Emily Osmou Velelli, daughter of Jacob and Regina and wife of late husband Emmanuel, was born 100 years ago on June 27 on the island of Corfu, Greece.
As a young educated woman she went to work in Athens at the textile store of her older brother, Marcos, where she met her husband-to-be, and it was described as love at first sight. In 1934, the two were wed in Patras, Greece at her parents’ home. They had two children, Josephine in 1936 and Regina in 1942.
The destruction and pain of World War II spread and beginning in 1942 deeply affected Greece. Ultimately only 10 percent of Jews in Greece survived the Holocaust. Velelli, her husband, children and parents were among them, thanks to the kindness of the Michalos family, who, while sharing scant resources and even endangering themselves, helped Velelli’s family escape and survive the Holocaust.
After the war, Greece slowly began to rebuild, as did Velelli’s family, with two more children, Victor and Rachel. With the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the whole family came to Baltimore in 1956.
“She did everything in her power to make sure we stayed together, looked out for each other and loved each other,” said daughter Regina Frances, 71. “She always impressed upon us how important the fabric of the family is. You respect and love your elders, you sacrifice for your family.”
Velelli’s strength would carry her through the trials of living in a new country, through hard work as a seamstress in a men’s clothing factory and through the challenges of her husband’s illness and passing. She also continued to cook and bake into her late 90s. Her spinach-and-cheese pies and baklava were crowd pleasers, as were her koulouria, the special cookies she would share with the family each Chanukah.
“She always called the family her jewels,” said daughter Rachel Glaser, 64. “She was like a magnet for the family; she was the center, she grounded us. Whenever anyone had news to share, you told Yaya (grandmother in Greek) first. The connection to her got stronger with each new generation.”
Those generations include four children, 10 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Noted Glaser: “Everyone in the family feels they are better people because of her, and they were all devoted to her.”
Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor — firstname.lastname@example.org