12/31/2009 at 9:11 AM
Annie Tollman was the “ First Lady “ of the Tollman / Beare family, for good reason. In addition to her natural beauty, she had very real inner goodness and wisdom. Her own mother passed away in 1913, when Annie was only thirteen and a half years old. She had an older brother Morris, and three younger brothers, as well as two sisters. The youngest was Lillian all of four years old whilst the next in line was Aaron, about one and a half years older. Annie’s father Hyman Beare was an engineer by profession as well as an inventor. His wife was a much more practical person, who in addition to managing the family also had a bicycle shop. When she passed away, Annie was there to “mother” the two younger children. The three older boys were all big and tough for their age and fighters. There was an under currant of Anti Semitism in South Africa. They suffered no insult without reacting. The epithet “Jew boy” on their way home from school, was good enough reason for them to hand over their jacket to Annie, who had very limited influence on the older boys. They won respect from their peers, and were feared by their adversaries.
Annie Beare was spotted by Meyer Tollman at a communal party, just before her fourteenth birthday. Unlike the Beare children who had all been born in South Africa Meyer had arrived from Lithuania at the turn of the century, when he was 10 years old. When he set eyes on Annie he was already twenty three. Meyer had a talent for languages, and had picked up both English and Afrikaans as well as Xhosa the language most spoken by the Africans in Johannesburg. Annie was a school girl with no patience for this “new immigrant,” and would much prefer the company of her school friends. Meyer who had set his mind on winning her, switched his attention to her widowed father Hyman, whom he befriended..
Meyer had a sporty two wheeled horse and buggy, which he would put to good use, especially where Hyman was concerned. Nothing was too much. Meyer would insist on taking him to visit his doctor, to collect the medicines, and was happy to do anything and everything for him. They would philosophize for hours about the old country Lithuania, where both Hyman and Meyer were born, and where Hyman received his mechanical engineering degree. After Hyman qualified he was invited by a successful Aunt, who had moved to Manchester years earlier, to join her company. There she had established a profitable garment factory, largely staffed by young machinists from the old country. Hyman was scheduled to work as the maintenance engineer. He fell in love with one of the young machinists, a recent arrival from Lithuania. His Aunt made no secret of her disappointment with his choice. She was hoping to use her young professional nephew, to improve her standing in snobbish English Society, by finding a “suitable” partner.
In Meyer’s conversations with Annie’s father Hyman, Meyer made no secret of his ulterior motives, which were to win Annie’s hand in marriage. Meyer’s sincerity as a good friend, and his natural charm, all began to sink in. No less, he saw Meyer as hard working, and very consistent in his intentions towards Annie. Myer had displayed great sensitivity, and infinite patience and maturity, in not rushing the courtship. As Hyman became better and better acquainted with Meyer he became convinced of his kindness, of his good nature, and of his suitability as a husband. The ten year difference in their age was, by then, much less of a problem than when he had first set eyes upon Annie. Hyman made it very clear to Annie that he believed that Meyer would be a worthy husband based on his long experience, with Meyer as a friend. As Annie got to know Meyer better, she too could sense his innate goodness, his charm, and his unwavering love for her. They were married when she was seventeen and a half, and he was twenty seven, in 1916.
Annie’s brothers Sam and Issie were respectively sixteen and a half and fifteen and a half when they decided in mid 1916 to join the South African army by concealing their true age. Annie was shocked, and begged Meyer to go to the recruiting station, reveal the truth, and bring them home. Meyer suffered a few insults from the recruiting officer: “ So why aren’t you in uniform,” but succeeded in the end, and brought the boys home. Two months later however, Sam and Issie went to a different recruiting station, and succeeded this time in bluffing their way, into the military. After brief basic training, Sam the older of the two, was shipped off to France to fight in the trenches. Against all the international rules and agreements governing wars, the Germans used poison gas, and thousands of Allied soldiers perished in the trenches.. Sam who was young, healthy and very strong, was lucky to survive, albeit with damaged lungs. All his life he spoke, with what can best be described, as a hoarse whisper.
Fourteen months after Annie and Meyer were married, saw the arrival of Rayzelle my oldest sister. Six months later Annie’s sister in law died, whilst giving birth to a daughter, and despite there being three older sister in laws, only Annie was ready to accept the responsibility. Dolly entered our family, and Annie at age nineteen, was a mother to two baby daughters. Two years later Pinky my third sister was born. The year 1922 saw the worst flu epidemic the world had ever known, with fatalities of over twenty million worldwide, exceeding the number who had died in world war 1. Pinky who was two years old succumbed to the flu. Annie was shattered, she used to say, that it was the only time in her life, that she had no will to live. She kept a small cotton bag containing Pinky’s favourite toys locked up in her cupboard. Annie would allow us to play with them, but we would have to return the bag to her for safe keeping.
After the three girls my mother gave birth to four boys. I am the youngest of the children. Meyer my father passed away at age 50 in 1941 after a short illness. I was only nine, yet have the most beautiful memories of a doting Dad who was very proud of his four sons, and who worshipped Annie. My mother was forty when he died, all four of us were still at school. The Beares were a very close family. Mom was esteemed by all her brothers and sisters. After Meyer’s death we would see Sam at least twice a week, he lived close by, and was an accomplished fixer. Where Annie was concerned, nothing was ever too much for him, whether it was repairing the hot water system, to arranging a larger bank overdraft for her.
So it was also for Aaron, Sam’s youngest brother who was five when their mother died, and whose memories of his childhood, and the love and care he received from Annie, could not be forgotten, Aaron was a very successful business man looking for new opportunities, and wishing to assist his sister. He was at that time opening a new furniture company and proposed to Annie that she send him the cash she had received from Meyer’s insurance policy, in return for which he would make her a 25% share holder in the new company. Annie had great faith in Aaron and was happy to accept his proposal. In the meantime she had embarked on her own initiative, and opened a dress salon in our middle bedroom. I as the youngest child was moved into her bedroom, here there were twin beds. This was 1941 with German u-boats lurking in the oceans, and finding suitable stock was her biggest problem.
After Annie and Meyer’s marriage they moved into their own home. This was in 1919 and small groups of Jewish immigrants were arriving all the time, in particular from Lithuania. Meyer was always ready to assist a newcomer. If they were in need of accommodation, or looking for a job. There was a spare room in their house, and he would bring people home, help them to find a job, and delay the rental until they found their feet. Amongst the people that they had assisted twenty years earlier, was a newcomer, who had subsequently become a very successful dress manufacturer. He was more than ready to do everything possible, to find Annie suitable stock, grant her credit, and assist her where needed. Annie had a along standing reputation as a lady of good taste. Any friend needing a dress for a special occasion would seek her advice in bygone years. Another problem was that she had never driven. Syd was almost sixteen and Dad had taught him to drive when he was thirteen. When needed, he would fetch a client, and when it was raining, he was allowed to drive us to school. We all went to the same school, my brother Ted and myself to the primary school, whilst Syd was at the high school.
Syd was big for his age, and a careful driver, but under age and without a license. When I think about it today, I can only conclude that the Almighty was watching over us. In due course Annie passed her driving test. After his matriculation in1941, Cecil joined the Air force, and worked as an air mechanic. He had wonderful hands and technical skills, and was well suited to his Air force job.
We had all gone through Zionist youth movements, in our case Habonim. Both my mother Annie, and my sister Rayzelle, had been Chairladies of Wizo. Ted matriculated in 1947, and started to study 1st year architecture, at Witwatersrand University. When the Israeli State was declared after the United Nations vote, we all went berserk, in our joy and excitement. Ted gave up his studies, and wanted to leave for Israel immediately. He did eventually join a group who were leaving for Israel a year later, to be part of a one year international Habonim course, for future youth leaders. Annie was invited by her brother Aaron, to join some friends who were leaving for Israel, to enjoy the celebrations of the new State, on the occasion of its first Anniversary.
Ted,s youth leadership course was due to leave for Israel early in 1949, and Annie felt it would be a good idea for him to spend the next six months, working on her brother Aaron’s farm, outside of Durban, to learn something about farming, in preparation for his life on a kibbutz. I will never forget the scene at the Johannesburg railway station, to bid farewell to Ted. Our entire Habonim group, about twenty seventeen year olds girls and boys were there to bid him farewell. In fact he was only leaving for Durban, a mere six hundred km. away. Shortly before the train was due to leave we all stood to attention, and sang Hatikva. The girls and some of the boys, with tears in their eyes. All the drama was the result of the prevailing excitement, the creation of the new State of Israel.
All the members of our family were true Zionists, except for the fact that apart from my self, they never actually made it to Israel. I remember my eldest sister Rayzelle who was thirty one at that time, transferring all her savings five thousand pounds Sterling to Bank Leumi. It purchased her an equal number of Israel pounds, that eventually were almost worthless. As a nine year old I was enlisted by my mother to sell trees to our neighbors in the forests of the Keren Kayemet. I remember my brother Syd as a member of the IUA Israel United Appeal working nights to raise money for our beloved new State. My main motivation in deciding to settle in Israel, was to raise a family in the democratic Israeli state. I should add that another important consideration for me, was my abhorrence of Apartheid. Unlike many of my fellow South Africans who have settled in Israel, I saw Mandela’s release and the change to a non racial democratic system as a critical step forward for South Africa. Like many others I never believed that I would witness in my lifetime a democratic system, with every citizen voting, and equal rights for all South Africans irrespective of their race, or skin color.
My mother never encouraged me to go on Aliyah, but gave me her blessing and believe that she was proud of me. I had hopes that one or two of my brothers would follow, particularly after the spectacular success of Danish Interiors. I was not the great Zionist in the family, but can understand that when a family is happily settled and following a successful career, Aliyah is unlikely to happen. My mother visited us every second year for at least a month and as she passed eighty I made a point of visiting her at least once a year, mostly with at least one of my children and in later years grand children. I was particularly gratified, that she had lived to witness from afar, Gaby winning his first Keren Sharett Art Scholarship. Tamara and Annie enjoyed a wonderful relationship. Tamara would enjoy taking her to our best fashion shops and twisting her arm into buying a few beautiful outfits for herself. It was always easier for Annie to buy beautiful things for others. In honour of her 80th birthday her children decided to club together and buy her something very special. She had never had a need of a safe at the bank-------- her modest collection of jewelry was based on sentiment rather than on value. We purchased an exquisite blue white three carat diamond ring. She had never had anything like it, and was very excited with the gift. She would wear it only on special occasions.
Annie Tollman lived to the age of ninety and enjoyed getting to know her two great, great granddaughters. When she passed away she left 61 direct descendents all of whom loved and admired her. Towards the end of her life there were several potential candidates who would have been both honored and delighted to receive her diamond ring. There was her eldest grand daughter a very beautiful grand mother herself, her devoted adopted daughter Dolly, as well as many others. Annie in her wisdom decided on a wonderful solution, she would will it to Beth Issie Shapiro. She and Issie Shapiro were first cousins and very great friends. Naomi Stutchiner Issie’s daughter the President of BIS, was in a quandary as to what to do with this valuable ring. One of the big donors at that time to BIS was a leading diamond dealer, he said it could fetch between 15000 and 20000 dollars. As chairman of the board of Beth Issie Shapiro, Naomi turned to me for advice. An idea struck me. We would have a limited number lottery and sell 100 tickets at $1000 a ticket and in this way raise $!00,000. In fact the tickets were sold out in no time, and her gift became all the more meaningful.