Brooklyn, NY — In Brooklyn, they called her Bubbe Maryasha — a 106-year-old Jewish grandmother who survived the pogroms of czarist Russia, Soviet anti-Semitism and Nazi terror.
Members of the Lubavitch Jewish community on Thursday announced the death of Maryasha Garelik, the grandmother — “bubbe” in Yiddish — who survived milestone moments of the 20th century, including the Soviet execution of her husband for helping to keep Judaism alive.
She breathed her last on Wednesday night in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, after passing her wisdom on to thousands who came seeking inspiration, said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of the Lubavitch World Headquarters there.
The Hasidic Jewish 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 China, Australia, South Africa, France, England and Poland.
Garelik was buried on Thursday at the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, in a grave near the late Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, whose disciple in Russia became her husband.
Her advice came from decades of trial by fire.
When she was 5, her father was killed in a pogrom and her grandparents — with whom she and her mother lived — were subsequently executed.
Years later, 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. He was arrested as one of Schneerson’s underground operatives in the 1930s under Josef Stalin, then shot to death. (His wife didn’t know what happened to him until 1998, when his fate was revealed in an unsealed KGB file).
When authorities warned her against lighting the Sabbath candles, Garelik fled with her six 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 for a profit that paid for the dilapidated synagogue to be fixed.
When an acquaintance tried persuading 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.
By 1941, when the Germans advanced onto Soviet soil, Garelik and her brood escaped to Tashkent, in 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, starting 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.”