JIM CREES: A father figure to be proud of

I actually ran this column a few years back as a Father’s Day salute.

It’s about my father-in-law - Moshe Berkovitch.

My father-in-law died Saturday morning, two months after celebrating his 100th birthday.

Grandpa Moshe lived on Kibbutz Nir David in Israel and was still active, alert, involved, concerned with the state of the world and ready to offer his opinion on how to fix things if only you’d listen.

I did listen. So did my son and daughter. This was a guy worth listening to.

Moshe may well be one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met — and he was a man’s man.

To his last day, people listened to his sage advice.

Hard working all his life, his measure of any person — man or woman — was simple: Do they get up for work in the morning?

He didn’t care how much money you have. That meant nothing.

He didn’t care how many degrees you’ve earned. This was often just silliness.

He didn’t care if you had a title. He was not swayed by your “status.”

Moshe was more impressed by callused hands, than by cash in the bank.

He was impressed by work.

Work determined his life, and work determined his view of the world.

He worked first as a fine carpenter, then as a farmer, and later as a small engine repair man until he was 91 years old. When finally told to slow down, he expressed concern he wasn’t carrying his weight in the community.

He came by his manliness honestly.

Moshe was born in Hancewicze, Poland. When he was just a child, his father died and Moshe began working in the pine forests that supplied material for a local turpentine factory. A child!

He grew up in a home with no floor. In harsh winters, the children in his family slept on top of the cook stove in order to stay warm.

His mother struggled to keep the family together. Moshe, still a child, helped keep them fed.

Moshe was the “man of the house” before he even reached puberty.

With no time for school, he educated himself — reading and retaining. There was simply no time or money for formal education.

He worked.

Moshe worked until the Nazis conquered Poland and the extermination of the Jews began in earnest.

His younger brother Yoel slipped off to fight with underground, joining the partisans in the forests. Moshe escaped across the border and joined the Russian Army to fight the Nazis.

While the two boys were off fighting in the war effort, the Nazis took over Hancewicze and within days murdered every Jewish man, woman and child in the small city — including his mother (my wife Dina’s grandmother — after whom she is named) and every other member of the family.

The extent of this slaughter became even more real not too long ago when my wife was given a family photo she hadn’t known existed. It was the first time she had ever seen a photo of her grandmother … ever! Almost every person in the photo had been killed by the Nazis — except Moshe and Yoel.

My wife’s paternal grandmother was 55 years old when the Nazis shot her and dumped her in a ditch.

Only Moshe and his brother survived. Almost every other Jew in Hancewicze had been killed.

Moshe got a job as a carpenter along the Russian railroad. He was very skilled and much in demand. He managed to build his own home, marry and have a couple kids, all the while planning how he would escape the Soviet Union and move his family to Israel. Israel, he reasoned, was the only safe place in the world for Jews.

When he had saved and squirreled enough away, he walked away from his home outside of Moscow with family in tow. They took a “vacation” in Warsaw before slipping away to Vienna and then on to Israel.

He settled his family in a farming community, and went to work.

He worked every day of his life from that point on until he had to slow down few years back.

In the offing, his only son died in the 1973 war.

His daughters and granddaughter gave him and his wife Tamara a passel of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, (one named after his hero uncle.)

Despite it all, despite the Nazis, the slaughter of his family in Poland, the pain of losing a son, the separation from some of his children and grandchildren …despite it all, Moshe remained a man who measured and weighed every person by the work they did, not by the wealth they brought to the table.

He railed against injustice. Not the injustices that had been done him, but the continuing injustice he saw in the world.

He still had optimistic hopes for the world in which he lived, and still believed in humanity — despite the fact that humanity had turned its back on him so often, and so cruelly.

Moshe was a man’s man — and worthy of a nod of recognition.

The world would be better off if there were more fathers like him.