In a daze, I stumble up the hard stone steps I have climbed many times before.I numbly push open the door in front of me. I step over an old tattered carpet worn from all the years of being trampled upon, of all the times mud and dirt scraped across its surface as people entered, loving and caring people.
My mind blurs again, and I open a second door. I am in a familiar room, with familiar smells and sounds, but one thing, one dear, dear thing is missing. Shaken, I look around and freeze as I spot a small bed in the corner of the room; tears well up in my eyes as I see the truth before me. The bed is empty - I had hoped it was just a nightmare.
It didn't seem real to me until now. I reach out my hand to the bed, clasping nothing but thin air I reach out my hand to the bed, clasping nothing but thin air. What happened to the smooth, frail hand that always met my grip happily, never letting go? What happened to the sweet precious words of song and blessing that always followed?
A flash of memories flood my mind. I remember myself as a small girl, standing by this very bed. My surroundings are a bit clouded because in one's memory, it's easy to forget details. But when I remember looking warmly at Bubbe Maryasha, she shines in my memory as if she is really there.
I almost feel her hand in mine. She would ask, "Vos is dein nomen?" "What is your name?" I looked at her a little puzzled, since I did not know much Yiddish then. My mother answered for me, "Ir nomen is Minya Etta." "Her name is Minya Etta." When Bubbe Maryasha heard this, her whole face lit up. "Minya Etta?? Dos Iz mein mamme, mein mamme's nomen!" "Minya Etta, This is my mother's name, my mother's name!" she cried. I beamed, as I had never thought my name was special. How wrong I was.
Ten minutes later, she turned to me and again asked me for my name. Again, my mother answered, and again, the same reaction. This happened countless times. How can I forget that feeling of importance which overwhelmed me that day?
Another memory flows in, and another, and another. I'm two years old, sitting on my Bubbe's lap. Then I'm four, singing the Chassidic tune "Nyet Nyet Nikavoh" at the top of my lungs. I'm six, kissing her cheeks, and receiving her blessings. I'm nine, holding her hand and singing along to her tapes. I'm eleven, listening to her speak softly in Yiddish, whilst admiring the picture of her as a young woman. I'm thirteen, another visit like every other one, or so I thought, singing to her while videotaping her humming along.
Four days after my last visit, she passed away peacefully. A tear drop falls down my cheek. I wipe it away.
Her funeral is something in my memory that will never fade, nor vanish in any way.
I still feel the chill when I remember the wooden box being lowered into the ground. It seemed impossible that her pure, fragile body was inside, sleeping peacefully.
I had never thought my name was special
As I looked around at my surroundings, I was amazed at the sight. Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, uncles, aunts, cousins, second cousins, hundreds upon hundreds of Bubbe's descendents all around me (she had over 590 direct descendants.) Here they were, united again, or maybe even together for the very first time, laughing over old memories, talking about themselves to one another, and recounting their own personal stories with Bubbe Maryasha.
Another memory comes. It was last year at the yearly women's convention in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We were on the bus, and I was talking to someone about my Bubbe Maryasha. A girl about my age hears me and says, "She is also my great-great grandmother!"
Somewhere at the back of the bus, another girl shouts, "I'm related to her too, but I'm her…." There is also a third girl who says she is somehow related. My fifth cousin, my very close friend, is related to me through her.
This memory is still lodged in my mind, not because I thought it was remarkable to be related to so many people, but because just then I realized how many souls one woman had brought down. One strong, determined woman.
I close my eyes, blanking out memories, but envisioning facts. During Bubbe Maryasha's 106 years in this world, she fought for her life and the lives of her children. She fought for their basic physical, as well as spiritual, survival.
At my Bat Mitzvah, my theme was of the Great Jewish Women who served G‑d through their resourcefulness and creativity. Needless to say, Bubbe was one of them. Her resilience and intelligent mind was what helped her to live and raise a beautiful family. She was, and forever will remain, my heroine.
Editor's Note: Bubbe Maryasha Garelik passed away on January 10, 2007 at the age of 106. She was a survivor of Czarist, Soviet and Nazi persecution, paying dearly in loss and suffering. Her father was killed in a Russian pogrom when she was five and her grandparents were subsequently executed. During Stalin’s rule in the 1930s, her husband was arrested and shot to death. Bubbe Maryasha survived World War II in Tashkent.
After the war, she moved to Paris, where she founded the Lubavitch girls’ school. Moving to New York in 1953, she remained an activist establishing a volunteer-based Jewish visitation program to the local hospitals, arranging money for the families while they were sick, raising money for Jewish schools, and was instrumental in various campaigns to bolster Jewish identity and practice.
Bubbe Maryasha was the embodiment of Chassidic spirit, was a source of inspiration to all who knew her and left a lasting impact on her family and community, with thousands of stories bearing witness to her tremendous kindness and exuberance for life and tradition. She leaves four generations of direct descendants, numbering over 590, many who are serving as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, leading Jewish communities across the globe.