Maria Tal's brother speaks about life after his sister's alleged murder

"My sister promised the girls that their smiles would not leave their faces. I must raise them that way," said Gershnik.

Alexi Gershnik whose sister, Maria Tal, was allegedly murdered by her husband; Maria Tal (photo credit: ERAN GILVARG/FACEBOOK SCREENSHOT)
Alexi Gershnik whose sister, Maria Tal, was allegedly murdered by her husband; Maria Tal
"My wife and I want to be with the girls, to give them maximum love and warmth," said Alexi Gershnik, the brother of the late Maria Tal, who was allegedly murdered by her husband. "I want to give them a sense of home. These girls are the only thing I have left of my sister."
Tal, 29, was found dead on October 11 in an apartment in Kiryat Bialik with stab wounds on her body. Haifa Magistrate's Court extended the detention of Maxim Tal, who is suspected of murdering his wife, for another seven days. During the hearing, Tal's attorney, Roy Keren, argued that the husband was innocent and that Maria had taken her own life.
"Maria would not do such a thing," states Gershnik." I'm sure she was murdered. She was so full of joy, the two girls were her whole world. She wouldn't dare leave them alone. That is why it is so important for me to guarantee them a good future and love them as she would."
A good friend
Gershnik, 38, of Kiryat Yam, who is married without children, hopes to win custody of the girls. In order to fund their growth, has recently launched a mass recruitment campaign for the two girls under the title, "Don't leave the girls alone."
The siblings immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine in 1990 with their parents. Their mother passed away two years ago. Their father, 60, is not in optimal medical condition.
"Maria was my good friend," says Gershnik. "We grew up together. No one knew her and didn't have a place in their heart for her. I was amazed by the amount of people who came to visit during shiva (Jewish mourning period). People who haven't seen her in more than 10 years."
When did you last see her?
"A few days before the murder, on October 7, she was at my base at the ceremony. We drove home and I asked her why her nose was broken. She told me that she had finally decided to divorce him. They were married for six years."
How did you find out about the tragedy?
"My wife called me and said Maxim's mom called her and said Maria hurt herself. I immediately went there. I thought she was injured. I didn't even think that such a thing happened. I got there, saw that there were no ambulances anymore. I began to worry, because there was a lot of police there. At that point, I still didn't say anything. They took testimony from me and I just sat for 40 minutes on the side. Then two police officers approached me and told me that Maria was no longer alive. It was hard for me to breathe, I started shaking all over. "
Maria, as mentioned, left behind two girls, five-and-a-half and four, who are currently staying with their grandmother, the mother of the husband who is suspected of murder.
"The girls are temporarily with her," said Gershnik. "Later it will be decided who gets custody of them. I initiated a meeting with the girls. I contacted the social worker, asked to meet and saw them in a neutral place."
What impression do you get from the girls?
"I think they still don't understand or digest it. The connection between me and the girls is good. Although I would not come much because I was in the military, but when I met them we would always play together. I didn't talk to them about their mother."
Gershnik says that "at the moment, unfortunately, my wife and I do not have children. We have done treatments in the past, and we are currently on a break. We of course wish we had our own biological children, but we also see Maria's two daughters as our own. We will raise them as our daughters for all intents and purposes. We want to get custody of them. I'm sure that's what my sister would like to happen. These are my nieces. That's all I have left of my sister."
Where do you stand on the issue today?
"It's being taken care of. We are currently taking the girls to us three times a week until the matter is settled. I believe we will eventually get custody of them. I see them as my daughters. I'm not at all in touch with the grandmother, but my wife is sometimes forced to communicate with her because of the girls. My wife is very supportive of my desire to take the girls. She was in good contact with them and Maria. Welfare officials visit us, study and examine us to see if we can be suitable [guardians]."
How are you dealing with the tragedy yourself?
"It was very difficult. It was during the holidays, the whole country was in silence. I sat in a helpless house, feeling you had nowhere to go, no one to talk to. I really miss Maria, I often find myself shedding a tear. Every night I sit with her pictures to make the children a memory album. Maria has lots of pictures. After a fifth picture I just fall apart and continue the next day. It's hard on our dad too. He is silent all day, it's been very difficult to talk to him lately. "
Trust Fund
The goal of the mass mobilization campaign is to reach NIS 200,000.
"Our intention is to help Maria's girls and also help Alexi provide them with everything they need: kindergarten, clothes, games and mental help after the trauma they experienced," said Gal Menaror, one of the campaign organizers. "I knew Maria in the army. This campaign is also supported by her friends and various activists. We told Alexi about our desire to open the campaign. He is very busy now with a lot of things, including custody and criminal law, trying to prove that she was murdered and did not end her life. Alexi is taking this very hard. We know he is very busy, so we took it upon ourselves to do that."
"My wife and I can raise the girls financially, but the campaign is meant to make sure they aren't lacking in the future," explainedGershnik. "Whatever they want, they will have. That money will go to me, and I will start a trust fund. All funds will be for the sole purpose of childhood needs. My sister promised the girls that she would raise them in a way where they would always smile. I, too, feel compelled to raise them that way."
Attorney Roy Keren, representing Maxim Tal, commented: "The suspect claims his innocence, and with all due respect to the late Maria's family, they have no idea what happened the day she took her own life.
"Alexi, or anyone who claims my client is the killer, is neither a hangman nor a judge, and has no knowledge of the details of the investigation that is underway and what really happened that day," he continued. "Although his arrest has been extended, this does not indicate his guilt. The police investigation will probably bring his innocence to light and he will be released to his home and daughters."
Keren continued: "I would suggest not to rush into a legal battle over childhood custody, since Maxim is the natural guardian of his daughters and he is the one who will raise them. We believe he will be released to his home and I would suggest that these funds go to the welfare of the girls. Maybe instead of raising hundreds of thousands of shekels to take the girls from their grandmother, who finances all the needs of the children, including clothing, toys and food - Alexi could give his money to care for what these girls need right now and not in the future. Maxim's mother is a worthy wife and grandmother. She is the one who was involved in raising the children even before the case and she will have the girls until Maxim gets home."