By Lauren Cohn (nee Herring)
I write this story with so much pride and honour; reliving the special friendship of my uncle Ellie Herring and his lifelong friend Fischel Kaufman (Kaufie), which spanned a lifetime of just over three score years and ten.
This remarkable friendship started in January 1947 in the corridors, classrooms and hostel of Herzlia School, those days situated in Hope Street, Cape Town. Both boys were shy of their Afrikaans mother tongue — being from the country had its setbacks. Uncle Ellie from Calitzdorp and Kaufie from Paarl and they found each other as naturally as the sunshine on a summers day. With hindsight as the perfect vision, these two boys were destined to be ‘brothers’ until the end of time.
My grandparents and Kaufie’s parents both fled war torn Europe at the turn of the century. With both families inherent strong Jewish values, they sent their sons to Herzlia to ensure they were given a Jewish education with the main focus of studying for their Barmitzvahs. I remember listening to their stories of when uncle Ellie would visit Kaufie at his parents’ home in Paarl on weekends. In return, Kaufie would visit ‘Warmbad’ , later renamed in honour of my late grandfather to ‘Moses Hope’, the Herring family’s farm nestled in the mountains just outside Oudtshoorn in the small Karoo town of Calitzdorp.
Uncle Ellie had to leave school at the young age of 16 to return to the farm as his father had taken ill and was unable to manage alone. When his father passed away, he took on the responsibilities of the farm and remained committed to his mother and three siblings. He made a life for himself on the farm. He met Ellen Dawson, whom he married and together they raised their 4 incredible children, Angela, Mervyn, David and Irene as well as Ellen’s young daughter, Lorraine, whom he adopted as his own.Through the years that followed, uncle Ellie and Kaufie maintained a strong friendship which grew to include their growing families and changing life paths. In the midst of a devastating Karoo drought, it was Kaufie who encouraged uncle Ellie to relocate to Paarl to try his hand at a different career. He later moved on to the Strand where he joined my dad in his motor business. All the while, the farm was calling him back.
He eventually returned to the land he loved and rebuilt his farm. They never had the luxuries of life but they were certainly blessed with a warm and open home bustling with a heart that was ever-welcoming of all who visited. At the same time, Kaufie was raising his family with his beloved wife, Zelda and his two boys Mark and Errol, in the small town of Paarl. The two families spent most long weekends and holidays together with their children discovering and building the same bonds as their parents. Even though uncle Ellie did not raise his children in the Jewish faith, his family were his most important and proud assets. He raised his children with his parents Jewish morals and values and they had an immense respect for him. Uncle Ellie continued to live on the farm together with his eldest son, Mervyn, and his family.
In 2015, we celebrated both uncle Ellie and Kaufie’s 80th birthdays. As all the years prior, the Herrings and Kaufmans descended on either Calitzdorp or Paarl celebrating each and every simcha together. In all the years, an opportunity was never missed to wish each other Happy Birthday, Chag Sameach, Happy Anniversary or just a good ol’ “Hoe gaan dit?”. At the ages of 82, Uncle Ellie and Kaufie were still best of friends, conversing in Afrikaans, as they did all those years ago in the corridors of Herzlia School. They continued to trust each other and share their inner most thoughts and feelings with respect and love.
In the early hours of Sunday 15 July, my Uncle Ellie took his last breath unexpectedly while in the local hospital with his oldest daughter, Angela by his bedside. After speaking to my distraught father, the next person I called was Mark Kaufman.
It was one of those times where we never had to explain anything because we all knew the type of man uncle Ellie was, as a great grandfather, grandfather, father, brother, uncle and friend. Throughout his life, his infectious nature and quiet belief was evident. It was in his death that his strong belief, lifelong friendships and brotherly love were never questioned. My dad and Kaufie always knew that uncle Ellie’s wish was to be buried on his farm and I knew they were going to give him the most memorable and loved “send off”, one he himself would not believe possible. Together, we navigated this difficult situation and were not sure how it was to unfold. Kaufie, together with his sons, are the Chevra Kadisha for the Paarl community and undertook the procedures of my beloved uncle’s passing with the utmost importance. They spoke to the Country Community Rabbi, Rav Moshe Silberhaft, who after many conversations, confirmed that a Jewish cemetery would be consecrated on the grounds of ‘Moses Hope’, Calitzdorp, established in honour of the life of my uncle Ellie Herring. Rabbi Stuart Serwator officiated at the ceremony and thereafter, at the funeral.
A special thanks must go to those members of the local Oudtshoorn Jewish community who came to pay their last respects to a man who was not a regular shul go-er but a fellow Jew and friend nonetheless. As his family, we remain eternally grateful for their attendance. Uncle Ellie would be so overwhelmed to know that, not only had his children prepared everything to perfection according to stipulations by the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa, but that there was a minyan at his burial. My father was comforted knowing that his brother would be laid to rest on his farm in Calitzdorp. The same farm where, as young boys, they grew up watching their father work the fields, sometimes with no product to show for it. A dedicated Jewish family who were led with Yiddishkeit in their hearts.
For me, this story is so powerful. “From small things come greatness” resonates so strongly. You see, anyone who knew my uncle Ellie or who has the privilege of knowing either my dad, Isaac Herring or his friend Fischel (Kaufie) Kaufman, will know that this type of love, respect and dedication is in their blood and I am honoured to be surrounded by such influence which I can comfortably say stems from those corridors of Herzlia School.