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One for My Husband and One for Me

One for My Husband and One for Me

The Woman Who Won a Lottery--and Built Synagogues

Picture for illustration purposes only.
Picture for illustration purposes only.

Rare is the grandmother who doesn't love to show off her grandchildren. A framed portrait gracing the coffee table depicting a toddler romping in the grass. A video clip of a little boy throwing his head back in laughter, his lilting voice like music. The mini photo album tucked into a proud grandma's purse filled with smiling, happy children at play, at the park, at a wedding…

But the pictures crowding the photo albums of Dubbe ("Dubbele") Stern are of a different stock. No pictures of smiling babies peer out from those pages, no family portraits, no images of fathers looking down at their sons with unmasked pride. But this elderly woman displays her own set of nachas with unadulterated joy.

In Dubbele's albums, if you get to thumb through them, you will find pictures of synagogues, lecterns and prayer-books. There are pictures of a Torah Scroll dedication celebration. Of dancing and leaping in tight circles around a canopy…Torches burning bright held high by little children parading before the new Torah…

Sitting beside Dubbe at a circumcision, I listen as she tells me the story behind those albums.

"I don't have anyone," she begins. "Not a husband, not a sister, not a child, not a grandchild. I have G‑d," she says with a twinkle in her eyes and that sincere smile that never leaves her face.

She's dressed simply, in plain clothes, old and worn, that belie a woman known to have won the lottery. "Tell me about yourself," I say.

She laughs; a delicate, tinkling laughter like the sound of the china dishes the waiters are carting away.

A Childhood Cut Short

"I was born in Warsaw, Poland," she begins. "Tatte [Father] was very religious. But bread there wasn't and we lived in a cellar. My parents came to live in Warsaw from a small shtetl nearby to look for a livelihood. I went to the Bais Yaakov school for girls.

"Then the war broke out in 1939. I was caught one day as I was walking on the street, and then I was liberated by the ninth armored division," she says, opening and closing this harrowing chapter of her life in one breath—a subtle clue, perhaps, that explains her unwavering joyfulness.

I wait for more. Those words – war, 1939, the Warsaw Ghetto – history-packed words…they dangle before me, enticingly, as I look up at the woman who carries all those memories in her heart.

"How old were you?" I gently prod, searching for a side entrance to that pain-filled domain.

"I was a young girl, maybe twelve or thirteen. We were six children: Moshe who learned in Baranovitch, Kalmen, Yankel, David, Rivkale and me—Dubbela. I was hungry. I would go out to look for bread, my brother and I. I was always on the alert, scanning the countryside for signs of danger—I knew that if a Jewish child is discovered a kilometer away from the city, she was shot.

"One day, as I was roaming the countryside, I saw a man moving cautiously along. He was using a walk Whenever our food supply ran out, we would sneak out to search for food; every bit was precious. stick to feel out what's around him, he was obviously blind. As he came closer, I heard him muttering under his breath that whoever will escort him will have what to eat. So I offered to accompany him and he was happy. We went up to a little shack and he knocked on the door. A polish peasant woman opened the door and the blind man began to sing a Christian song. Hearing him, the woman ushered us into her home and served us some soup…

"In this way, we spent a few weeks, wandering and begging, the blind man and I, knocking on doors, subsisting on a piece of bread, a plate of soup, and every now and then, an egg. Until, out of the blue, the blind man disappeared.

"I was on my own again. When hunger overtook me, I would walk up to one of the little huts dotting the roads and beg the gentiles living there to give me something to eat, a corner to sleep."

Dubbele's looks up at me, there's laughter in her eyes. "You could make a movie out of my story, eh?"

She continues her story: "And so roaming the fields, I discovered an underground bunker where Jews were hiding out and they allowed me to join them. Whenever our food supply ran out, we would sneak out again to search for food: some corn, a bit of flour, every bit was precious. One day, as I was making my way across a highway in search for a farmer, a group of SS men swooped down on all the passersby and threw us into waiting trucks.

A Torah Scroll donated by Dubbele in memory of her husband.
A Torah Scroll donated by Dubbele in memory of her husband.

"I found myself in a transport sent to the Skarżysko-Kamienna slave labor camp. There I worked in a munitions factory, filling bullets with explosive powder, and then loading heavy, sixteen kilo barrels onto railway wagons. Later I was sent to a munitions plant in Leipzig. With the help of the UNNRA I came to Israel in 1948.

I ask about the rest of the family and she tells me she never heard from them again. "Maybe they died in Treblinka, or of starvation in the ghetto, I'll never know. My brother Moshe who learned in Baranovitch," she becomes thoughtful, "maybe he'll read this story and we'll find each other…"

The Lotto Ticket

Dubbele got married to her husband, Tuvia, in 1957 and put her holocaust experiences behind her. She wanted nothing more than to build a new generation of Jewish children. However, it wasn't destined to be. She never had children. Still, Dubbele's joie de vivre never waned. Always she found ways to fill her life with joy, giving of herself, spreading happiness wherever she went.

"I had an interesting hobby. "It's my day today. I'm on my way to buy a lottery ticket and I'm sure that I'll win." Every week I would go out to buy a lottery ticket. There was one number I played with, all the time, 15,1957—the date of my wedding. My husband would laugh, 'A million people buy the lottery,' he would say, 'you'll be the winner? It's impossible. Don't burn up money, give it to charity, if you must.' But Dubbele always assured him that one day she will indeed win the lottery.

"One day, I was walking down Allenby St. with a dance in my step and humming a tune to myself when I met Rebbetzin Mund. 'Dubbela, why are you singing?' She asked, 'What's making you so happy?' I told her, 'It's my day today. I'm on my way to buy a lottery ticket and I'm sure that I'll win.'

"Rebbetzin Mund, the wife of Rabbi Simcha Mund, was a righteous woman, a good-hearted woman. She must have felt like humoring me. 'If you're going to win,' she said, 'let me join you. I'll be your partner in the lottery.' I said, 'Great, you're a rebbetzin, you are a holy woman, I can hardly stand next to you. You be the one to pull out the ticket.'

"'No,' she said. 'It's your day, you be the one.' So I bought a lottery ticket, placed the receipt in my pocket, thanked the rebbetzin, and was on my way."

That week, Dubbele's wedding date turned out to be the winning numbers. She won fifty thousand dollars—a small fortune in the late 1960s. Without a moment's hesitation Dubbele hurried to the rebbetzin and presented her with half the money. The rabbi and his rebbetzin were incredulous. "It's your money," they protested. "You could build yourself a beautiful five storey home!"

"No it belongs to both of us," Dubbele insisted. "We made a partnership."

In addition to the twenty five thousand dollars, Dubbela counted out two thousand five hundred dollars and handed it to the rabbi. "This is a tenth of the money. Give it to the charity of your choice."

The rest of the money Dubbele presented to her husband. "It's for you," she said. "What do I need?"

The Dividends

Tuvia invested the money in a real estate property and Dubbele stopped buying lottery tickets. Years passed. Tuvia Stern left the world. Dubbele was alone once again. And yet, the joy on her face, her zest for living never left her. Eventually she sold the property her husband had purchased and used those funds to build two synagogues: "One for my husband and one for me."

Today, if one ventures to walk through the timeless arches and quaint twisting alleyways of the Meah Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, one comes across a small, "I have no one. No one but my Father in Heaven." humble structure. "Tuvia's Shteeble," reads the placard that hangs over the entrance. And in a city not too far away, the city of Ashdod, there stands another synagogue, "Beit Feige Dubba." Each one a silent tribute to a woman who once searched for bread to nourish her body and now hungers for food to nourish her soul.

And Dubbe herself? She can be found inside a hospital cafeteria or a senior citizen home, feeding a forlorn patient, smiling to an elderly woman, spreading her sunshine, giving to others wherever she goes.

"I have no one," she says. "No one but my Father in Heaven."

And of course, the albums filled with pictures of the two synagogues she built—her greatest joy in life...

Sign hanging on Tuvia's Shteeble, memorializing Dubbele's husband.
Sign hanging on Tuvia's Shteeble, memorializing Dubbele's husband.
Mirish Kiszner is a teacher, counselor and lecturer living in Jerusalem. She’s published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications. Her latest book is Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary People (Artscroll), a collection of true stories about real people. She is also a regular contributor to our Help! I’ve Got Kids . . . parenting blog.
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Chaim woodmere, ny June 15, 2012

old man in Brooklyn Does anyone know if this story is related to an old man in Brooklyn that goes to Shiva homes and puts a lottery ticket in the pocket of fathers who are mourning a child? Reply

Anonymous Orlando, Fl. , USA July 8, 2010

the lottery ticket I am astonished at the faith she had to believe that one day she would make it. The love for our Father in the heavens and the love for society. A strong person showing the reason she survived. A lot of character and strong mind. Reply

Chaya jerusalem, israel March 26, 2009

one for my husband and one for me What's so amazing to me is her faith and trusting and believing in G-d is showing up in the way she always used the same number when she bought the lottery! Reply

Anonymous Oakland, CA via March 22, 2009

An Uplifting Story I am sitting alone in my home feeling very forlorn about the depth to which most of my relationships have sunk. So, reading Dubbela's story has encouraged me to pick myself up and to go on with my life, smiling the smile that so many people love to see. Sure, I can have heartache, but everyone else our there needn't experience my pain, especially when they have so much of their own and they yearn to feel happy too.
Thanks Dubbela for sharing your beautiful heart with those of us who have gained so much from your heartwarming story. Reply

Malka Weisman Absecon, NJ, USA via March 21, 2009

One for My Husband and One for Me What a lovely story about a lovely Jewish woman! Her beauty shines from within! Just by reading the story, I was touched by her ability to find good in the worst of experiences. Reply

Abe Rosenthal Toronto, Canada March 20, 2009

Dubbele Stern II was able to relate to Mrs. Stern's experiences during the Holocaust. My mother, of blessed memory, suffered the atrocities of slave labor in the same camps and was liberated from the munitions plant in Leipzig as well. I wonder if they knew each other. It would bring me great pleasure if I would be able to communicate with her as feel great empathy with Holocaust survivors. If someone knows her whereabouts, please let me know. Abe Rosenthal Toronto Canada 416 277 1879. Reply

Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone Brooklyn, USA March 20, 2009

A true inspiration for every single Jew especially during these difficult days. Reply

batsheva brooklyn, ny March 19, 2009

bubeleh/dubbeleh As I finish reading about dubeleh I can stilI feel the smile on my face. What a proud jewish woman depicting the verse "ivdu es hashem bsimcha" (serve G-d with joy)... She had no children but Im sure she has many friends. What an inspiration. Look around how many special people we have in our midst. Reply

marie March 18, 2009

Very uplifting A beautiful inspiration she is, thank you for sharing her story with us :o) Reply

leah g. jerusalem, israel March 18, 2009

one for my husband and one for me, 2 shuls built I met dubbele in Tel Aviv a few week ago. she is a very happy positive person, doesn't get sad or upset. she eats very healthy and exercises daily. She walks atleast an hour a day. she works in a hospital, loves to sing songs that she learned in the concentration camp and sang with other girls her age. She's over 80 bli ayin hora and she showed me how she can jump with a jumprope. She was telling me that if you let go, you go down, down ,down,down. you must fight all the time with yourself to stay strong. she was very excited to show me her albums with pictures of the celebration about the above story that you wrote Reply

Inge Reisinger March 18, 2009

Now you added two photos to remember your husband and your story is becoming lovelier and lovelier. Reply

Michele Constanzo Bronx, NY March 17, 2009

Thank You! What a wonderful heartfelt story. Thank you. Reply

RejoicePilot Escondido, CA March 17, 2009

Dubbe ("Dubbele") Stern Thank you for writing the history of Dubbe. Reply

Hareth B Mallipudi TANUKU, ANDHRA PRADESH, INDIA March 17, 2009

hello Its heart touching. Reply

Ariella Rosencrantz Seattle, Wa. March 16, 2009

BARUCH HASHEM ! Dear Mrs. Stern,
Thank you, not only for your charitable heart, but also for giving others strength to live their lives with meaning, though they may be alone. I am still waiting for my beshert, and when people ask me if it is hard to be alone with noone to talk to, I tell them that I am never alone, G-d is always with me, and we do everything together! Reply

Anonymous san diego, ca, usa March 16, 2009

dubbe I love these stories and cannot wait for the next one. It is so inspiring to read about fellow jewish people and how they rose above their transgressions - it makes me even more proud to be jewish. I am truly blessed to have the opportunities that I have and to have been spared the pain of so many others Reply

Inge Reisinger March 16, 2009

Her greatest joy is to share her feelings with others and this is the great present for all.
What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing your life with all Chabbad readers Reply

Tone Lechtzier Trail, Or US March 16, 2009

Dubbe Mazal Tov, with blessings
and love. Reply

Anonymous March 15, 2009

You bless us with your stories! Thank you for this great article, Mirish Kiszner! I wash the feet of the homeless with a nurse who works at the homeless shelter, and I volunteer in prisons. I always tell my people who feel that they have nothing to give that they have something. This story of Dubbela will be added to my arsenal of great people who have come before us, who could have given up, who had every reason to throw in the towel, but didn't. I know that Wordsworth was not a Jew, but Dubbe Stern's story makes me think of a few stanzas of his Psalm of Life:

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again. Reply

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