Two weeks before Passover and nowhere to live

As Passover approached, new problems arose. The house was full of chametz1 and, living at such close quarters with the owners, we couldn’t avoid having it nearby. Thinking that the Tatar owners, observant of their own religion, might sympathize with our predicament, we mentioned it to them. They, however, didn’t seem to understand what we were talking about, and were upset most of all by any extra bucket of water we used.2 In short order, they ordered us harshly to vacate the premises!

Oh, how distressing it was for us to have to wander around just two weeks before Passover, looking for a place to live, especially considering the problems common to all local houses. I have little desire to write about all this.

Briefly, not far from our residence lived a non-Jewish woman, whose home had an extra room with its own entrance, something quite uncommon there. It even had a wooden floor, which was especially rare. Very fond of money, she agreed to rent us this room for fifty rubles a month. Her children, though, were hooligans, and everyone warned us they would be impossible to live with. Having no other choice, however, we agreed to move in.

A week before Passover, we loaded all our baggage onto a cart and brought it to the new apartment. It was very difficult to watch my husband—together with a fellow deportee—hauling it all.

The landlady provided us with two cots, but they were so infested with roaches that it was impossible to clean them out, making it very difficult to sleep on them.

With a concerted effort, I tried to create a festive spirit, as befitting the approaching Yom Tov.

The Festival of Freedom—in exile

On my trip to Chi’ili, I had brought two new pails [for Passover use], which I had finally managed to buy after standing in line3 for an entire day. During the journey, however, they had disappeared, as could be expected. I sent telegrams to Moscow and Yekaterinoslav4 about the loss, but they could not be found. The railroad authority promised to compensate me for this with seven rubles, but to collect I would need to travel to the main office in Tashkent. As usual, this didn’t resolve the problem, and the pails were not found.

Without Passover utensils, my husband was unequivocal that he would not eat during the entire festival. I resolved to do something about it.

A four-hour journey from us lived a group of Jewish deportees from Kiev in close proximity to each other. Evidently, it was a relatively well-organized community. Among them were a Rabbi,5 a shochet,6 and a communal leader named Kalyakov,7 who had been among the wealthy Jews of Kiev. I traveled there in an effort to find a solution for my serious problem.

During the two days I spent there, I had a tin-plate pail made for me from new materials. Then I ordered meat and fish, requesting that they be delivered the day before Passover.

Best of all, after I arrived at the train-station, someone gave me more than a kilo of black bread. In retrospect, I don’t understand how we were able to eat that kind of bread. (I should add, however, that the black bread never harmed us. In fact, after falling ill with dysentery later that summer, I recovered by eating black bread.8)

I was filled with inestimable joy at these successes; especially by the new tin pail, which sparkled!

Meanwhile, life went on.

I even invited a guest for Passover. The dishes I had brought from home were still clean. We put together a makeshift table from some boards, over which I spread a white tablecloth. The Kazakh who delivered the chicken and fish on the day before Yom Tov couldn’t stop talking about the “wealth” he saw in our home! Parenthetically, in the course of his four-hour trip, the chicken and fish spoiled from the heat, and became too dangerous to eat.

Thus the three of us sat down to conduct the Passover Seder.

Outside our windows stood a group of young gentiles who mocked us, imitating what they referred to as our “wailing.” Inside, however, we loudly and wholeheartedly chanted [the words of Kiddush] “the Season of Our Freedom… You have given us Your holy Festivals, in joy and gladness, as a heritage.” These words felt so real, as well; considering that my husband had spent the previous Passover in prison, this year was certainly an improvement.

We continued our celebration until 2:00 a.m., when our guest returned home to sleep. He had a long walk through fields to get there.

I should mention our bedikas chametz9and biyur chametz10 before Yom Tov. Chi’ili never imagined such an intensive search, nor had I ever witnessed anything like it.

Our “furniture” consisted mostly of the various crates in which our possessions had been transported over the course of time. I had turned them into small closets. In the part of our room we called the “kitchen,” and on the table, I had set up a sort of buffet and other inventive domestic conveniences. For Passover, all this was thrown out into the “yard,” i.e. the other side of the room.

On the evening before Passover, while I was busy preparing everything for Passover, I noticed that my husband seemed deeply emotional during the entire process. The next morning, as the chametz burned, he wept so profusely that it was difficult to watch and to listen to. In the past I had not usually observed this being done. Now I managed to hear only a few words of his recitation, “Just as I am removing chametz from my house and from my possession, so shall You destroy all…”11 Beyond that I couldn’t make out an additional word, due to his copious weeping which muffled the rest of the words.

That’s how we prepared for the Yom Tov, and how we celebrated the first Seder. Our guest joined us again for the morning meal and the second Seder, as well as for all the meals throughout the eight day festival.

We did everything we could to introduce a festive spirit and to banish the weekday mood. In that milieu and under those circumstances, it was no easy task. But we managed at least partially. Of course, we spoke only about the past, for there was nothing particularly gratifying about the present. We did, however, hold out hope for a better future.