Moshe Kashlinsky (1895-1983) was my paternal grandfather. Looking back, I think of him as one of the lamed-vavniks of his generation. To a great extent he raised and filled me with the values needed to always do-the-right-thing even under trying circumstances. As most East European Jews of his generation, his life was filled with much turbulence and hardship. Yet, I never heard him raise his voice, lose his temper or even complain about anything. (My mother recently told me that he could be temperamental at times though – my uncle disagrees). He was honest, unpretentious and modest. After I was born he was already working as Chief Bursar in one of Latvia’s major ministries, where Soviet-style corruption and nepotism were at their widest. Yet, he and his family lived extremely modestly, from paycheck-to-paycheck and what’s more: that came naturally for him. With years I understand better the strength of character it required - "strong is the sheep that can stand among the wolves".
He was born in Berdichev, Ukraine, a major center of Jewish East European thought at the time. The search for a Jewish homeland was just reawakening in those years, with Zionism having entered the stage when he was born. In his youth he joined Poalei Zion . After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the gates to Palestine were shut and Zionist activity banned. A most remarkable, if ultimately unsuccessful and doomed, enterprise then began: to build a Jewish homeland in a Far Eastern province near the Chinese border. This ultimately led to the construction of Birobidzhan . This idea swept some of the best and strongest of his generation. The photo shows him and his comrades in Birobidzhan in 1936 (including his brother-in-law, Michael Zilberman, a great Zionist and a heroic fighter of WWII). In 1928 he moved to what was then a Siberian swamp in the wilderness near the river Bira where they lived in tents for several years draining the swamps and building the foundations of that city. After the foundation of Birobidzhan , they continued living there for many years, until my grandmother has had enough. My father grew up there and my uncle was conceived there. Ultimately, the Birobidzhan idea has failed – in fact, it was doomed to fail - and the city they founded and built now has very little Jewish population with the bulk of the remaining Jews having moved to Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet, that was one of the most remarkable and guts-requiring projects of the time and to this day that city has a weak spot in my heart.
After WWII they moved to Riga, where my father joined them after seven years in the Red Army (he enlisted voluntarily in 1941 at the age of 13). Moshe Kashlinsky, my gradfather, died in Berlin having moved there with my uncle shortly before his death. I was in the Army in Israel at the time. Yehie zikhro baruch. My oldest son, Moshe, is named after him; his middle name is Michael after my grandfather’s brother-in-law, Michael Zilberman.