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Gregory Shames

Gregory Shames

Fashion Designer

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Gregory Shamesfamecommsept17.JPG

Fashion Designer

 

Please tell us about your career.

I I lived in Shepetivka, Khmelnitsky region. At the age of 15 I started working as a painter. Later I served in the Soviet army, after which I moved to Moscow where I started working at the Krasny Proletary factory, I learned the profession of a turner, and got the 3rd rank. In 1971, I returned to my native Shepetivka, where I began to study a new specialty as a shoemaker. Then I was sent to Odessa for further training courses. After studying there for three years, I became a fashion designer. I’ve worked all my life in the shoe industry.

Where does your family come from?

My family lived in Ukraine. After the war, I did not find anyone there, because only ten members of my mother's family survived, including my mother, her sister and brother. Before the war, my mother worked as a hairdresser in the military hospital in the town of Slavuta. When the war broke out, the hospital allocated a car for my mom to take the family out of Belogorsk, but my grandmother refused to give up everything (like many other Jews), thinking that they always successfully traded with the Austrians. She thought that the Germans would not harm them. As a result, all those who remained were killed.

My grandfather hid in the attic of the house of a Ukrainian woman named Paraska. I never met her but admire her heroism. But eventually a man gave my grandfather up to the Germans. He was shot in a field, and the man who dug his grave was allowed to take my grandfather's possessions.

Around 1972-73 we went there and managed to find this pit - the grave of our grandfather. His remains were transported and buried in Shepetivka. In the sixties, a monument was erected at this place with the inscription: “3,000 Jews were shot here by fascists. We will never forgive fascism." The KGB wanted this inscription to be erased, but people did not allow it, and the inscription remained.

My mother went traveled with her military hospital on several campaigns, and received medals including "For the liberation of the Caucasus" as well as "For the liberation of Romania and Hungary."

There was a rather large synagogue in Shepetivka where all the local Jews gathered, including our family. Women and girls sat on the upper floor, and the men prayed downstairs. To this day, I still remember the words I recited at kaparot on the eve of Yom Kippur, as I lifted the chicken over my head.

What do you do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

I enjoy an active lifestyle. I like to go to the forest to pick berries. I enjoy bike riding. Once a year, I come to Canada to see my son, to see my beloved granddaughters. 

Given the opportunity to meet anyone, who would you choose?

I would very much like to meet my grandfather, whom the Germans shot, to ask him questions like: "Why did you not listen to my mother and did not go away?!"

When did you start to participate in JRCC programs? What do they mean to you and your family?

In the summer of 2006, I was walking with my three-year-old granddaughter, Yanochka, in the park. It was Friday night. Suddenly, a young man approaches us, dressed in accordance with the Jewish tradition. He asked me if I was a Jew or not. Of course, I answered in the affirmative. And then he asked me to take part in the prayer service, since they needed a tenth person for the minyan. That’s how I met Rabbi Mendel Zaltzman and the rest of the community. Afterwards, I began to come to the synagogue for prayers. The rabbi invited me to his home for Jewish holidays – Passover, Rosh Hashana, Sukkot. I remember how we all sat together in Sukkah in the pouring rain, but everyone was warm and cheerful.

One day, a procession of dancing people passed by my son's house, carrying a Torah under Chuppah. The sounds of cheerful Jewish music filled the whole street. Rabbi Mendel, seeing me, called me over and gave the Torah to hold, and I joyfully danced with them while carefully holding the Torah. When I first came to the Simchat Torah festival, I was first called to the Torah, and I read the blessings. I will never forget how we danced together with the Torah until two o'clock in the morning.

I am grateful to Gd for sending me such a wonderful person who gave me the opportunity to re-experience my Jewish roots.  

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