I though I might take a break from my regular fare here and talk a bit about my illustrious family. Many people know my New York cousins. Not so many know me. At least not outside my blog.
I found this picture not long ago in a box of pictures I have in my bedroom closet. It was a small black and white print which has been restored and enlarged. It is currently hanging in my den.
The two people in the photo were always referred to by my parents as “the uncle” and “the tanta” (Yiddish for aunt). Binyamin (Binny Mendel) Maryles was my father’s uncle – his mother’s brother. The tanta was his wife, Chaya. She was a Baumel and the sister of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm’s grandmother.
These two figures had tremendous impact on my life. They were the one’s that sponsored my parents’ immigration to the US after the Holocaust. That was in 1946, the year of my birth. These two people and their children made it happen. The uncle and the Tanta were also the patriarchs of the much bigger New York branch of the Maryles family.
Their four children, Simon (Symie), Toby, David (Dave), and Joe (Yoshe) are patriarchs and a matriarchs in their own right. Two of them have passed away. Simon who joined the Canadian army during WWII so that he could fight Hitler before the US got involved – died a few years ago. David died very tragically from leukemia back in the 50s.
David is featured prominently in the ArtScroll biography of Mike Tress. Mike, Dave and a little known Askan by the name of Moshe Sherer were very active in Hatzalah during and after the Holocaust. They were also for all practical purposes the founding fathers of Agudath Israel in America. When I had an occasion to meet with Rabbi Sherer and he heard my last name, he immediately asked me if I was related to David.
David’s children have made their mark too, as did Yoshe’s children, Toby’s children and Simon’s children . Some of them were very active in Jewish education. Ironically David’s children all became active in modern Orthodox and religious Zionist organizations. His grandchildren attended MO schools. His great grandson and namesake, Binny -a Musmach of YU, is the rabbi of a Young Israel and is involved in he hierarchy of the Young Israel movement.
The uncle’s grandchildren run the entire gamut of Judaism. From Lakewood Charedi to Yeshiva of Flatbush modern Orthodox… to secular. One of his great grand-daughters is a Yoetzet. Another is an Orthodox Jewish feminist who was recently tapped to head JOFA.
While I have my differences with some of them on both ends of the religious spectrum, I could not be prouder than to be a bearer of the name.. and a member of the clan.
My father was not a Maryles. He was a Shapiro. My New York cousins – jokingly – do not hesitate to remind the Chicago branch of the family of that all the time. My father changed it to his mother’s maiden name –Maryles – during the Holocaust. That is a story in and of itself, but not for now. I was however born a Maryles.
What few people know is that the name Maryles has some very significant Chasdishe Yichus attached to it. The uncle was the fifth generation grandson of a Chasidic Rebbe by the name of Rav Shimon Elbaum – the Yaroslover Rebbe. He was a Talmid Muvak of the Chozeh M’Lublin. He changed his name from Elbaum to Maryles – which is a Hebrew acronym “Mei R. Yisroel Leib’s meaning “From Rav Yisroel Leib”. That was his father’s name.
Yisroel Leib was a Misnagid – a strong opponent of Chasidus. He so opposed his son’s “conversion” to Chasdidus that he said on his death bed that he should not say Kaddish for him if he included “VeYatzmach Purkanei V’Karev Meshichei”. That is the added sentence of Nusach Sephard that Chasidim use. I guess that R’ Shimon changed his last name because he wanted to pay tribute to his father in some way to sort of make amends for his break from tradition by becoming a Chasid.
My Uncle’s vocation was as a Shochet in New York. Most of my memories of him stem from my childhood. He would often visit us in Toledo where my own father was a Shochet and the Chazan of his Shul. Sadly my great uncle died of stomach cancer before I graduated high school in 1964. The picture was taken shortly before that.
A lot can be learned from a photograph. I took it in the pre-digital age with a cheap little Kodak instamatic the last time I visited him before his death. One can see that he was a Chasdishe man with a long beard. But notice how his arm is intertwined with his wife’s arm as he stands close to her.
I did not pose him for this picture. This is how he wanted to be photographed… holding on to his beloved wife. The picture tells the story of this man’s love for his wife.
Although he was a Chasid with a long beard and great Yichus he did not value any of the nonsense that passes for Frumkeit today. He was not afraid of being in a picture with his wife, or that it would be shown to other people. He was not afraid to be photographed arm in arm with her.
The uncle did not insist that his children follow in any narrow Hashkafic path. He raised them in ways similar to the way I raised my own children. And they each mostly followed the path of Yiddishkeit best suited to them. From modern Orthodoxy on the left to the very right wing Charedism on the right. And what a legacy he left. A successful life indeed.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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