Historically the city of Iasi (Yassy) in Romania was considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Records show that Jews lived there from the 16th Century. By 1930 there were over 30,000 Jews and at least 127 synagogues.
Until World War II, it was a bustling centre of Jewish education and the arts. It was the birthplace of the Yiddish Theatre, several important Universities and a Writer’s Union which featured great Jewish artists and scholars.
Into this city was born Maria Abramovna in 1920. She became a dressmaker, but in 1940 she fled across the border to Moldova with her family to escape the German Occupation. They spent the remainder of the war in hiding, moving from town to town, returning to Chisinau in 1945.
She met and married Yankel Goldenberg, who was born in the same city. Being unable to have children, they decided to adopt an 18-month-old girl, Polina, in 1956. As she had no documents, they successfully applied for a birth certificate, and she was given Jewish Nationality. Polina had psychological problems and found it difficult to learn.
Sadly Yankel died when Polina was only six years old, and Maria struggled to bring her up on her own. As she got older, Polina started drinking heavily. When Maria retired, she received a pension of just £3 per month, but that didn’t stop Polina from stealing from her to fund her habit. In her bouts of drunkenness she physically abused her mother.
Maria loved to read, she had a kind heart and a clever mind, but in order to keep away from her daughter, she would go out and walk the streets, anything just to avoid the abuse.
She was found one day by Ebenezer workers, who determined to help Maria escape this appalling situation. They learnt that Maria had no friends, and no other relatives either in Moldova or Israel.
They contacted us to see if Maria could apply to us for housing in Israel. Three months later this precious lady boarded the ship in Odessa to start a new life in Israel. She arrived in Beit Shemesh, very grateful for her new home.
Helen’s first encounter with Maria is fixed in her mind. Maria said to her: “If it wasn’t for you, I would be dead by now!” Helen put her arms around her, and Maria wept on her shoulder. She meant every word. We truly had ... a “place of refuge.”
A year later, when an Ebenezer worker saw a photograph of Maria, initially she did not believe it was Maria. She then realised it was Maria, but in her words “she looks ten years younger”!
Maria had five years of living in a place of refuge, in a place where love and kindness are the order of the day, not abuse. She was affectionately known as our “doorkeeper” for she was always ready to help, always there with her duster to polish and clean, and to answer the door if necessary. And - always there with her lovely smile! It was her delight to ring the bell to call everyone at mealtimes.
Maria loved to say her special prayer before lunch each day, and made sure everyone paid attention! Her prayer was childlike but effective, thanking the God of Israel for His provision and ending by blessing everyone until they are 120 years old!
It was a sad day when Maria was diagnosed with cancer. She loved us to pray with her. Eventually she became so poorly she had to be admitted to hospital in Jerusalem. I will never forget seeing her sat out in the chair, supported by pillows, sharing a joke with Valentina, our administrator, - in Russian, of course. I bent down and looked her straight in the eyes, and said in Russian, “I don’t understand!” Maria, despite being so ill, suddenly burst into the biggest grin as we shared the moment together, a moment I shall never forget as her beautiful smile shone through her suffering. I only saw her once more, for she went to Glory soon afterwards.
We all missed her; Morka her cat and Beamer the dog missed her, for she always cared for them - she spent much time nursing Beamer back to health after his road accident. The love that she received, she passed on.
Our lives were enriched by knowing Maria, and we are very thankful to God that He brought such a special treasure to us. In Genesis 12:3 God said to Abraham He would bless those who bless him - and indeed we were truly blessed by knowing Maria.