Bubbe Maryasha had three older brothers. We are not sure when Maryasha was born, accounts conflict from the years 1900 or 1901. The children, mother and father lived in Russia where their father, Benzion, worked for a logging company. His job was to make sure the logs were packed on canoes and sent to different parts of Russia.

Bubbe Maryasha was five years old when her father passed away. She, her brothers and her mother went to live with her mother's parents. They lived on a small farm, milked the cows, fed the chickens and helped out with the tiny store they owned.

Once a Cossack entered the store and began clearing off the shelves into his bag. Little Maryasha was standing and watching as the food and goods disappeared with, obviously, no intention of payment. She spoke up with great courage. "Please, either pay for everything or leave it alone. Otherwise we will all starve!" she cried out.

Her grandfather was petrified. Who would dare stand up to an armed, violent Cossack, an open and unpunished anti-Semite? But it worked – the Cossack took a long look at the brave little girl and walked right out of the store.

This was only the first of many times in Bubbe Maryasha's life that she stood up to anti-Semites fearlessly.

"Please, either pay for everything or leave it alone. Otherwise we will all starve!" she cried out. After her father was killed in a pogrom, Bubbe Maryasha lived with her mother and grandparents in a small town. Once, before the winter holidays, a farmer came over to her grandparents and warned them to leave town, now. He warned them that the non-Jews were planning to burn down all Jewish farm-houses and they too would perish in the fire if they didn't leave at once. Her grandparents were shocked since they felt comfortable with, and trusted, their neighbors.

Maryasha, standing right, is seen with her Mother Minna Etta Esther (sitting) and her brother Moshe Nosson.
Maryasha, standing right, is seen with her Mother Minna Etta Esther (sitting) and her brother Moshe Nosson.
Their relationship was so good and so trusting, that the non-Jewish neighbors kept their valuables and money in her grandparents' home!

Her grandfather refused to believe such unthinkable evil. "All the farmers are my friends," he insisted naively. "They trust me with their belongings more than they trust their own children. Why would they want to harm me?"

Bubbe Maryasha's mother took the four children and left. But the old grandmother went along with her husband in trusting their lifelong friends and neighbors. And on the holiday, both Bubbe Maryasha's grandparents were burned alive in their little farmhouse with the store by their very best friends.

Bubbe Maryasha, her mother and her three brothers had escaped before the terrible tragedy and settled in the town of Homyel (also spelled Gomel), Russia (today in Belarus). This was more of a Jewish town and they felt somewhat safer there.

Marriage and Medical School

All three of Bubbe Maryasha's brothers learned in the town of Lubavitch. There they met Yitzchak Elchanan Garelik, a tall, handsome, learned disciple of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, the fifth Chabad Rebbe. The brothers introduced this Yitzchok Elchanan to their beloved only sister, Bubbe Maryasha, and she later married him.

After marrying Bubbe Maryasha, Elchanan told her that he had observed local doctors abusing their Jewish patients. He was incensed that these doctors were harming desperate Jews when they were most vulnerable.

So Bubbe Maryasha's husband took a correspondence course (and went to the university to take the necessary examinations), in a different city, often returning home to visit his bride. In order to survive, he tutored some of the wealthy Jewish medical students in Jewish subjects. His tutoring brought in some much-needed money for the young couple.

Mother Russia Practices Child Abuse

The Communists tried desperately to stop all religion in general, and Judaism in particular. They insisted that all Jewish children must attend public school and be indoctrinated in Communist philosophy, which included turning in one's own parents to Mother Russia, if the parents were not acting as Mother Russia would want; i.e., praying to G‑d, or engaging in private enterprise. The Communists figured that if they could stamp out religion just for one generation, the next generation would have nobody to learn it from.

Many Jews did, in fear for their lives, stop transmitting Judaism to their children, resulting in widespread loss of faith, practice and knowledge. All of this always started with sending the children to public school. Once a child was going there, a parent would be afraid to say a word to the child about G‑d. The child was being taught to turn the parent in!

The Communists figured that if they could stamp out religion just for one generation, the next generation would have nobody to learn it from. Many people fell under the spell of Communism, until they themselves tasted the cruelty and repression which was an integral part of keeping everybody so wonderfully "equal." The people had suffered so under the Czar, they thought for sure that Communism would be better.

When Communists took over from the Czar there was a huge parade in celebration.

Fully cognizant of what Communism meant and how the children would be indoctrinated in Communist schools, of course, Bubbe Maryasha and Elchanan were determined never to send their children to public school, no matter what.

Eventually the large family became known to the government. Under Communism, every single person and family lives on government aid. That's because every business is "collectivized," that is, confiscated by the government. At that point, the government decided that if this family did not need them for food or clothes or heat, let's see how they do when we take away shelter, too. And the family was simply evicted one bitterly cold winter day, and put out into the snow!

Elchanan and Maryasha picked themselves up, took their six little children by the hand, and walked with them to the synagogue. They settled in, and the benches became their beds and table. Somehow, every day Elchanan managed to scrape up something or other for the children to eat.

Suddenly, all in one week, even this precarious existence was thrown into turmoil. First of all, Elchanan was arrested and taken away by the communists for "illegal activities." (This commonly referred to not sending the kids to school; exchanging work for food; spreading Judaism; or other Jewish activities.) After two years in the synagogue, Bubbe Maryasha was left on her own. And then, just a few days after that, the government decided that (now that nobody had any money to donate to their synagogue) the synagogue had to be closed down and boarded up since the roof and garden were not being properly maintained.

The Potato Garden and the Torah Scrolls

Together with a neighbor, Bubbe Maryasha decided to plant potatoes in back of the synagogue. She had no illusions of making a living with the potatoes. She simply wanted something to feed her children.

The potatoes were growing nicely, carefully tended by Bubbe Maryasha and the neighbor. Then one day the Jews were informed: tomorrow, all prayer books and Torah scrolls will be confiscated and burned. Late that night, Jews came running anxiously to the synagogue to save the Torah scrolls and holy books. Of course nobody wanted to be seen coming in the front door so everybody ran back and forth using the back door and carrying heavy loads.

Maryasha watched her garden become completely trampled and ruined, "To save holy books, I can give up my potatoes." Bubbe Maryasha and her partner, the neighbor woman, had drawn a line down the middle of their garden to designate each one's portion of the potato crop. The neighbor stood guard over her portion and would not allow the running Jews to ruin her tender plants. She greatly slowed them down, but at least they could run freely over Bubbe Maryasha's part, for, as she said as she watched her garden become completely trampled and ruined, "To save holy books, I can give up my potatoes."

The next morning as Bubbe Maryasha and her partner were surveying the damage, the neighbor commented quite bluntly, "Well, I'm sure glad we know which half is mine! I wouldn't let those men in their heavy boots ruin my crop."

Bubbe Maryasha didn't let anyone speak badly about her partner. She defended her, saying, "She was a widow and knew she must take care of herself." Who, you might ask, was taking care of Bubbe Maryasha and her children, with her husband in jail? Bubbe Maryasha felt G‑d strongly every moment of her day, with no lapse in her faith.

Well, harvest time came. The neighbor's potatoes grew to normal size. Bubbe Maryasha's potatoes grew huge and strong and brown. Bubbe Maryasha had enough to feed her children for a long time, and enough left over to give to needy friends and to sell on the thriving “black market,” too.

After selling her surplus, she came "home" to the children in the synagogue, with a hundred rubles in her hand, an incredible profit. As she came to the door of the synagogue, the sexton ran towards her and began speaking fast and anxiously. "They're coming to board up the synagogue. They're condemning the place, because the roof leaks. Nobody has money to fix it, so this is the end of the synagogue. What will you do?!"

Bubbe Maryasha handed the sexton the entire hundred rubles and said, "Go fix the roof."

Splitting Up the Family

Finally the Communist government had had enough of this courageous young family. Evicting them into the snow didn't break their spirit. Arresting the father didn't break their spirit. Threatening to close down the synagogue on a pretext didn't break their spirit. There must be some way to get those kids into school! So they informed Bubbe Maryasha that the next morning armed KGB men would be coming to personally escort every one of the children to school.

Quickly, Bubbe Maryasha divided up the children. She sent one here, one there, to relatives and friends, so the Communists wouldn't be able to find them. Then she took just the two youngest ones and went to the big city of Moscow, where she tried to get "lost".

A Holy Jew Is Forced To Leave His Family

Maryasha's husband Elchanan.
Maryasha's husband Elchanan.
Elchanan had worked so hard to get his family out of Communist Russia. His lifelong dream had been to settle with them in the land of Israel. However the Russian government played cat-and-mouse with him on this, constantly changing the conditions he had to fill in order to get visas to Israel.

In the early 1930's, they told him that he had to have proof that he resided in a big city. So Elchanan, as poor as he was, paid rent in a Moscow apartment for a whole year; at the end of the year, he was informed that this condition no longer applied to him!

Now, they said, he needed a sponsor in Israel who would agree to pay any traveling expenses and take responsibility for the family once they arrived. Elchanan joyfully marked down on the form that he had a brother in Israel! What could be better? A brother! Surely this condition was now fulfilled?

But the Communists stayed true to their natures, lied and tricked and deceived without a stop. They continued to keep Elchanan hanging on a thread of hope. They told him that in order to ensure safe passage to Israel for himself, his wife and his six children, his brother (who had changed his name from Shagalov to Shamir to make it more Israeli) would have to pay a large sum in pure gold to the Communist government.

Heaven only knows what hardships Shamir endured in order to send such a fortune. All we know is that as soon as the money was in Communist hands, Elchanan was told "don't call us, we'll call you" and that was the end of his dream of moving to Israel.

How much did it mean to him? It was like water to a parched man. He told Bubbe Maryasha that he had a recurring dream. In it, he was traveling up a mountain on a train. The train was speeding along very quickly. Then, just before it reached the peak of the mountain, it stalled completely. He feared that this would happen to his hope of going to Israel, too.

And, tragically, he was right. Elchanan was honest, loyal and pure, through and through. The Communists knew that he was a religious Jew. They knew that he and his wife, Bubbe Maryasha, were deliberately not sending their children to Communist schools for “reeducation.” What's worse, they knew that Elchanan was a leader among Jews, one who did secret circumcisions and was trained in Jewish ritual slaughtering (shechita).

All the while they were playing with him regarding Israel, they were surrounding him, just setting up their nets, like giant spiders who have found an unwary little fly. At first they used to knock on the door of the synagogue where the family lived, in middle of the night, and sit down with him in a friendly fashion and question him. Of course, they insisted, they realized that he hadn't done anything wrong. All they wanted from him were the names of the others.

Yitzchok Elchanan Shagalov would never join their ranks, never! As he told Bubbe Maryasha, “I will never turn in a fellow Jew to the Communists."

However, he was arrested and taken away from his family in the synagogue. And although Bubbe Maryasha never thought it at the time, the day he was taken away from the synagogue was the last time she saw him. His soul went straight from imprisonment by the evil Communists, may their names be erased, to heaven.

Dividing the Children

After her husband was taken away, Bubbe Maryasha remained in the synagogue with her six children, with only her potato garden to sustain them. She would have remained there indefinitely, waiting for Elchanan to return, had she not received word that the Communists had had it with trying to coerce her into sending the children to public school. The very next morning, she learned, they were planning on sending armed KGB men to remove the children into foster care. She would never see them again, and they would be raised as true communists. She had to move fast. She decided she would take some children with her. She would send Shula Shifra, the oldest, alone to Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov. And the two children, Rosa, who was 12, and Zalman, who was about 6, should remain in the synagogue, in hiding.

She instructed the frightened Rosa and Zalman that they were to stay near the synagogue all day, hiding only if they saw or heard people coming. At night, Elchanan's mother, the Bubbe Henya, would come from her home across the forest and sleep with the children in the synagogue. And they shouldn't worry; she would come back and get them just as soon as she had a place to bring them to.

After Bubbe Maryasha left, life became one prolonged nightmare for the two children. First of all, the grandmother who was supposed to guard their nights, went blind. In order to have her with them at night, they had to walk alone in pitch blackness through a forest to bring her, and then in the morning they had to walk her back home. This was such a frightening prospect that they often didn't go and get her. They spent these nights alone in the synagogue with the ten enormous windows. They slept hardly at all, out of terror.

Looking For A Place

Bubbe Maryasha began her search for a place to settle with her family. First she went to her brother, Aryeh Leib.

Aryeh Leib was a righteous man in his own right. He and his wife and children were living in Crimea in abject poverty, in a hut held together by mud and straw. There was no clean water, and hardly any food. Bubbe Maryasha asked him why he stayed in this horrible place. He replied that at least out on the Kolchoz (a collective farm) the children were not expected to attend Communist public schools, where they would surely become atheists. People argued with him that if he remained on the farm, he would be taken away by Hitler more quickly than if he tried to "get lost" in a big city. To this he replied, "Better to die a Jew who has remained true to G‑d, than to live as an atheist." And that is exactly what happened; they all died sanctifying G‑d’s name, all killed by Hitler except for one son who had been taken into the Russian army.

Bubbe Maryasha was hoping she could bring her other children and stay with him. He, of course, never refused her. But she saw for herself that he did not have enough food for his own children, and how awfully primitive the conditions were. How could she add to his burden? So she took the little ones and left.

Shula on Her Own at 14

Maryasha with her daughter Shula Kazen.
Maryasha with her daughter Shula Kazen.
Since Shula Shifra (my mother) was the oldest, she had to go off by herself. Bubbe Maryasha decided to send Shula to Rabbi Shemtov (“Bentche”), a Lubavitcher who was well known for both his willingness to help fellow Jews, and his ability to do so due to his various powerful connections as well as his bold, fearless nature.

Of course it was not safe for Shula to have anything in writing which might lead authorities to Bentche. So Bubbe Maryasha required of Shula to memorize the directions from their synagogue to Bentche's house. Memorizing all that was quite a job for a 14-year-old; it was quite a journey for a 14-year-old to undertake all alone. Between all the trains and the walking, it was a 12-hour trip, fraught with perils of every sort.

If Shula had picked up anything from her mother, it was a sharp instinct for self-preservation. She knew that if she allowed herself to dwell on her situation during this dangerous journey, not knowing if she would see her father again, if she would see her mother again, she would fall apart, cry like the frightened child that she was, and attract dangerous attention. She needed to lift her consciousness to another place and time. So all throughout the trip, she concentrated on her father, the things he had said and the times she had spent with him.

He would say, over and over again whenever they were faced with any obstacle, "A Jew has only G‑d to fear." Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, told Elchanan that his life’s mission was to do circumcisions and ritual slaughtering.

Whenever Shula's father, Elchanan, had gone to do a ritual circumcision, he had taken along one of the children. Since Shula was the oldest, she was chosen most often for this merit and responsibility. As they would walk along in the pitch darkness, knowing that if the Communists found them and discovered their errand, they would both be arrested, Elchanan would tell Shula stories of the righteous personalities in Jewish history. He would tell her stories from the Torah. He would talk about the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes. He would say, over and over again whenever they were faced with any obstacle, "A Jew has only G‑d to fear."

As she traveled now alone, often cold, often hungry, always exhausted and in mortal danger, she recalled her father gently reminding the children to take care of their mother. Bubbe Maryasha was often sick with various throat ailments, and the children often saw the kindness and concern which Elchanan showed to his wife. He insisted that the children treat her just as kindly.

Once, Shula recalled as she trudged along, Bubbe Maryasha had been very sick and Elchanan was not at home. As she felt worse and worse with each passing hour, she decided she needed Elchanan to come home. Bubbe Maryasha asked Shula to go and fetch her father, and gave her exact directions. Although it was dark, very dark outside, Shula had gone willingly, remembering how her father wanted her to take good care of her mother, and also how he had said she had only G‑d to fear.

When she reached the destination Bubbe Maryasha had given her, she came to a house and knocked on the door. A man opened the door, took one look at the little girl, and motioned for her to go down to the cellar beneath the steps, where the jars of pickles and jams were kept. There she found her father and other men huddled around a kerosene lantern, learning Torah and Chassidic teachings. They had walked home together, and as they walked, Elchanan asked Shula if she had been afraid to come by herself. "Well," the girl admitted, "I was afraid, but I tried to remember that a Jew has only G‑d to fear." "Good," nodded Elchanan. "And now I'll give you one more thing to remember whenever you're walking alone and afraid. Tell yourself, I'm not really alone; G‑d is walking with me."'

Now, as Shula made the trip by herself, with the memorized instructions, to Bentche's house, she said to herself over and over again: "G‑d is walking with me. I'm not really alone." She was telling herself these very words as she entered the dark forest which was to be the last leg of her journey.

The very last part of her memorized instructions was: "Walk through the forest till you cone to a row of houses. Bentche's house will be the very last one in the row."

It was dark in the forest. Shula hoped her terrifying trip would soon be over. Finally, she emerged from the pitch black, dense forest and saw the row of houses! Thank G‑d! With her last bit of energy and hope, she walked past all the houses till she reached the very last one. A little boy was standing outside the house.

"What's your name?" Shula asked. "Momik" (known as Mendel), replied the boy. "Is this the house of the Shemtovs?" she asked hopefully. Suddenly Momik remembered that he wasn't supposed to talk to strangers, or they might all get arrested and in trouble! Maybe he shouldn't have even told her his name! So when she asked him if this was the home of the Shemtovs, he replied with a resounding "no!"

Crestfallen, Shula turned back and wandered up and down the row of houses once more. Now Shula felt the freezing cold anew. What should she do now? With her hopes now in shreds, she returned to that last house and, ignoring the little boy, gathered up her courage and knocked at the door. This just had to be the house!

The door was opened and Shula saw a woman, Esther Golda, standing and soothing a baby. The baby she called Avremele, and he had red hair. Esther Golda stood up and asked Shula, "Who are you?" "Shula Shagalov." Esther Golda thought for just a second, and then asked in surprise, "Chonye's?" ("Are you Elchanan's daughter?") When Shula nodded her head, Esther Golda exclaimed in excitement, "Oy!" And then finally Shula received the warm welcome she had been dreaming of for the past 12 hours.

Bentche and Esther Golda sat Shula down and fed her. They asked her all about her trip, and about her family. They let her have a long sleep. She felt so safe, so cared for! And Bentche and Esther Golda promised her, "You are Chonye's. Of course, we will take care of you!"

Soon Bentche explained to Shula that it was not safe for her to be in their home; already, the Communists suspected them of helping out Jewish fugitives, and other "crimes,” and Shula would only get into trouble by staying with them.

So Bentche arranged for Shula to stay in a room which he rented for her in Moscow. She would work in a garage which he had converted into a factory.

Bentche Shemtov had a whole operation going, which took a lot of nerve. But he kept at it because he knew he was literally saving lives. Here's how it worked.

Many religious Jews could not get government-recognized working papers, because they would not work on the Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. By working in Bentche's factories, however, they could acquire these papers, be legitimate "workers" recognized by the Soviet Union, and still keep Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. Also, once they had the legal working papers, they were entitled to an apartment, or at least a room in one, and also food coupons (for which they had to stand on line, or "otchere," for hours—but at least there was a chance that at the end of the line they could redeem their coupons for some food).

Shula, as a teenager, considered herself lucky to be working in one of Bentche's enterprises. Her job was to carry two-hundred-pound bags of cloth on her back from the supplier to the factory. After the material was made into scarves or other headgear, Shula would carry it to the buyer, who would pay Shula. She had quite a responsible job for a young girl; carrying the goods and also collecting the money.

Bentche continually found religious Jews places to stay and food to eat until his "employment" got them the papers they needed to stand on their own two feet.

Bubbe Maryasha Reunites with Her Children in Moscow

After three months of staying alone in the synagogue, Rosa and Zalman woke up one morning and there was their mother, Bubbe Maryasha, come back to the synagogue to get them. Never were two children happier to see their mother! She took them, along with her younger children, to Bentche and to Shula in Moscow. Finally, she had all her children back together again. Of course, she was still hoping strongly to see her husband again, also, although this was not to be.

Bentche did not need to promise Bubbe Maryasha that he would help her. His actions spoke louder than any words. He took Bubbe Maryasha to a house he had rented in Moscow and settled her in there. He handed her one hundred rubles with which to buy food and warm clothing for herself and the children. And then he assured her, with deep feeling, "They took away your husband, a true pious Jew. Now it is our job to help you." For the first time since her husband had disappeared, Bubbe Maryasha felt that she had someone who was truly willing to stick his neck out for her and her six children.

The family survived on the hundred rubles until they received their first food coupons as workers. In Moscow, a large city, the Communists didn't catch up with these religious Jewish children who weren't attending school. Bubbe Maryasha was grateful. But Bentche advised her after a while that the city wasn't as safe as she thought. He advised her to move out to a cottage in the country, as he had done with his own family. There, nobody would ever come knocking to check on the children or see if everyone's papers were in order (of course, they were not). So Bubbe Maryasha moved out to the country.

Bentche made sure the family had work. He somehow persuaded a "natchalnik," a manager of a factory, to provide the family with a sewing machine. On this machine, the family was able to make small rugs. On another machine, they manufactured bobby pins.

Another skill they learned quickly was to color in black outlined pictures. These pictures were then sold as home decorations. Bubbe Maryasha's family was getting by, albeit without Elchanan and living in fear for his life.

Marrying Off Her Children

Maryasha addresses the crowd at a gathering in her honor.
Maryasha addresses the crowd at a gathering in her honor.
Bubbe Maryasha insisted that just as soon as her husband returned, he would take care of that. But eventually Bubbe Maryasha had to face the terribly painful fact that her husband was not there and G‑d only knew when, or if, he would come back.

As she said, "To take a knife and cut out my own heart would be easier for me than to marry off the children without my husband." To make such a big move, alone, signaled an acceptance of Elchanan's fate that she did not feel.

But — like all the difficult things in Bubbe Maryasha's life — she very soon did what she had to do, without complaining. Shula married Sholom Shneur Zalman Katzenellenbogen, whose mother was Soroh Katzenellenbogen, who was instrumental in helping many Jews escape Russia.

Bubbe Maryasha, slowly but surely, married off the children, one by one, without their father.

Many, many times over the years in Moscow they were forced to move from one home to another, either because they were evicted from a home or because a location became too dangerous.

Accused Falsely

Bubbe Maryasha and her children were always manufacturing something or other in order to live. Once, someone claimed that he had left some merchandise at Bubbe Maryasha's home. Bubbe Maryasha claimed that he had taken it with him. He was so sure that he was right, that he took Bubbe Maryasha to a Rabbi. The Rabbi said Bubbe Maryasha should swear that she did not have the goods. Bubbe Maryasha answered, "I have never in my life sworn in G‑d’s name and I don't plan to do it now. I did not take the merchandise but I will pay its value to avoid swearing." And she did pay. She concluded relating the story by saying, "Now that he is in the Other World, he knows the truth. May he go straight to heaven" She held no malice, no grudge, only wishes him well, despite the pain and financial hardship he caused her.

Learning From Reb Yisrael Nevler

Bubbe Maryasha said that although it was really Elchanan's responsibility to provide the proper education for the children, she would do it in his absence. And she asked Rabbi Yisrael Neveler, a Lubavitch chasid, to teach her children. She never had to force the children to sit down and listen to Yisrael. They loved listening to him. His voice, his eyes, his gentleness, and his carefully chosen words, were sweet like honey to the youngsters. Adults, too, would find themselves stopping their work to listen when Yisrael would teach.

One day Rabbi Yisrael approached Bubbe Maryasha with sadness in his eyes. He felt terrible about what he was about to tell her, but he had to do it. Some wealthy Jews had arrived in Moscow and wanted to hire him to teach their children. As much as he wished he could refuse the offer, he had ten children of his own to feed and it just didn't make sense...

Bubbe Maryasha understood him completely. How well she understood the simple yearning of a parent to be able to feed his children! So she asked him, "What are they paying you?" He told her the offer he had been given. On the spot, Bubbe Maryasha promised him the exact same salary and kept her word. "So," she later related, "I'll work a little harder." She was determined that her children should spend time every day with "the Tzadik" as she called Rabbi Yisrael, because "I want my children to grow up to be pious."

Many people, some who learned from Rabbi Yisrael Neveler as children and some, who overheard the learning as adults, still remember the sound of his voice and the power of his words. Some of these people have been known to say, "In the middle of Communist Russia, we thought we were in paradise [when he taught]."

Bubbe Maryasha with her children, who were by then adults, made it out of Russia and away from Communist prosecution.

The Lost Sock Board

Bubbe Maryasha, now in her mid-40's, spent the years from 1941 to 1946 with her family in Tashkent. One of the ways in which they managed to support themselves was to make and sell socks. Of course, it was illegal in Communist Russia to run your own business and anyone who did it had to work very hard to hide it from the authorities.

Bubbe Maryasha procured a machine which would enable her to turn yarn into socks. Her son, Benzion, worked this machine and manufactured the socks. Bubbe Maryasha then dyed the socks different colors. Due to the strong chemicals she used, she would do this outside, no matter how cold it was. Then her two younger daughters, Rosa and Roche, would pull the socks over the sock board, which would shape them into a sock shape.

Bubbe Maryasha did not own her own sock board. She used to borrow one from an acquaintance. Then the acquaintance moved. She knew of only one other person who owned a sock board, and he lived a long train ride away. But she had no choice; she needed the money to take care of her children, and her husband was languishing in a Communist jail (or so she thought at the time).

So Bubbe Maryasha took the long train ride and asked the man if she could borrow his sock board. He really did not want to lend it to her, since he said he needed it himself the next day. Bubbe Maryasha promised him that if he would lend it to her, she would go home, stay up all night finishing the socks that were due, and return the board to him the next morning. She prevailed upon the man to trust her, and so he gave her his precious sock board.

On the train ride home, already well into the evening, a lot of people showed signs of carrying on illegal private business. For example, there was a woman with two big baskets of tomatoes which she had grown in her backyard. Now she was hoping to sell them on the black market. And there were others with such loads. Like Bubbe Maryasha, they figured that at night it was safer than by day. Unfortunately, the Communists made a surprise raid on the trains that very night, looking for signs of private commerce. In front of Bubbe Maryasha's eyes, the woman with the baskets of tomatoes was arrested and taken to jail, weeping and begging and insisting that she had bought the tomatoes to feed her family with. The Communists knew better than to believe the poor woman.

Slowly they made their way down the aisle of the train, checking people's packages, confiscating anything suspicious and making arrests. Bubbe Maryasha was in a quandary. What should she do with her sock board?! If she was caught with it, she too would be arrested and thrown into jail. What would happen with her children, would they then be both fatherless and motherless? Plus, she had given her solemn word to return the board to its rightful owner the next morning. She couldn't go back on her word.

Realizing that if she were arrested, the board would be of no use to her anyway, she made the decision to throw the sock board out the window of the train before the Communists got to her. She did this in the nick of time, for they searched her, found nothing, and moved on.

As soon as they left the train, Bubbe Maryasha waited till the next stop and got off herself. By now it was pitch dark out-side and quite late. She walked back the few miles to the place where she had thrown the sock board out the window. And she began searching for it in the snow and rubble.

Hours passed and Bubbe Maryasha did not find it. Finally she gave up and took the train back home, where the children were waiting. As relieved as they were to see their dear mother safe and sound, they were as upset as she was to hear what had happened to the precious board. Now they wouldn't be able to meet their deadline for sock production, and also, how would Bubbe Maryasha answer to the man from whom she had borrowed the board?!

“G‑d helps in His own way,” related Bubbe Maryasha. Early the next morning, Bubbe Maryasha got a hold of some wood and went to someone who knew how to work with it, cutting it precisely and sanding it down. She paid him to make not one, but ten sock boards. One she returned to the man whose board she had thrown out the window. One she kept for the use of the family. And the other eight, she rented out or sold to her fellow “businesspeople.”

Getting Over the Border

Bubbe Maryasha moved to Samarkand because there was a Jewish school, a Yeshiva, there for her sons, Yankel and Zalman, who were already teenagers and needed to learn in Yeshiva.

In 1946 Bubbe Maryasha and her family left Samarkand, because they finally had the necessary documents which (they hoped) would allow them to flee Russia. They arrived in Lemberg and from there they traveled to Lodz, Poland and on to Prague, Czechoslovakia. There they waited in a displaced persons camp set up for refugees like themselves.

From here they needed to get into the American part of Germany. The problem was that there were many American soldiers whose sole assignment it was to protect the border from hordes of refugees, exactly like Bubbe Maryasha and her family, and the entire group of 150 men, women and children with whom she was traveling. These American soldiers were trying to do their job but were extremely frustrated because it seemed that no matter how many refugees they turned back, there were always a few hundred more willing to try again. In many cases the American soldiers failed to prevent refugees from getting into the American part of Germany, and then they would get into trouble from their superiors. After all, the soldiers were told, you are armed, and yet you can't control a group of unarmed refugees?!

Every night, group after group of refugees would try to slip past the American soldiers. Many succeeded. Bubbe Maryasha's group tried once and failed — the American soldiers shipped them back with dire warning and a great deal of anger and strength. However, this did not deter the desperate group. The next night, they made another attempt to get through the border. The American soldiers caught them and when they saw that it was the exact same group as the night before, their anger knew no bounds. "Are you trying to make fools of us? We told you to keep away from here! Now we're going to shoot you, like we should have done last night!"

And they lined up the whole group and raised their rifles. The bedraggled and harassed Jews faced their fate and, preparing themselves for death, cried out as one, "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod," Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One. At this show of faith, the soldiers lost their nerve and put down their guns. Finally, the group was taken by truck into the American part of Germany, and onto the city of Poking, which was the last stop before Paris (everyone's final destination at that time).

Bubbe Maryasha in Paris

Maryasha in Paris
Maryasha in Paris
Bubbe Maryasha had covered her hair with a kerchief ever since her marriage. When she arrived in Paris, it was time to take an official passport picture. When it came to Bubbe Maryasha's turn, the photographer ordered her to remove her kerchief. Bubbe Maryasha refused. He told her she had to remove it, or else she would not have a valid passport and would not be able to travel legally. Little did he know that he was looking at a lady who had stood up to armed Cossacks at the age of eight! A simple photographer could certainly not scare her out of her principles.

Bubbe Maryasha made it abundantly clear: "This is my religion. Either you will take the picture with the kerchief or you will not take it at all." And to those on line with her who were trying to convince her not to make such a big deal, she said firmly:

"I am a Jewish woman and I do not go with an uncovered head. If he takes the picture, fine, if not, I'll manage somehow." Not surprisingly, he took the picture with the kerchief.

Ever industrious and ingenious, Bubbe Maryasha figured out a way to support herself and help marry off some of her children while in Paris: she became the Mikveh attendant.

Bubbe Maryasha took her job very seriously, fully aware of the responsibility it entailed. She was always willing to stay late for anyone who needed it, or to help out in any way necessary.

One night a woman, Batsheva, came to the Paris Mikveh where Bubbe Maryasha was the attendant. She stayed and stayed and kept praying to G‑d, begging Him, crying to Him. At first Bubbe Maryasha was patient and understanding, but finally she had to say something.

"Madame, if you don't finish soon, we won't be able to get home at all, because the metro will close for the night!" The woman insisted that she needed a special favor from G‑d.

"Tell me what you are praying for. Two voices are better than one. I will help you. You ask G‑d and I will say Amen." So Batsheva asked G‑d, out loud this time: "G‑d, every month I come and ask You for a son. This month please, give me two sons. I will name one after my dear father and one after my dear Rabbi."

And Bubbe Maryasha responded with a heartfelt, "Amen!"

Batsheva became pregnant. Her doctor was examining her, and he said, "I think it is twins." She got so excited, she quickly thanked G‑d and told the doctor how happy she was. "You shouldn't be so happy," he told her, "don't you know that it's much harder to give birth to twins?"

Batsheva didn't bother trying to explain to the doctor that her whole family had been wiped out by the Nazis and that she had prayed for just this miracle. A few months later, Batsheva gave birth to twin boys. She named one after her father, and one Josef Isaac, after the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Maryasha during her time in Paris was instrumental in establishing the Lubavitch school there.

Arrival in America

Maryasha together at her grandaugher Henya Laine's wedding in 1965.
Maryasha together at her grandaugher Henya Laine's wedding in 1965.

In 1953, Bubbe Maryasha arrived in the United States of America. Immediately she had an audience with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schnnerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory. She asked him the one question which weighed most heavily on her heart: "Is my husband living?" The Rebbe would not address this directly and seemed to be in pain himself about it. He did tell her to look into it through the official channels then available. At the time Bubbe Maryasha was informed that he had died "of natural causes," but later it was determined that this was a lie. Eventually (in 1998) his KGB file was discovered and it was determined that he had been shot by the KGB three months after being arrested, for being a religious Jew, spreading Jewish observance to others, and for refusing to turn in other Jews.

One of the projects Bubbe Maryasha undertook after arriving in this country, with the Rebbe's guidance and encouragement, was Bikur Cholim, an organization to visit the sick. Besides visiting and helping the sick, she also collected money to help them manage while they were too sick to work. Once, I was visiting her when there was a knock at the door. Bubbe Maryasha told me to either leave the room or turn around and face away from the door. I heard the way Bubbe Maryasha opened the door, handed over an envelope, and wished the recipient well.

After the door was closed, I asked my grandmother what it was all about. "There are certain people I help every month. One of these just came to my door. It's bad enough being sick and needy, I didn't want to add to her pain by embarrassing her in front of you." As close as Henya was to her grandmother, she never heard a single name of a needy person from her.

At the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s request, Bubbe Maryasha fundraised for a local Torah institution (“Oholei Torah”). She had a Bazaar that all profits went to support the institution. All profits, every penny, went to the institution. Bubbe Maryasha never took a penny for herself.

Once, I was visiting my grandmother at the Bazaar and saw Bubbe Maryasha pick up a button from the big button basket and put down a nickel. "Grandmother, what are you doing?" I asked her. "I'm paying for the button," Bubbe Maryasha responded calmly. "But you don't even take a salary. Surely you can take a button when you need one?"

Bubbe Maryasha tried to explain to me. "G‑d gave me two healthy feet. I can walk, I can take care of myself and help others. That's all the payment I need" She insisted that her needs were small.

Four generations of her descendants are Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in the United States, Australia, China, England, France, Panama, Poland and South Africa. Bubbe Maryasha Today

Bubbe Maryasha has grandchildren who are grandparents themselves. She has countless great-grandchildren and many very dear great-great-grandchildren. Four generations of her descendants are Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in the United States, Australia, China, England, France, Panama, Poland and South Africa.

Bubbe Maryasha Garelik with her daughter Shula Kazen, her son-in-law Rabbi Zalman Kazen and their children.
Bubbe Maryasha Garelik with her daughter Shula Kazen, her son-in-law Rabbi Zalman Kazen and their children.