Letters from Jewish Australia
In Memorium Z”L
Co-founder of J.O.I.N. join.org.au
7.10.1932 – 30.9.2017
Geraldine Jones was born in London on 7th October 1932, to Harry and Jane
Kiverstein, milliners. Family tradition states that she was born on Kol Nidre, although a perusal of the Jewish calendar says that it was three days earlier on 7th
Tishrei. Geraldine was always fond of stories, though – one of her most famous was convincing all the children in her primary school class that she had an aeroplane in the back garden, and that it was top secret. As a younger sister, she played a vital role in the games of big brother Laurence and his gang, being kidnapped, tied up, escaping, and being good at running.
Geraldine was evacuated during the war out of London, but her mother needed her and brought her back from the callous family with whom she’d been placed. London was not a good place for a child during the war, but she lived in her imagination and made it good.
Geraldine as a child always dreamt of a big future. She spent many hours in her front garden, singing loudly in the hope of being discovered. Her family was not well off, she’d been denied a pet, and she told us of nurturing the chickens owned by them - consecutively (Jockey the first, Jockey the second … Jockey the fifteenth), and then taking them to be schechted and eaten for Shabbat dinner.
Geraldine was extremely bright, getting her choice of schools following high marks in the “eleven-plus” exam. Her parents were uneducated, her father illiterate. She remembers her maternal grandmother reading the siddur to the other women in
shul, and Geraldine taught herself the Hebrew alphabet by comparing the sounds of the shema which she knew by heart, to the written letters. Her dream, though, was to fit in with the English people around her, so she chose Thames Valley Grammar School, rather than the Jewish Girls’ School, where the girls were so obviously different. She wanted to learn to be an English girl and cultured the correct accent and pronunciation of words. The boys at that school were no doubt more challenged by Geri than she would have been by them.
Her brother told me proudly that she won the high jump in Jewish Sports Day in England. In 1948, she and her sister-in-law to be, Zelda, were in Hyde Park when Prince Charles’ birth was announced to the British people.
To Geraldine’s great horror, in 1949, when she was 16, her parents decided to shlep their little family to the wilds of Australia, to begin a new life in Melbourne. The initial plan was to go to South Africa but her brother Laurence went to check out life there and reported his observations of treatment of non-Europeans, so the family instead made the longer journey to Australia.
This did not fit in with Geraldine’s dream of entry to Oxford University and a cultured life. However, she made the best of the journey by ship half-way across the world. On the ship, she befriended another girl, and each night the two of them secretly swapped all the shoes left outside cabin doors to be cleaned, to the bemusement of the other passengers.
The family arrived in Melbourne in 1949 and Geraldine was accepted into the elite MacRobertson's Girls High in Melbourne, unusual for a newly arrived immigrant. She excelled academically, with her favourite subjects being literature and history. There she was “adopted” by her best friend, Auntie
Stefi, who had lost her little sister in the kindertransport and desperately wanted to care for Geri, who was waif-like and a little lost.
She proudly competed in the Australian Maccabiah and treasured her silver medal for high jump.
The Melbourne Jewish community was very different from Geri’s old life, her school was largely Jewish, and Geri embraced the Jewish social scene. A popular young girl, Geraldine was snapped up very young by debonair Justin, and the two of them were married just after her twentieth birthday.
Geraldine loved learning. She had dreamed of university but the financial demands in the 1950s in Australia were too great. On leaving school, she followed the secretarial school route but always dreamed of higher education. She read avidly on all subjects. Her poetry books were a source of comfort to her.
Geraldine and Justin began the task of making children. Geraldine became tagged with the PP byline – perpetually pregnant – as over less than six years she bore Peta (now
Pellach), Amanda (now Gordon), Melinda and Jeremy. The family moved from Melbourne to Adelaide for Justin’s work. Geraldine took responsibility for the children’s education – Jewish and secular. When there was no Jewish religious education available at the primary school the children attended, Geraldine became a right-of-entry Jewish teacher. No longer did the very few Jewish children have to sit in the hallway during that hour. Geraldine created wonderful learning activities for them, brought the chagim and the bible stories alive – and years later, when Amanda and her husband themselves moved to Adelaide, children she had taught recalled those classes with delight.
The things she taught us about going to shul: Never walk in or around when the Aaron Hakodesh is open – just wait; we don’t leave shul or prepare to leave shul before the very end of the service; never look at the Cohenim when they are blessing us, as they might have holes in their sox and be embarrassed.
She taught us about preparing for Pesach and creating a whole new house for the
chag. She taught us, and our children, that we don’t open the cupboards with the Pesach things in them during the year, in case the Pesach fairies escape.
Geraldine did not love housework, but she taught us to turn chores into fun whenever possible. Frying fish involved a production line – one dipping the fish into the flour, one into the egg, the next into the matzo meal – then she fried them and took all the credit. Chickens danced joyfully as they made their way into the soup. And then we had to eat everything on our plates and “think of the starving children in India”.
Geraldine had a strong sense of social justice – and her concern for starving children was real. Family meals were always full of discussion about the world and she encouraged her children to think about the needs of others.
The family moved to Sydney - first to Strathfield, then Wollstonecraft, then Chatswood (where her fifth child, Quentin, was born), on to Killara, then Lindfield before moving to Eastern suburbs.
Geraldine had a lot on her hands and assisted the older children to become very independent, making their own ways to school, doing their own homework, helping out – she was the opposite of a helicopter parent, but cared deeply about her children becoming good people. She was not a micro-manager, but was always ready to give advice and support when asked.
Geraldine was in and out of the workforce over the years when there were young children, contributing to the family’s survival.
Her great hero, though, was Gough Whitlam, who provided free university places and allowed her to activate her long-cherished university admission. In 1974, Quentin only 7 years old, and with 2 other children still at school and the older two at university, Geraldine began an Arts degree at Macquarie University. Talk of being ahead of her time - one of her major works was a study of the poet Bob Dylan, well before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Note that she never liked his music as much as his lyrics and other works with words. She became active in the Jewish Students Union, and joined Peta and Amanda as a student activist in support of the right of Israel to exist. Age made no difference – and she was a valued member of the group. Geraldine graduated in 1983, having studied marketing part-time while bringing up her large family.
Age was an interesting thing for Geraldine. She alleged for many years that she was 29, having noted that Marylin Monroe had suggested in a movie that it was a good age for a woman. When the older children were all in their thirties – and she was already a grandmother – she finally agreed to become 42 – as that number is the answer to the meaning of life in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and who could argue with that?
Geraldine remained 42 in age and activity for the next 40 years. She worked in marketing and was quite entrepreneurial. She was a thought leader. She was one of first people - of any age - to appreciate the way the internet could create and enhance communities. She (with Quentin) founded Jewish Ozzies Inter Net (JOIN) which was not just a first in Australia but one of the world's very first Jewish social media networks. Made lifelong friends, of all ages and in many countries, through this. She continued to work for JOIN, engaging many people from the community over the years to support her, gaining a wide subscription base, until well into her seventies.
In her seventies she began studying for her Masters degree in Jewish history, engaged in the study of British Jewish migration to Australia. The passion for research, for learning, has been transmitted to her descendants.
Geraldine always liked the beach, swimming pools, the sea and sun, Enjoyed holidays with family within and outside Australia which included these elements. Yet even a few days ago she still had a perfect English skin, without a wrinkle – befitting her 42-year old status.
She was also very passionate about Israel. She treated many of the attacks on Israel in the media and politically as attacks on her very being - her right to being an equal citizen of the world. Much of this was the result of happy days spent on St Kilda Beach with the leaders of Melbourne's Zionist Youth groups in the early years of the State.
One of Geraldine’s great joys – from her forties until her 80s - was Israeli folk dancing. She particularly enjoyed the friendships she made through that activity, but also the time she spent with children and grandchildren there. Indeed, her 80th (40x2) birthday party had to be at the end of her dance class, with her dancing friends.
Speaking of joy – she delighted in simchas, and danced at the weddings of Amanda to Geoff, Peta to
Aharon, Melinda to Paul, Jeremy to Naomi, and at Quentin’s day. She also delighted in the weddings of her grandchildren – Meirav to Yair, Rebecca to Albert, Brie to Leslie; Adir to
Hadas; Jessica to Daniel. She wanted every party to have dancing in it.
Keeping a kosher home was important to her - she wanted every person to be able to eat at her table. Shabbat and Yomtov meals always included not just immediate families but relatives, friends and any Jewish person encountered in synagogue who would otherwise have been alone. She also loved the festivals and ensured that her children and grandchildren, and even her great grandchildren, saw the joy rather than the obligations of keeping them. Decorating a sukkah meant art projects for all the children, setting the seder table was a delight, Chanukah was bigger than Ben
She had a special affection for English etiquette and social habits. She especially enjoyed celebrating her birthday along with her two grand-daughters who had birthdays very close to her, with tea and cake. When she wanted to introduce her dear Roy to Australia, she arranged a tea party and was extremely happy to dance with her friends and family in this setting.
Even in her final days, she wanted to know about her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Regarding her own children, she was always concerned that they received the best possible education, understood that hard work is something to be valued, not avoided, and became incensed when she felt any of her children had been treated badly or disrespected. She adored her grandchildren:
Meirav, Michal, Rebecca, Brie, Danielle, Cygal, Ariel, Jessica, Adir, Gidon,
Shoshi, Elisheva, Galit, Rafael and Ayala. The stories they have all shared about her and the magic she brought to their lives are testament to the specialness of a loving Savta to her grandchildren. Everything sparkled in her eyes and they caught the sparkle. They tell me that the scent of frangipanis will always remind them of her, because they made perfume out of the petals with her. They tell me that she taught them that silly songs and poetry are the basis for family time. They tell me she taught them about style – about having your own and not worrying about what others think. Her great grandchildren are still young, but she made a tremendous impact on them. Alma and
Yonatan, Talia, Aharon, Chana Leah, Liora, Charlotte and Rachel, Yoni, Kovi, Nomi, and Tali, Idan and Be’eri, all have her in their hearts. They can tell of dancing with her when they were very little, giggling at her funny stories and loving her cuddles.
Geraldine ended her marriage in 2000, prepared to live an independent life. She worked, supported herself, and travelled. She dreamed of finding love again and kept the dream alive.
Geraldine always loved Israel but never dreamed that at the age of 80 she would fall in love again and make
aliya. Roy Caplan was devoted to her for the two+ years they had together. She became ill not long after she moved to be with him in
Rehovot, but continued to extend herself, even studying Shakespeare with the local English-speakers, and doing
Ulpan. Unfortunately, there was no capacity to care for her as was needed, and she chose to return to Sydney and her community, to be cared for – as she was - at Montefiore in Hunters Hill. She was there less than two years, and during that time the cruel illness deprived her of the joys of dancing, reading, and finally any of her mobility and thought processes.
She is still in Roy’s heart, as well as in the hearts of Peta and Aharon
Pellach, Amanda and Geoff Gordon, Melinda Jones and Paul Resnik, Jeremy and Naomi Jones, and Quentin Jones, their children and grandchildren and all their families.