Will Wish That Their Children Will Be Like Yours"
By Shneur Zalman Berger
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)
LEAVE FOR ISRAEL?
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.
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.
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."
leave for Israel?" the foreman insisted on knowing.
parents live there," I said as calmly as I could.
long will you be away?" he asked. When I told him that it would be
permanent, he remained silent.
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."
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?"
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.
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
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.
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.
RUSSIAN BOY WHO BECAME CHINESE
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.
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.
went into the office where they were sitting with a prayer in my heart that
Hashem save us from this dark and threatening Galus.
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?"
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."
one of them shouted. "That’s incorrect! We want to know the real reason
for your trip to Israel!"
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.
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."
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
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.
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."
union rep smiled and said, "They want to study in Russian, so how dare you
say the government causes assimilation!"
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
why is assimilation something negative? Who said it was bad?"
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.
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.
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.
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."
TO ERETZ YISROEL
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."
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
second son, Chaim Shlomo is a shochet in Toronto. He too is involved in
working with Russian immigrants.
third son, Dovid, in addition to his work, also involves himself in working with
FOR NEW IMMIGRANTS
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
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.
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.
NEEDS TO ARRIVE, WILL ARRIVE"
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.
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.
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.
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.