“This Is Why I Survived”
It is an indescribable treasure to see generations following the family path that generations have worked so hard to pave. Toba Cik of Oak Park is one such blessed bubbie who recently was guest of honor at her great-great-grandson’s bris. Even more unusual — a direct line of five generations of their family live within walking distance of each other.
Cik was born in Czechoslovakia in 1923, then the Holocaust uprooted and destroyed her childhood. When the dust settled, Cik, an Auschwitz survivor with only two surviving siblings out of a large extended family, asked herself the question all survivors struggled with: Why did I survive?
After the war, she settled in Israel with her husband, Moshe, also a survivor, who joined the army and fought for Israel’s independence in 1948. Her sister Serena had settled in Detroit and insisted the Ciks leave Israel.
“You’ve had enough war. If you come to America, you won’t have war anymore,” she said. Serena arranged the paperwork and the Ciks and their three young daughters, Eva, Judy and Fay, arrived in Detroit in 1958.
The family settled on Tuxedo Street in the Dexter neighborhood and attended B’nai Israel-Beth Yehudah. The Jewish Federation arranged for Cik to work in a Jewish nursing home, which was a constant painful reminder of her senior family members who had been wiped out.
Every morning until he retired, Toba got up at 4 a.m. to drive Moshe to his job at Michigan Veal and Lamb in the Eastern Market. He passed away in 2003.
Another challenge was education. Cik recalls that while some folks urged her not to send her children to an Orthodox school, warning her they might develop accents and wouldn’t be Americanized, another survivor told her bluntly, “This is America. You can do whatever you want.”
What Cik wanted most was for all her children to be religious. So, the three Cik daughters attended Beth Jacob School for Girls in Oak Park.
The warnings about accents and not being Americanized were unwarranted. Today, all members of the five generations of Cik’s family are not only Orthodox, but college-educated professionals. There are doctors, lawyers, accountants, electricians and teachers in the family — any kvelling Jewish mother’s dream!
Eva and Fay both moved to New York, but Judy married local Jacob Ishakis, settled in Southfield. They have seven children, all of whom are married. Three of their children are raising families in Southfield.
“My mother instilled within us the value of religion and education and we, in turn, instilled it in our children,” Judy Ishakis said. “My mother is my role model. I hope when I’m her age I’ll be just like her, strong and independent.”
Judy’s son Ieshula Ishakis of Southfield is equally motivated by the family matriarch.
“My grandmother’s quiet determination to do the right thing is a tremendous inspiration,” he said. “She doesn’t demand anything of us, but I see what she built and accomplished and that obligates me to be a better person.”
Cik doesn’t tell how many grandchildren, great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren she has.
“Why should I count? You count money, not children,” is a constant refrain. When a new baby is born to the family, Cik is told her “stocks went up.” Most recently, the “stocks” referred to Ieshula’s daughter, Sara Miriam Cohen, also of Oak Park, whose son Yitzchak was born April 12.
Cik says she’ll never forget the horrors she experienced early in her life. But when she looks at her family, all of whom are following the path she carved when she settled in Detroit, she says her question is answered: “This is why I survived.”
Rochel Burstyn Contributing Writer