 x 10 feet.
[2] The spare room had been my mother’s room before she was married.
[3] The initials `A.R.’ stood for Anna Roza, her Russian name, rather than her Yiddish name Chanah Raizel.
[4] This mirror was reinstalled at my parents’ new home in South Caulfield, but the blue panels were changed to orange.
[5] The glass ball is preserved by my cousin Diana Burgess.
[6] After Pappa died my father retained his seat.
[7] Mr. Seegan and Mr. Bennet.
[8] Grace After Meals.
[9] Where we lived.
[10] After Pappa died, the task became Neville’s and later mine.
[11] After Pappa died, my father used that Yarmulka and now I have it.

No comments:

Post a Comment