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Eli Herscovitch

Eli Herscovitch Remembers A Man Who Inspired Him - The story of Solomon Ary From Bialystock, Poland, Whose Entire Family Was Burned in a Synagogue by the Nazis.

by Elaine Bigalow, April 11, 2013

Eli Herscovitch Remembers A Man Who Inspired Him - The story of Solomon Ary From Bialystock, Poland, Whose Entire Family Was Burned in a Synagogue by the Nazis 
During the Limmud Festival at the Asper Campus in March, Eli Herscovitch shared his moving account of Montreal musician and Yiddish songwriter “Solomon Ary from Bialystock, Poland,” who has been an inspiration for Herscovitch’s own work.  
Herscovitch has been working on a musical and literary project on the story of Solomon Ary, a published writer and  a singer  and is collaborating on this project  with Rachel, Ary’s daughter.
Herscovitch described Bialystock as often called ‘the Paris of Eastern Europe’. “One year after Ary’s arrival in Canada, the Nazis invaded Poland,” Herscovitch explained.
“When the Nazis came, they locked 4000 Jews in the Synagogue and burnt it to the ground; Ary becomes the only survivor of his family and neighbors.”
He said, “Ary even said once that ‘someone from Bialystock  [ which Ari described as a large city with a large ghetto] might have given him the evil eye.” 
According to Herscovitch, Ary survived the streets of montreal , and joined a theatre group of communists who gave him place to eat, sleep, and provided him food. He took odd jobs and found a room for a dollar per month. He was three months behind in rent but kept hunger at bay through the kindness of others who kept him alive. “
He never forgot that charity and through his life he lent people thousands of dollars, some paid him back and some did not,” said Herscovitch. 
“It was while he was eating one of those free meals that someone told him about the tragedy in Bialystock. Ary asked himself “why did I survive?"
Ary locked away all the memories and the pain from that event, that the world of his youth had gone. But the memory of Bialystock stayed alive in him. He became a maven of all the stories. 

But, Herscovitch said, “He went on, worked hard, and during his life tried to say positive. He married Sylvia Berkovitz. They had four children, two girls and two boys - Rachel, Malkah, Isaac and Alexander."

Herscovitch told a crowded room Ary’s life story by way of musical interpretations interspersed with delightful stories about his beloved friend , a mench , who Hercovitch said always stepped in to help someone in need. Each outstanding   klezmer rendition by Herscovitch’s band ‘M’shugga’ perfectly matched the sentiment, tone and narrative given by him about Ary’s life.

Notwithstanding the destruction of all of his family and neighbors in Bialystock, in Canada, Ary “went on, worked hard, and during his life tried to say positive. He married Sylvia Berkovitz. They had four children, two girls and two boys - Rachel, Malkah, Isaac and Alexander." 

“None of us had any money”, Herscovich said. “That is why I lived in that neighborhood [in Montreal]."

“My daughter needed money for the dentist. A few days later Ary comes to my house.“Come on in," I said.

“Ary does not say a word but hands me an IOU for $200 and says “sign this”. “Out came the $200 and Ary said “don’t worry, pay me whenever, no interest,” Herscovitch recalled. 

“When the PQ got elected my wife and I decided to leave Montreal. We found the money to pay him back the $200,” Herscovitch noted. 

“When he found out we were playing Klezmar music Ary wanted to see us whenever we were in Montreal. He treated me like one of his kids.”

During the session, Herscovitch also read “The Deutch” one of Ary's original and touching stories. The dedication Herscovitch  displayed  to his friend,  and his desire to share the legacy of Ary’s great talent of remembering, writing and singing Yiddish songs, was testament to the great love and respect Herscovitch had for him.  
As Herscovitch said Solomon Ary “inspired me for his whole life.” 
Herscovitch said of Ary’s memory, “It’s like his spirit is over me, I am carrying this thing over me, he brought to life all of these people, all the individuals in Bialystock, the people in Montreal, including the depression, flaws and good parts, he brought to life all of these peoples’ phenomenal stories."
Herscovitch added “His voice is phenomenal. He used a reel to reel tape recorder,  his voice was a perfect tenor. There are 5 Yiddish CD’s of all his songs which he sings into a tape recorder." 
Solomon Ary began putting his stories to paper at age 67. 
Herscovitch said, “In his “Ary” style of wit and writing he brought the lives of Bialystock people back to life, and revealed in humorous ways the difficulties and harshness of Jewish immigrant life in Montreal during the depression years”.
“He had all these experiences which he never talked about, but had stored in his memory, until one day he decided he should write them down, not as a diary, but as stories which were written exactly the way he thought and he spoke."
Herscovitch referred to Ary as the ‘Mel Brooks of Bialystock’.  He explained how he wanted to do something with Ary’s writings as a remembrance of his friend and to make these gems - treasures coming out “20 handwritten stories and dozens upon dozens of songs which Ary sang alone into a reel to reel tape recorder” into a memory project.
 “Ary had recorded verses of Yiddish songs we’d never heard about with his wonderful tenor voice” and he wanted these treasures recorded for times gone by so that they would never be lost.”
 At age 68, Ary, who became a housepainter after arriving in Montreal, still worked 70 hours per week.
As Ary wrote, “I began writing two years ago at the advice of my brother in law. I was the product of two different families: my father’s motto “a word passes but a slap leaves a mark”, my mother’s motto “for a blow passes but a word lasts."
Ary’s wit is visible in the statement, “I, Ary, from a small street by the fish market, was put on the front cover of a worldwide reader Prism International."
 Solomon Ary was published in Prism International: Four Stories: "Moshevay," "The Pact," "Business," and "Grandma Slova," in 1980; in The Spice Box, Anthology of Jewish Canadian Writing: "The Pact"; in Canadian Fiction Magazine: "Yes Sir, A Very Good Morning,"; in Midstream (1984): "Garlic"; in Jewish Currents (1985) : "Grandma Toiba"; Midstream (1988): "Hawks"; in Yiddish (1989) “Shayke Windpipe”; in Parchment (1992): “A Handful of Crumbs” and in Kerem (1994): “The Fence".
While in the Jewish theatre group Ary met Alexander Berkovitz and Alex’s wife Grena and an immediate friendship was struck.  Ary met their daughter Sylvia and fell deeply in love at age 29. They began to meet in secret on Mount Royal. When Berkovitz found out he was angry and wanted to put an end to the relationship. During work at the theatre he invited Ary to the Berkovitz house demanding Ary promise to never see his daughter again, at that time Berkovitz stabbed him twice in the chest. Ary did not press charges but he and Sylvia continued to see each other. Eventually he was given permission to marry her. In time Sylvia became a world famous artist and Ary the house painter became ‘a Centre of Yiddish culture.’
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