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Mekhlya B (Genadinik) Kerzhner
August 1, 1924 ~ September 25, 2022 (age 98) 98 Years Old
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Mekhlya Kerzhner, 98, a Holocaust survivor, died on Erev Rosh Hashanah - Sunday September 25, 2022 - in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
Mekhlya was born on August 1, 1924 in Odessa, Ukraine. Mekhlya graduated from music school and finished 9th grade. In 1941, when she was 16, Mekhlya and her parents and older sister narrowly avoided being killed by the Nazis when she and her family left Odessa on what she remembered being the last boat out via the Black Sea.
Before the war, Odessa had a large Jewish population, about a third of the city. After her narrow escape, when the occupying forces took over the city, there were roughly 100,000 Jews remaining in the area. Those Jews who remained, including all of Mekhlya’s relatives, were murdered in the Odessa massacre.
Mekhlya's father died of starvation while the family lived in Uzbekistan during the war. Her two brothers served in the army fighting against the Nazis. They gave their lives at the front.
When Mekhlya returned to Odessa after the war, a local family occupied her apartment. Rather than asking the Soviet authorities to return the apartment to her, she merely filed the necessary documents to take the family piano and shipped it to Moscow.
In Moscow, Mekhlya started anew. In 1951, she married Efim Kerzhner. Efim had been a decorated war pilot and worked at a local factory while Mekhlya studied accounting. They moved into a one room shack on the outskirts of Moscow and had two children, Yevgenia and Boris. The children would take turns sitting on top of the piano.
Mekhlya and Efim had little patience for the anti-Semitism among their neighbors. Despite the swastikas that would at times appear on their door, they welcomed rabbis to their home when their son was born. When their daughter Yevgenia complained about being bullied, Efim told her to take matters into her own hands.
While Efim worked his way up at the factory, Mekhlya eventually became a bookkeeper. The family secured an apartment in the city for yet another new start.
In the late 1960s, inspired by Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, Mekhlya’s daughter truly took matters into her own hands. She decided to protest the Soviet government’s refusal to allow Jews to leave the Soviet Union. Mekhlya had to carefully navigate how to support her rebellious daughter, who was protesting illegally on the streets, risking her family’s safety. Despite those risks, Mekhlya eventually signed the required paperwork for her daughter to seek an exit visa.
In 1988, Mekhlya’s daughter was finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union. About five years later, when she was almost 70 years old, Mekhlya joined her daughter to start yet again in Boston.
Mekhlya loved the United States. She enjoyed making new friends, spending time with her daughter and grand-children, and learning a new language. She especially enjoyed cooking for her family and traveling to the ocean in Maine, where she would devour seafood that reminded her of her Odessa roots. Mekhlya adored being a grand-mother and would travel whenever she could to see her grand-children both in the United States and in Moscow.
Mekhlya had a wonderful sense of humor, often teaching friends and family silly Yiddish words, some not completely appropriate. She was superbly generous and kind, making life a little sweeter for all through her warmth, stories, or food. Many described her as the definition of what a grand-mother should be – super kind, loving, and generous. She loved to sing and eat with those she loved and had the most upbeat attitude about life. She did not let anything bother her and lived each day fully, always, as if it was all that really mattered.
Mekhlya was preceded in death by her parents, two brothers and sister, her husband Efim, and her son Boris Kerzhner. She is survived by her daughter Yevgenia Tesmenitsky and her beloved grand-children Anna Tesmenitsky, Leya Parks, Alexandra Kerzhner, and Simon Kerzhner.
She is also survived by four great grand-children – Sophia Priluck of Ashland, Mass, Derek and Nolan Parks of Buffalo, New York, and Mark Kerzhner of Moscow, Russia.
A private family service and burial will take place on Thursday September 29, 2022 at Puritan Mt. Sinai Cemetery, West Roxbury. The family wishes to thank the staff of Robert J. Lawler & Crosby Funeral home for their kind care and Rabbi Richmond of Temple Israel. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to be made in Mekhlya’s honor to Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston, c/o Temple Emunah, 9 Piper Rd. Lexington, MA 02421 or at https://www.hevrakadisha.org/.