The Générale

An extract from an interview with Robert Cohen.

The common denominator between my family; the Eleini, the Cohen, the Barouch was Taita, which is our grandma - we call her Taita.  Her name was Esther Eleini-Barouch everyone knows her as the Générale.  Amazing.  And the name just stuck.  I remember even when we made aliya to Israel in the mid '60s the first thing they said to us was.
‘Oh, where’s the Générale?’ 
and we pointed him to Taita and…imagine her.  She is about 6 feet tall, weighing the best part of, I would say, 25 stones.  Really, she was a bulk of a person, you know.  You couldn't go past her without taking a double look. She collaborated with the Jewish Agency in Israel to get the Jews out of the Sudan, so she was known in Israel.  But she was known in Israel as the Generalle only, because the name had stuck already.  And it fits the character.  They would say, 
‘So that's the Générale!’ 
I mean, you can’t look and her and say, 
‘Gosh, why Générale?’


She was a personality.  I remember her very well.  She was a very sort of, kind matriarch.  But she was also a tough cookie.  Really really. She was sharp.  I remember Taita was illiterate.  She couldn’t read or write, but, when she sits and calculates on a piece of paper you think ‘my goodness, she is illiterate!’.  She could write numbers and divide them, and subtract them and multiply the interest.  She was a money lender and she used to pawn to jewels and gold.  She was very respected, respectable.  People from the government used to come to her.  High status people from very well known Sudanese families.  I remember so many people used to come to our house, they used to bring gold, I think they used to bring bags full of gold.  Really.  She had a whole room, an impenetrable little room and in it she had a massive safe.  She was unusual in the sense that she demanded that respect.  Some people even referred to her as the sit il kibera which means 'The Great Lady'.  The Great Lady, because she was big!!! But definitely she was loving, she really was loving to us.  In the sense that she never missed her any of her grandchildren birthdays - bearing in mind she had a few of them - she never missed our birthdays.  She used to give us a pound note, by today’s money that is a lot!  She never missed that.  But, she was ruthless.  You know a temper runs through the family!  

A 16 year old Esther Eleini with a servant boy holding a tray of coffee, and later in life as 'The Générale'

A 16 year old Esther Eleini with a servant boy holding a tray of coffee, and later in life as 'The Générale'

This was in Khartoum but Taita was born in Omdurman at the turn of the last century.  She was a very proud Eleini, she liked to go by her maiden name rather than her marriage name.  Her grandfather is the very well known Saleh Eleini.  She was married to Hes’kel (Yeheskiel) Barouch.  Hes’kel was a very….he was a pacifist.  I think he used to work in a bank, he had a very good position in the bank.  But I’ve only known him as a retired person in his 60s.  My grandmother used eclipse him.  She used to absolutely.  You know sometimes you wouldn't even know he existed.  And he was a loving guy, he was really a nice guy.  He was a chain smoker so he was coughing all the time so I wouldn’t call him quiet, but he was really, he was a loving man.  I don't think he amassed much money in the bank.  He was a brilliant shesh besh player, backgammon.  They used to play in the club, and they used to play for packets of cigarettes and he always comes home with about 20 or 30 packets!  He used to win all the time, so we used to laugh that he does something to fiddle the dice!  No, but he was a character, an absolute character, and you know - a loving character.