"People Will Wish That Their Children Will Be Like Yours"
By Shneur Zalman Berger

This is what the Rebbe MH"M told R’ Eliyahu Bisk thirty years ago * The inspiring first person account of a Jew who held on to his Yiddishkeit in Soviet Russia * Part 2 of 2
(Click here for Part 1)


In 5725 (1965), my parents left for Eretz Yisroel and settled in Kfar Chabad. In order to emigrate you needed an official invitation from friends or relatives there, and by 5726 I was able to present a request to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel.

We had to go through hell to get permission to leave. We had to get a number of permits, among them one that said we had no debts, and another one that was a character reference from our place of employment.

"Why do you need a character reference?" asked my foreman. "In order to leave for Israel," I replied, "I need to present OVIR (the emigration authorities) with a character reference."

"Why leave for Israel?" the foreman insisted on knowing.

"My parents live there," I said as calmly as I could.

"How long will you be away?" he asked. When I told him that it would be permanent, he remained silent.

It took a while before he opened his mouth again. "I thought you were sane. You’ve worked for me for 15 years, and I respected you very much. But now that you say you are emigrating to Israel, I am beginning to think otherwise."

I tried to convince him that I was leaving because my parents lived there and we needed to unite the family, but he said, "It’s one thing if you were going to France or Germany, countries that are firmly established economically and politically – but that place is like a powder keg about to explode? (This was the period of time before the Six-Day War, when there was great tension between Israel and the Arab nations.) You’re not thinking about yourself, but what about your wife and two small children?"

I told him I was firmly resolved to leave the Soviet Union for Israel with my family. "All I need from you is the character reference," I concluded.

The foreman was afraid to give me the document on his own, so he sent me to the manager of the firm. After struggling hard to convince him, I got the paper I needed. I took all the paperwork and dragged myself over to the OVIR office. To my great sorrow, a month later I received a rejection of my request without any reason given.

Three years passed before I decided the time had come to present my request to emigrate once again. The difficulty was that after the Six-Day War, diplomatic ties between the Soviet Union and Israel had been broken.

After consulting with friends, I asked my mother-in-law’s brother, Nachum Labkovsky, who lived in France, for an invitation to unite our families. Again I approached my foreman in order to obtain a character reference. When I told him I was going to France, he laughed for a long time. I finally got the paper with no further problems, but once again my request was rejected by OVIR.


At the beginning of 5731 (1971) we received another invitation to unite our families. I expected to get a character reference without any trouble like the last time, but this time the foreman wouldn’t give me one, and sent me to the manager of the firm again.

I approached the manager of the firm, who decided that the company troika had to make this decision – the director, the union rep, and the Communist party representative. I was afraid to present myself before them. Generally, when the troika convened, the situation was bad.

I went into the office where they were sitting with a prayer in my heart that Hashem save us from this dark and threatening Galus.

"Why are you insisting these last five years on leaving your birthplace, the Soviet Union?" they asked. "Is it not good for you here? Can you not live here? Why are you asking to leave for the third time?"

I found it difficult to respond. I chose my words carefully. "You know that my parents live in Israel. I want my family to live with my parents. Every person has the right to live near his parents."

"No!" one of them shouted. "That’s incorrect! We want to know the real reason for your trip to Israel!"

I was silent for a while, and then decided to lay all my cards on the table. I took a deep breath and said, "I am a religious person (this was the first time I said this openly, even though I was sure they knew), one who observes mitzvos. Here in the Soviet Union I cannot fulfill even ten percent of the mitzvos I should be fulfilling. I won’t give you reasons for that because you won’t understand a thing. If you want to know what I mean, ask the chief rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Aryeh Levin.

"There’s another reason why my wife, my children, and I won’t live here. The reason is assimilation. If we live here, my children might assimilate among the Russians, G-d forbid, and assimilation is terrible."

After this speech, it’s not surprising that the union representative banged angrily on the table and exclaimed, "You are accusing the government of serious charges which are totally unfounded! How dare you throw mud at the Communist government, which sustains millions of people? I demand proof. Prove what you just said!"

I took another deep breath and began. "Not that long ago, Pravda had an article about a party for journalists which government officials had organized for Jewish representatives who have high positions in the Soviet Union as actors, journalists, and generals.

"This party was supposed to prove the justice in Communism, which allows Jews a free hand. A French journalist asked the Jewish representative, "What language do Jews in Barbidzan use in their schools?" and the Jew answered in Russian, "Whatever the students want."

The union rep smiled and said, "They want to study in Russian, so how dare you say the government causes assimilation!"

At this point I saw I had nothing to lose, so I decided to say everything that was on my mind. "Why is it that in Georgia, the Georgians do not want to study in Russian? Why is it that in Uzbekistan they don’t want to study in Russian? Why is it that every nation protects its uniqueness and speaks its own language, while the Jewish people in the Soviet Union are the only nation willing to forget its language and study in Russian? That is assimilation!" I declared.

"But why is assimilation something negative? Who said it was bad?"

How could I go explain to a man like this why assimilation was bad? By Divine providence an idea popped into my mind which I explained to the troika, who hung on my every word.

"You are Russian and you live in Moscow," I said. "Neither you nor your family are in any danger of assimilation, therefore you don’t understand what it’s all about. Just imagine that tomorrow the government asks you to join a Russian delegation going to China. You pack your bags and travel to China with your wife and children.

"Fifteen years later, after your children would have studied in a Chinese school and absorbed Chinese culture and become accustomed to the Chinese mentality, you go on a family trip one fine day. You go on a boat ride on the Amur River (the river that is between China and Russia) and you converse with your children about Russian artists, generals, and actors, when you suddenly realize that your children couldn’t care less! You feel as though you are talking to the wall. They absorbed Chinese culture from head to toe, to the extent that the Russian children have virtually become Chinese. They cut them off from you without any pressure, without a knife. The children are yours but you are Russian and they have become Chinese.

"Is assimilation a tragedy or not?" I asked, looking him straight in the eye. He looked at his watch and said, "Fine, we are rushing to another meeting. Tomorrow morning come and get your document."


The next day I received the character reference, but I was called by the manager, who explained that since I was traveling to Israel, he had to transfer me to work in another department, where they cut iron. "If you don’t consent, you can be fired."

I knew that department well. The noise was tremendous and no normal person could last there. All the workers there were from the underworld – criminals, thieves, and murderers. Naturally, I didn’t agree and I was fired.

A month later I received permission to leave, baruch Hashem, and we immediately made arrangements to do so. I arrived there a few days before Pesach 5731. A group of Anash met me, my wife, and our three small children at the airport. They suggested we live in Kiryat Malachi, thus receiving the Rebbe’s bracha. The Jewish Agency suggested other cities, perhaps better ones, but for me the Rebbe’s words were most important. Since then, I’ve lived in Nachalat Har Chabad in Kiryat Malachi.


At the beginning of 5732, I went to the Rebbe MH"M for the first time. My yechidus lasted a quarter of an hour. I had the yechidus with my wife, and I asked the Rebbe for a bracha for the chinuch of my children, that they go in the path of Chassidus. The Rebbe replied, "Mentchen vellen zich vinchen hoben a zelecha kinder vi ba aich" (People will wish to have children like yours).

Thank G-d, together with my wife Rivka, we have raised three sons, Tzvi Yosef, Chaim Shlomo, and Dovid, in the ways of Chassidus, and they are involved in hafatza.

My firstborn, Tzvi Yosef, served as the Rebbe’s emissary for ten years in the city of Ladispoli in Italy. He helped many people begin their first steps towards becoming baalei teshuva there, primarily those who emigrated from the Soviet Union and stayed in Ladispoli while in transit. He used the brief period of time they stayed in the city to form a connection with them, and they subsequently contacted Chabad wherever they went, whether Australia, Canada, or the United States. Today Tzvi Yosef lives in Toronto, where he is a maggid shiur in a yeshiva and works with Russian immigrants.

My second son, Chaim Shlomo is a shochet in Toronto. He too is involved in working with Russian immigrants.

My third son, Dovid, in addition to his work, also involves himself in working with Russian Jews.


After a few years in which it was hard to find work, I was taken on as an electrical engineer at the Tel Nof Air force Base, despite my age (43), because they needed employees in this field. I worked there for 22 years until I retired. After I left, I threw myself into work with the Russians who have been coming in recent years, to teach them about Judaism and Chassidus. In my free time I compose and write songs in Russian and Hebrew. The longing for Moshiach’s coming is a common theme.

I give classes to new immigrants every morning, primarily to those from the Bukharan community, under the auspices of CHAMA, which is run by Rabbi Moshe Nisselevitz and Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Gorelick. I also give classes to immigrants in Yishuv Bnei-Ayash, in Ashkelon, and Be’er Sheva.

It’s hard to put into words my feelings as I learn with these precious Jews. I am thrilled that despite everything, am Yisroel chai! Seventy and eighty-year-old Jews, who were utterly cut off from Yiddishkeit for so long, are slowly returning to their roots.

* * *


At our first yechidus in 5732, an amazing thing happened that I would like to tell you about. After speaking about our children, I presented the Rebbe with a letter from the SHAMIR organization. Betzalel Schiff and Professor Branover gave it to me to give to the Rebbe, and waited for me to convey the Rebbe’s response to them.

The Rebbe began reading the letter and suddenly, without our saying a word, he looked up, looked at my wife, and said, "Whoever needs to arrive, will arrive." That was all. The Rebbe continued giving me answers about the letter without referring to the peculiar statement he had made.

I left the yechidus in a tumult. I had no idea what the Rebbe was referring to. When I asked my wife whether she understood, she thought for a few moments and then recalled that during the yechidus she had thought of asking the Rebbe for a bracha that her aunt and uncle and cousins still in Russia be allowed to leave.

A few years later the aunt and uncle died and their daughter, with her children, emigrated to Eretz Yisroel. That’s when we understood what the Rebbe meant by, "Whoever needs to arrive, will arrive.


(Right to left) Tzvi Yosef, Dovid, and Chaim Shlomo

A more recent picture (from right to left) Chaim Shlomo, Tzvi Yosef, and Dovid




When I told my foreman I was going to France, he laughed for a long time. I finally got the paper with no further problems, but once again my request was rejected.



Home | Contents | Archives | Contact E-MailInteractive | Chat | Advertise

©Copyright. No content may be reprinted without permission.