My friend Sam
Sam Gezentsvey passed away this week quietly in his sleep, a day before his 91st birthday. Sam was a musician, a clarinet player. Some years ago I thought that a Jewish community ought to have people performing Jewish music, a Klezmer band, and asked Sam to get a group together. We were an assorted bunch, some of us could play an instrument with a measure of competence, others were complete beginners, yet others were a bit like me, I knew how to play the violin, but lacked confidence, but it didn't matter, it is people getting together to play Jewish music that mattered. Sam threw himself into the challenge to cobble some kind of ensemble together from this mixed bunch. He wrote music for us, rehearsed us with patience and at time exasperation. We were not the Kiev Philharmonic. But making music was important to Sam. More important for him than for some of us. We just want to have fun as one of us said. To have fun, Sam said, you play cards. Music is serious business. The music he wrote for us was more Red Army Band than Philharmonic, perhaps a bit corny, but Sam was a simple soul, smiling, lovable. In reality, we didn't know Sam. Some of him was left behind in Kiev, where he taught music and played the clarinet and saxophone. Some of him died when Sarah, his beautiful wife, died. Sam and Sarah were a close inseparable couple who complemented each other, Sarah, the assertive school teacher, who was ever prepared to speak her mind and stand up for what she believed, Sam the musician, the artist with a song in his heart. They moved to Wellington when their son, Yury, was appointed Principal First Violin in the NZ Symphony Orchestra. Yury was the apple of the eyes of Sam and Sarah. They gave up their lives in Kiev and followed him to New Zealand. Sarah could get by in English, Sam had to learn the language late in life, but he mastered it in his own idiosyncratic way, and they settled into their new environment with its culture far removed from the culture they were brought up in. They became involved in the Jewish community, Sarah was a vocal and respected member of the Board with strong opinions, Sam taught music at Rongotai College. They made friends, they were local identities. They had the joy of witnessing their son's musical and daughter-in-law's literary success, and above all the pleasure of seeing their three grand-daughters grow into lovely young women. Sam also had the great privilege of knowing his three great-grandchildren and the knowledge of a fourth on the way. Sam was a humble man but he was rewarded with a long full life, and will live in the memories of all of us who knew him.