Vignettes from Africa:  A Kupiskis Connection


By Ann Rabinowitz

To add a Sephardic twist to the mix of people who came to Zimbabwe, there was the Elkaim family, whose roots were originally from Morocco.  They had been in Palestine for many generations and the majority of the family still resided there.  Chanan Elkaim arrived in Africa in 1933 at the port of Beira in Mozambique, having traveled from Palestine down the east coast of Africa.  His plan was to find a job in Southern Rhodesia where he knew of a family friend, Ephraim Cohen, who was already living and working in Bulawayo. 

Unfortunately, the immigration authorities in Southern Rhodesia were not very welcoming to Jews and so did not grant him the clearance to remain there.  He then decided to go north and try his luck there.  He boarded a train and arrived at the platform of Livingstone railway station in 1933, tired and thirsty from his long trek.  Refused permission to stay in the country, he sat forlornly on the platform trying to determine what to do. 

Suddenly, he heard a loud voice boom out to him, "Du bist a Yid?"  The person who called to him was a giant of a man, over 250 pounds, who looked at him kindly from the other end of the platform.  He replied that he was and the man, a fellow Jew, then offered to use his good relations with the immigration officials to allow Chanan to continue on his way north to opportunities in Ndola in the Copperbelt. 

As it turned out, the man was in the taxi business and was at the station daily.  He had become very friendly with the immigration staff and others there too including Sir Roy Welensky, born a Jew, who was a fireman for Rhodesia Railways in those days, and later became the architect of the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation and its last Prime Minister from 1956 to 1963. 

The man helped where he could and later was much assistance to the refugees who came through the station prior to World War II.  On one occasion, an immigration official asked whether the man would stand guarantee for these immigrants.  The man convinced the official that there was no need for any guarantees, because the Jewish communities of the various small towns in Northern Rhodesia would take care of each and every one of them until they were able to fend for themselves.  And, this indeed happened.

Chanan arrived in Ndola and thrived there and eventually became a successful road contractor among other things.  He was responsible for constructing all of the inter-town roads all over the Copperbelt.  He married and brought up three very talented children.  He donated very generously to deserving causes all over Northern Rhodesia/Zambia and was later awarded Zambiaís highest medal of distinction for his outstanding generosity and service to the community, by Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, the then President of Zambia. 

In 1953, when he returned to Israel for his motherís funeral, he suggested that his nephew Avner should join him in Africa to work and thereby help support his family financially.  At the age of twenty-two, Avner arrived in Ndola in April, 1954. 

Sometime later, at a social get-together held on July 16, 1954, at the home of Mrs. Kapulski whose husband was related to the famous Israeli bakers, Kapulski Brothers, Avner was to meet his beshert.  She was a young woman who had been sent to Ndola for a two week stay to organize Zionist Youth/Habonim activities.  Avner was of two minds whether to attend the get-together as it was Friday night.  He had intended spending it with his aunt and uncle, until they decided to go to bed.  Eventually, he did go and spent the evening chatting in Hebrew with the young woman.

When he returned home, he told his Uncle Chanan he had met a beautiful young woman who spoke Hebrew.  Uncle Chanan was most pleased and asked who the girl was.  ďOh, her name is Ronnie and she is the daughter of a Joe FurmanovskyĒ, he said.  Joe  Furmanovsky . . . that was the taxi driver that had met Uncle Chanan on the platform in Livingstone those many years ago and given him the first start towards his new life in Rhodesia.  What a coincidence!!!

It turned out that Joe Furmanovsky was born in Kupiskis, Lithuania, in 1895, one of eight children of Chaim Furmanovsky, a hatter.  The Furmanovsky family had lived in Kupiskis since the early 19th Century and did well there.  However, as economic opportunities were becoming more rare in Lithuania in the early 1900ís, Joe Furmanovsky decided to leave in 1925 and make a new life for himself.  He ended up in Rhodesia which later became Zimbabwe.  It was there, coincidentally, that he met many other Kupishokers such as the Trapido family who had also decided to try their luck in the new land.      

The Furmanovskys have also left a legacy of another sort, as a granddaughter, Jill Furmanovsky, has spent her thirty year career jetting around the world photographing rock stars and other celebrities such as Blondie, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Mick Jagger, Oasis, Pink Floyd, The Police, and The Pretenders.  Her intimate photographs have an intensity and insight into the souls of those pictured that enlighten and astound the viewer.

Another talented member of the family is Jillís brother Michael Furmanovsky.  He is a professor in the area of popular culture and has written about and documented the impact of country, rockabilly, and pop music on the Japanese culture of the 1950ís-1960ís.

Their father, Jack, son of Joe Furmanovsky, is a well-known architect who designed the new addition to the Shul in Bulawayo that burned to the ground in 2003.  He now practices in London , his beautiful buildings left behind in the old Rhodesia.  Who will maintain and love them now?

Note:  As of 2008, the last of the Furmanovsky family have left Zimbabwe for good.  They are gone to far-flung places, resettled yet again.  However, they are still in touch with their Kupishoker landsleit.

(Originally published in Jewish Affairs, Vol. 59, No. 2, Winter, 2004, Johannesburg, SA.  Reprinted with updates by and with permission of Ann Rabinowitz, author)

© 2004 Ann Rabinowitz

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