By Goldie Avtzon, co-director of Chabad of Hong Kong, China
Among the special things that I keep in a safe place is a simple white envelope, nearly 30 years old, that is carefully guarded and contains… a lone nickel. While in the market this coin may only be worth 5 cents, to me, it’s worth infinitely more.
This nickel was given by the Rebbe to my grandmother, Mrs. Menucha Lazaroff on the day I got married to my husband, Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon. She must have received it as she waited for the Rebbe to arrive in 770 Eastern Parkway on the day of my wedding.
I am pretty sure that when she received this nickel from the Rebbe’s holy hand, she thought about all she had been through and how blessed she was to be celebrating the wedding of her grandchild.
It was another link in her family’s chain of proud Chabad chassidim.
I can just picture her coming home with her precious treasure in hand, looking for an envelope, sitting down at her kitchen table, and neatly writing the words “א ניקל פון כ”ק אדמו”ר שליט”א אין טאג פון …. תחי’ חתונה” (a nickel from the Rebbe on the day of [my name’s] wedding), so that no one would forget that this was just not an ordinary nickel.
Over 20-years-later, after she passed away, my mother found this envelope among her possessions and gave it to me. Just a few weeks ago, I came across it again.
This Sunday, 15 Elul, is her 7th yahrzeit. As I hold this envelope with the ever valuable nickel in my hand, memories of her unique persona flood my mind.
She was no ordinary Jewish woman. She was a woman that never stopped and was unstoppable. Oppressed under Stalin’s rule, her husband R’ Eliezer Gershon Lazaroff was drafted into the Russian army and killed during battle (Jewish soldiers were often sent to the front-lines, facing certain death).
Widowed at a young age and left with 2 young children, she escaped from Russia through Paris and finally settled in Israel. There, she worked hard to support her family – first as the dorm mother for Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim in Lod and then as the principal of a home for orphaned girls in Jerusalem.
She finally made her way to the Unites States where she taught for many years in Associated Beth Rivkah Schools of Crown Heights. Hundreds of girls, women all over the world today, were educated by “Morah Lazaroff.”
During the summer months, she was camp mother at the veteran overnight Camp Gan Israel in Parksville, NY. Hundreds of boys – men all over the world today – were fed and taken care of by “Mrs. Lazaroff.”
Winter or summer, on whichever side of the Atlantic, she was always on the go. Always doing something.
In honor of her yahrzeit, her children (Mrs. Batsheva Shemtov of Philadelphia and Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff of Houston, TX) and grandchildren are collecting memories and stories about her life and work. If you knew her, please drop a quick line at [email protected] and we will contact you.
May she be a “gute beter” for her family, for all those whose lives she touched and for the entire Klal Yisroel.