Fania Nisanov (1924-2015) was born to an observant Bukharian-Jewish family in Kokand, Uzbekistan. Her father was the last in a long line of fabric dyers and merchants from the Emirate of Bukhara, the old Silk Road trading centre (and a UNESCO World Heritage site). One of eight surviving children, as a child she rose early each Friday morning to bake loaves of bread with her mother and sisters, which they then distributed to the poor in their community for the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the wealthy family was a target for criminals, and were robbed of all their possessions on multiple occasions. Despite these tough times, and the opposition from her family at a time when women were expected to stay at home, Nisanov pursued higher education and medical studies, becoming one of the first female doctors in the region. This made her part of an indispensable team that took care of the many ailing World War II veterans. Among those veterans was her future husband, David Polvanov, a high-ranking member of the Communist Party and a war hero that served in both European and Pacific battle zones. Ultimately, Nisanov became a pediatrician and worked diligently for some 40 years, treating children around the clock, never refusing a patient even when they arrived at her doorstep in the middle of the night. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nisanov immigrated to Israel with her family. There, she took care of her grandchildren and worked from home to help support the family. Among her many jobs was tying and knotting tzitzit (Jewish ritual fringes).The family would move once more to Canada, where Nisanov was a communal leader and elder in Toronto’s Bukharian community. She was frequently visited by travelers from Israel, Uzbekistan, and the US, who came in gratitude for her life-saving role in their lives. Famous for her wisdom, modesty, and sense of humour, she was never slowed down by a life-long disability, a battle with colon cancer, arthritis, and chronic pain. Even in her last days she would be seen with a smile on her face and a “Baruch Hashem” on her lips. Sadly, Fania Nisanov, our dear grandmother, passed away early yesterday morning.
Words of the Week
G-d transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew must transform physical things into spiritual ones. – Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov
Martin John Gilbert (1936-2015) was born in London to parents of Russian-Jewish background. Soon after World War II broke out, the family was moved to Canada by the British government. Returning to England after the war, Gilbert finished his schooling and served for two years in the British Intelligence Corps. He then went to Oxford to study history. While a postgraduate in 1962, Gilbert was asked by Winston Churchill’s son Rudolph to assist as a researcher for Churchill’s biography. Randolph died a few years later, having brought forth just two volumes on Churchill. Gilbert took over and became the official biographer for Churchill, working on the project for over twenty five years, publishing many volumes along the way. (Currently, there are 31 books encompassing over 25,000 pages, and Gilbert had plans for more.) It was said that “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.” Aside from Churchill, Gilbert’s primary interests were studying the World Wars and the Holocaust, as well as producing historical atlases (his were among the very first produced). He also wrote a great deal of books and histories of Jewish communities, of Russia, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as to assist the plight of Soviet Jewry. All in all, Gilbert published an astounding ninety books, many of which were highly acclaimed. His abilities as a scholar and writer were praised. His first volume on Churchill had an original rough draft with two million words (which Gilbert narrowed down to 300,000 for publication), while the short “precis” version of the biography was a mere 981 pages! Gilbert also wrote for The Sunday Times, and for a number of films and TV programs, did research for the BBC, lectured at the White House, and stood before the UN Human Rights Commission. Since 2009, he served as the Privy Counsellor of the British commission inquiring into the Iraq War. Gilbert won numerous awards and honourary degrees, and was knighted in 1995. Sadly, he passed away last week after a lengthy illness.
Words of the Week
Everything happens by Divine Providence. If a leaf is turned over by a breeze, it is only because this has been specifically ordained by God to serve a particular function within the purpose of creation. – Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov