“Ma petite histoire”
My little story (like the French would say “ma petite histoire) is as follows:
I was born in Beau Bassin, Mauritius. I am of French descent going back three generations. I am told that on the French side, we are descendants of Adrien D’Epinay, which makes us French Aristocrats. My Dad’s father’s surname was in fact GEFFROY DE BREGOUHARN, again of French Aristocratic descent.
I came to South Africa in November 1966 and started in insurance as a clerk in July 1967. When asked about my name, I innocently said it in French being the only way then that I used to say my name, namely Clency Geffroy (pronounced “Gef-froi”).
The normal response and reaction from most people was “Geff who!!!” and that is how I got the nickname “Geff” being an abbreviation of my surname. So Geff became my new name and I came to accept it and even like it.
Early in 1968, Sharon Rudy my wife, joined Guardian Assurance Company, the company where I worked. This retrospectively began the start of a DIVINE PLAN (in my humble opinion and belief).
She was allocated to type for the “Frenchman” and so our relationship started. When I proposed to her about a year after we met, Sharon told me that we could not get married because she was Jewish. It was the beginning of my getting to know and understand Judaism.
When Sharon turned 21, we eloped to Sydney, Australia. There I started going to shul on Fridays but at the time there were hardly any Jews in Sydney and my entourage there hardly included any Jewish friends except for literally a couple of friends which I met at work.
When I passed my Insurance Exams with flying colours and came first out of 1600 students in the whole of Australasia, I was entitled to a housing bond. Shortly afterwards, Sharon and I, one weekend, went to look at homes. We saw a beautiful split level home in Manly, Sydney and I was about to buy the home. I told Sharon that we should start a family. Sharon was dead against the idea and consequently we never bought the house, as Sharon did not like Australia.
We then decided to either go to Montreal, Canada where my sister lives with her family or to Israel on a kibbutz.
When my mother-in-law Lily heard about this, she was the first to tell us to come back to South Africa and to use the money we had saved as a deposit on a house.
We came back within months and in September 1973 returned to South Africa and bought our first home.
I went to 9th Street Shul in Orange Grove where my father-in-law was a member and his brother; Rabbi Samuel Rudy was the rabbi.
Rabbi Rudy was instrumental to my being taught Hebrew and Judaism together with a couple of others to assist me in being converted, which after 2 ˝ years and a circumcision, I became an Orthodox Jewish convert and attended shul every Friday and on Yom Tov.
Our daughter Aviva was born in 1976 and our son Simon in 1979.
I joined Mayer Resnik, my late Jewish partner in 1974 and started to mix with the Jewish Business milieu. It is now 30 years that I’ve been part of Success Brokers, today a Financial Services Group handling all aspect of insurance and employing 50 employees.
My father -in-law and mother-in-law moved into our home which we extended to accommodate them in 1990. With my in-law living with us, I became even more religious. My father-in-law died in 1998 and I subsequently took the lead to host the Pesach Seder at our house.
When my mother-in-law died after a car accident and had to be placed in Our Parents Home where she received 24-hour care, I came to the realization that being the oldest family member in the Jewish Sector of the family that I’d have to become more religious … the start of the DIVINE PLAN. I felt the need to go to shul every morning, to improve my Hebrew by taking private lessons and to study Judaism by meeting regularly with a rabbi for private shiurim. That started following the family sitting shiva in October 2003. Coincidentally by April 2004 I was to discover that my Grandmother was Jewish.
My uncle in Australia died more or less at the same time as my mother-in-law and amongst his papers was a birth certificate from his mother, my grandmother who was shown as SKYDERBERG, her maiden name, and which is a Jewish name. This was revealed to me in April 2004 being the month of Nissan, Pesach/Revelation and is quite a coincidence to me.
I started to make enquiries and ascertained no pertinent news except for the fact that I now know that my grandmother was Jewish. The birth certificate says that her father was also married in Mauritius. I’m not quite sure and convinced that this is in fact the truth. I have not been able to find any documents relating to my grandmother’s parents in Mauritius …. nor any information to show me who my grandmother’s mother was etc etc.
After a certain amount of passionate enthusiasm, interest and determination to find out more and the truth, I gave up as I could find no more than the birth certificate which does not help me.
Subsequently after enquiries and talking to the French members of my family, I learned that a cousin of my grandmother, who lived amongst us and who I knew as a child, was a “WAG-NEUR (and therefore French to us and turned out today to be WAGNER and therefore Jewish …. Strange how naďve we were as kids). I also learned that at some time or other a group of two or more of my grandmother’s family came to Mauritius to fetch her and she refused to leave!!! (My uncle in Australia being a Professor of English and French Literature and the only one who could speak English spoke to them and no doubt got to know that my grandmother was Jewish but kept it as a secret and a guarded secret it has been all the time).
I know that my mother would have no other Doctor in Mauritius but Dr Remi, who I’ve since learned was in fact the doctor who was appointed in Mauritius to look after the detainees who came to Mauritius in 1940 on the ship “ Atlantic”. I now understand the close attachment by my mother and our families to Dr Remi …… strange but true.
I also learned that my uncle became involved with a theatrical group and the group he worked with were part of the Jewish detainees who participated in a theatrical show which they produced. Most of my uncle’s Mauritian friends who were part of that theatrical show were in fact government appointees who mixed with the detainees.
My uncle as far as I can remember was not really a religious man. My grandmother also was not religious and did not go to church! (Today I understand why). My grandfather also was not religious and did not go to church maybe to support my grandmother’s belief! Three of my grandmother’s sons never married, or socialized with the Mauritians. My one uncle Rene married Tante Lily who we were given to understand was a natural child of Tante Wagner and who no doubt today was also Jewish by birth, but this was not known nor discussed then.
I’m also now told that my Uncle Alex a professor of education and did not mix with a lot of the locals and told his children that they were Jewish. At some time or other, he mentioned to his kids that there was a Jewish connection in the family but he never elaborated on it!
My Tante Laure, who is still alive told me that when my grandmother’s son Uncle France wanted to marry her, she told him that she could not because she had just been asked to marry someone else and had accepted, that France who was so distraught that he tore his shirt and mumbled something. (As if he could have been saying Kaddish) and he never took out any other girl and lived a very lonely life thereafter.
I know I was the blue eyed child to my grandmother and visited her many times and there existed an unspoken bond of affection between us. I remember her dressing like a real Bobba with her hair done in a chignon and she hardly went out of her house. She was a recluse and maybe was living a hidden life. My mom also always had a special place for me in her heart. She never ever once said anything to me or to Sharon about her mother’s Jewishness nor did she ask me any questions as to why I was converting to Judaism. My mother died 18 October 1995.
I believe I was meant to leave Mauritius and go to South Africa and to meet Sharon my wife, a Jewess and to marry her and convert to Judaism and perhaps reclaim our Jewishness on behalf of my grandmother.
I was introduced to Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft who gave me a lot of information about Mauritius and the arrival of the Jewish detainees in 1940, the existence of the Jewish Cemetery at St Martin and a lot more relevant information about the Jewish involvement in Mauritius (thanks to him, I learned so much more about Mauritius, Jews in Mauritius and the South African Jewry connection with Mauritius). He subsequently told me that he was instrument in building a Jewish Community Centre in Curepipe and I became very interested to get involved. I understand that this “Amicale Maurice Israel Centre” will be officially opened in March 2005 and I am obviously very interested to be part of this new Jewish development in Mauritius. I feel there is a personal need, desire and an “outside” force that is pushing me to incorporate and include my family (Geffroy, Telescourt and Sykdeberg) into that Jewish renaissance and revival and yet there is also another pull that somewhat prompt me to hesitate with this desire to have the names included, maybe due to the fact that I have not yet attained, achieved or obtained the proof and truth that my grandmother is of a Jewish mother which will confirm the Jewishness all the way from the source….
In the meantime nothing changes in my life and in my heart. I’m very pleased with the fact that I am Jewish, have become more observant and hope to come up with more news regarding the Jewish source of my Grand’mere.