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Pioneer Chabad Emissary Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, 88

The executive director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Italy, Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik passed away on Shabbat, February 13, after a long illness. He was 88. Rabbi Garelik and his wife, Rebbetzin Bassie, were among the pioneers of the Chabad House movement.

Born in the Soviet Union in 1932 to Rabbi Chaim Meir and Rivka Garelik, Gershon Mendel was educated in the underground Chabad schools, where his father was a teacher. Life under communist rule made Jewish education and religious observance punishable crimes, and fear was a constant in his childhood.

After World War II, he and his family were smuggled out of the USSR and settled in Israel. While his father continued teaching, Gershon Mendel, now a young man, became involved in enrolling young children in religious schools. 

As a teenager, Rabbi Garelik visited New York several times, where he met the Rebbe and attended Chasidic gatherings, eventually staying to study for rabbinical ordination in the central Lubavitch yeshivah. In 1958, he married Basya Posner, whose parents directed a Lubavitch day school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Less than a year later, the Rebbe appointed the young newlyweds to serve as his emissaries to Milan, Italy.

Rabbi Garelik (third from left) at a meeting with Former Prime Minister of Italy Giulio Andreotti, 1992. (Photo Credit: Lubavitch Archives)

“It was a rallying cry, ‘Go out into the wilderness!’” Rabbi Garelik said of his appointment. At first, it was indeed a wilderness for the young couple, who spoke no Italian and little English. But by that summer, they had established a camp, a kosher eatery, and begun building relationships with the local Jewish community.

With his twinkling eyes, patience, and charisma, Rabbi Garelik touched the hearts of many Jews. “He was always discreet, attentive, with a good word for everyone,” says president of the Milan Jewish community, Milo Hasbani.

The Gareliks soon established a school, women’s programs and adult-education classes. Under their leadership, Chabad in Milan expanded to include six centers and a Jewish publishing house. Today, some forty Chabad representatives serve the city’s ten thousand Jews.

Walker Meghnagi, former president of the Jewish community in Milan, recalls the paucity of Jewish life in the city after World War II: Rabbi Garelik reached people “who were far from religion and brought them close to Jewish observance.” Today, he notes, most of those who attend synagogue in Milan do so as a result of the Gareliks’ efforts. “He was an extremely wise man.”

The lack of Jewish knowledge among Italian Jews meant that Rabbi Garelik spent much of his life, as his father had, teaching. And though eventually he would establish the Rabbinical Center of Europe, found a kosher supervision agency, and direct an extensive network of Chabad centers, he will be remebered by many primarily as a kind, patient instructor. “He introduced us to the teachings of the [Jewish] sages, especially of Hasidism and Maimonides,” wrote Edoardo Fuchs, professor at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, who studied at the Lubavitch school in Milan as a child. “He was always attentively listening to each of us.”

Rabbi Garelik (second from left) with former mayor of Milan, Marco Formentini, at a public Chanukah menorah lighting in Milan. (Photo Credit: Lubavitch Archives)
Comment 6
  • Edward Solomon

    He was a wonderful man and I was fortunate to daven with him on numerous occasions the past 11 years. And, I am fortunate to have his daughter as my Rebbitzen, Chani. I have missed seeing him for some time when he came to El Paso to visit his family for the holidays. I have a picture with him I will cherish. Z”L.

  • Why are only certain people’s apparent mitzvahs recognised and lauded?

    • Yosef Mordechai Gati

      The Rebbe believes in you

      The Rebbe takes responsibility for your welfare

      The Rebbe empowers you

      • Yosef Mordechai Gati

        May we all feel and share the commitment that all Lubavitcher have for The Rebbe which has no limits

  • Yosef Cukier

    To know a Rebbe. You have to be a Rebbe
    Rabbi Garelik was a Rebbe,
    I’ll never forget
    I was in his shul
    Watching him I imagined I was in 770
    Looking at the Rebbe
    Suddenly I woke up
    Close very close

  • I send my condolences to the Rebetzzin Bessie.
    Rav Garelik was the only Rav that took time to talk to me and to give me advice when all other Ravs i turn too did not care.
    Rav Garelik did care ! I am sure he left this material body in NYC next to the Rebbe,
    because he is very dear to him.
    The Rebetzzin has told only wonderful stories about her relationship with her husband. We are all near his family at this time of sorrow for the soul department but knowing that he fulfil is tikkun for sure. In silence and admiration.


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