Holiday Do We Have Today?"
Betzalel Schiff, a public servant and accomplished activist, who has done much
on behalf of his people, relates:
still a young boy in second grade my father passed away. My mother also died at
a young age as a result of a tragic incident. This happened a week before my
days were fraught with persecution and much suffering. The fear in keeping mitzvos
was tremendous. Any action taken on behalf of Torah and Yiddishkeit
involved actual danger. Since I no longer had parents and I lived alone, I took
on various missions on behalf of Anash, including many which were fraught
of my jobs was to procure a set of arba minim for Anash of
Samarkand. Each year, for seven years, I traveled to Georgia in order to pick lulavim
and hadasim for Sukkos. We got the esrogim from abroad and we were
able to get aravos from nearby Tashkent, but the lulavim and hadasim
were harder to acquire. That is why each year I left right after Rosh
HaShana so that I could return in time for Yom Kippur.
year I arrived in Tbilisi in Georgia where the usual policeman awaited me. He
knew me, and he brought me to the place where palm trees grew in an area
alongside the sea. Since I paid him handsomely, the policeman waited
respectfully and even made sure I had a ladder and a saw. I cut down ten lulavim,
which was enough for all the members of the congregation. Then I went on to
Kutaisi where I cut down hadasim, which grew plentifully in the courtyard
of the shul. That is what I did each year.
year, when I finished my job and wanted to return home to Samarkand before Yom
Kippur, I discovered that no tickets were available. I offered large amounts of
money, double and triple the usual price, but not a single ticket was available.
knew a Jew who had a pharmacy. I figured he might be able to help me out. I went
to his home and asked him to try and help me. "If there is no ticket to
Samarkand, then at least get me to Moscow where my brother is," I begged
him. I hoped that I would be able to spend Yom Kippur there with him.
man tried his best but he too failed. In the end he arranged accommodations for
me at a special motel near the airport (the motel was for those awaiting a
flight who needed to be near the airport), hoping that perhaps the next morning,
Erev Yom Kippur, I would be able to get on a flight to Samarkand or at least to
way this motel worked was that a guest could pay for a bed in a room designated
for two people. The second bed in the room was given to the next paying
customer, without permission being asked of the first occupant.
I entered the room I saw a young man asleep on his bed. I also got into bed and
fell asleep. The next morning I got up early and ran over to the airport to see
whether there were any flights. I saw that I had time until the flights would be
leaving, so I returned to the room. The other man had awoken and was sitting up
in bed. I wanted to take out my t’fillin and daven, but
his presence bothered me. I asked him whether he was leaving soon or would be
staying on in the room.
in no rush and I will be staying here," he said with a shrug. "Why, do
you need something?" he asked.
you’re disturbing me," I said honestly and bravely. "Tonight we have
a great holiday and now I want to pray."
pray," said he dryly, "I’m not bothering you."
had no choice and so I turned to the wall, put on my t’fillin and began
davening. Afterwards I turned around and saw that the young man had
gotten dressed in the meantime. He was wearing the uniform of an officer in the
Red Army. When I saw his medals and rank I realized I was in deep trouble. I
thought to myself, "Well, that’s that. I put myself in danger and now I’m
in for it."
didn’t know what to do for I had been caught red-handed putting on t’fillin.
I was still in shock and wondering what to say when he quietly said to me,
"What holiday do we have today?"
a moment there I didn’t realize what he had meant, and I said, "Tonight
is Yom Kippur." I looked up and saw him sitting on the bed. His head was
down and he was deep in thought. Then I heard him sigh and say to himself,
"Ah, Maishe Maishe, what’s with you? Even things like this you don’t
remember?" and he burst into tears.
he calmed down he turned to me and said, "What do you want now?"
want to return home before the holiday," I said.
do you want to go?"
Tashkent," I answered.
come with me," he said abruptly, and he got up and left the room.
went outside where I saw a military vehicle and driver. He told the driver to
take us to the airport. When we arrived there he inquired as to where the planes
to Tashkent were (which is near Samarkand). We went out to the runway and nobody
dared to stop him or say a word. His high rank aroused the respect of all the
employees there. When he found the plane to Tashkent he went over to the pilot
and said, "Where are you going?"
he’s going to Tashkent. Take him," he ordered.
pilot didn’t have much of a choice in the matter and he motioned towards the
door of the plane. I boarded the plane and managed to reach home before Yom
we parted the officer asked me, "If I want to find you in Tashkent, how
will I do that?" I told him to come to the shul and ask for Tzalik.
A few months later he actually came to Tashkent and looked me up.