Brooklyn's Bubbe Maryasha Dies at 106

New York Times/January 12, 2007

''Bubbe'' Maryasha Garelik, who lived through the entire 20th century, surviving the pogroms of czarist Russia, Soviet anti-Semitism and Nazi terror and then dispensing her wisdom to thousands of Lubavitch Jews, has died. She was 106.

She died Wednesday night in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood and was buried Thursday at the Old Montefiore Cemetery near the grave of the ultra Orthodox sect's revered ''rebbe,'' Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

''She was small in size -- less than 5 feet tall -- but a giant in stature,'' Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky said.

For decades, the bubbe (grandmother in Yiddish) dispensed wisdom to thousands in her Brooklyn neighborhood who came seeking her guidance. Her advice came from decades of trial by fire.

According to a Lubavitch biography of Bubbe Maryasha, her father was killed in a pogrom, or organized massacre, in Czarist Russia when she was 5, and her grandparents, with whom she and her mother lived, were subsequently executed.

Years later, under Soviet rule, Garelik, her husband and their small children were evicted from their apartment into the deep snow because he refused to do factory work on the Jewish Sabbath. As a Jewish underground operative, he was arrested in the 1930s during Stalin's rule, then shot. (His wife didn't know exactly what happened to him until 1998, when his fate was revealed in an unsealed Soviet secret police file).

''She was a lone person who stood up to a regime that shot her husband in cold blood in a field,'' Kotlarsky said. ''She was left with six children, ages 1 to 14, and she persevered and raised them by herself, with ethical and moral integrity.''

When authorities warned her against lighting the Sabbath candles, Garelik fled with her children. The family moved six times in three years due to harassment from Soviet authorities; one home was a stable.

But she was resourceful, growing potatoes in back of a synagogue to feed her family -- with enough left over to pay for the dilapidated synagogue to be fixed.

When an acquaintance tried to persuade her to send her children to the Communist public school, she said emphatically: ''Stalin will be torn down before my children are indoctrinated that way,'' as quoted by her granddaughter Henya Laine, who is now herself a grandmother in Brooklyn.

By 1941, when the Germans advanced onto Soviet soil, Garelik and her brood escaped to Uzbekistan, where she made and sold socks to survive. In 1946, they ended up in a detention camp in Germany.

After the war, she moved to Paris, where she established a Lubavitch Jewish girls' school that still exists. She immigrated to the United States in 1953, helping to start a Brooklyn organization whose members visited the sick, and a boys' school for which she collected money into old age.

God gave her ''two healthy feet,'' she would say. ''I can walk, I can take care of myself and help others.''

The Lubavitch Hasidic movement follows the teachings of Eastern European rabbis, emphasizing the study of Hebrew scriptures while spreading its faithful worldwide. Some of Garelik's more than 500 descendants are Lubavitch emissaries in Australia, China, England, France, Panama, Poland and South Africa.

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