(The 14th of Kislev, 5709 [12/16/1948])

Wedding Celebration in Dnepropetrovsk

I have taken a break and not written for a while. Today is the 14th of Kislev, the [20th] wedding anniversary of our son, [Rabbi] Menachem Mendel and his wife Moussia, long may they live.

This occasion, too, reminds me of the greatness of my husband, of blessed memory.

It was 1928. Anti-religious propaganda was extremely intense, although several synagogues and a Jewish religious community still existed [in Dnepropetrovsk]. By that time, [even independent] left-wing parties no longer existed.

The authorities had already confiscated half of our apartment, leaving us only three rooms. The larger portion of the apartment, of course, was given to the new neighbors.

Although the groom and bride were not with us,1 we wanted to celebrate on that day.2 To rent a hall was no longer possible at that time. Our neighbor, an engineer, couldn’t bear the Orthodox Jewish practices in our home. For example, a considerable number of Jews still came to listen to the Chasidic discourses [my husband delivered on Shabbat], and many attended his Yom Tov farbrengens [Chasidic gatherings]. So our neighbor isolated himself from us, keeping his apartment totally separate from ours.

Somehow, however, our neighbor heard in town that we wanted to hold a celebration to mark the wedding. For our benefit, he broke through a wall between the apartments, opening his apartment to ours. He removed all his furniture and moved out as well, giving us the use of his apartment for as long as we would need. Our original large room had been allotted to our neighbor, so now we had an extensive area [to use for the celebration].

We sent out invitations3 and the celebration gave everyone in town the opportunity to their respect towards my husband. The spiritual aura [of the event] was so intense that it seemed to assume the character not of a personal celebration but of a religious demonstration.

Guests came from neighboring towns, family members, of course, and we received several hundred telegrams.4 The evening event at home was attended by representatives of the central Jewish community of our region. Every synagogue,5 even if it had relatively few members, sent representatives, many of them accompanied by their wives.

Keep in mind that this took place at a time when any contact with clergymen was forbidden, and such a crime could cost one their job. Nevertheless, no one held back, and a large number of prominent doctors and attorneys, who held important positions in the local ispolokom headquarters and the municipality, came and celebrated with us all night.6

Telegrams in Hebrew

That day, the telegraph agency functioned almost exclusively for delivery of the congratulatory telegrams that poured in. For two days, special permission was given to receive telegrams in Hebrew7 [in transliteration]—a language already strictly banned. We, of course, also wrote and received letters in Hebrew.8 An order was issued that any telegrams connected with the Schneerson wedding should not be censored. This was at a time when any rabbi was apprehensive about walking freely through the street because he was viewed so negatively.

The dance of the Rabbis

The celebration by all the guests is indescribable.

Besides our unhappiness at being absent from our eldest son’s wedding, the atmosphere gave us the sense that we wouldn’t be seeing him any time soon. Our longing for him was indescribable,9 and our anguish was felt by the community and by us personally.

My husband danced with his father-in-law10 and his brother11 (all three have since passed on).

According to our calculations, not even thirty people were likely to attend our celebration. But it inspired our region’s Jewish communities to the extent that three hundred guests actually came to celebrate.

The dance of the Rabbis continued for a long while. Everyone present remained standing and couldn’t hold back their tears at this bitter-sweet rejoicing.

As day broke, everyone left to their daytime jobs. My husband’s inspiration had transported them to a different world. No one wanted to consider what price they might pay for showing us such friendship and participating in the celebration.

As they were about to leave, Dr. Baruch Motzkin and a lawyer who was a grandson of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan [Spektor],12 as they were about to leave, told me that in their entire lives they had never experienced such a remarkable night, nor will they ever forget this unique celebration and my husband’s powerful spiritual energy.

The more religious guests, both young and old, particularly those who were Chasidim, were each inspired in accordance with their spiritual awareness.

I can say that this was indicative of the level of authority and respect my husband enjoyed from all of Russian Jewry. He was approached concerning all Jewish religious issues. This continued for another ten years, with ever greater success—relative to the extent of Jewish communal life at the time – until his arrest in 1939.13

The president of the local ispolkom later referred to this celebration in a conversation with a doctor acquaintance of ours. He spoke in such a malicious tone that we started getting concerned:

“Look, the wedding took place abroad, and the groom and bride are so far away from here, yet this personage has had such an influence! He possesses such a power that whenever he requests anything, we can’t refuse him, and it’s always concerning religious issues. Perhaps we give in to him too much? Surely this was a private celebration, yet it was held on such a large scale – at a time when we don’t permit even three Jews to gather for religious purposes!”

These last words frightened the doctor, and unsettled us as well.

(The 3rd of Shevat [5709 – 2/02/1949])

My husband should really have been the one to record all his experiences. That would have been much more meaningful, illuminating all significant moments to make them memorable. But he never wanted to spend even a minute on such “minor” matters, as he called them. Almost until his last moment, he wrote extensively, whenever he had what to write with and on what to write—i.e. paper, pen and ink. It was apparent how he was always deep in thought and contemplating how to expound on the subject. He had no one with whom to discuss these concepts, so he conveyed it all in writing.

Whether his writings, which I left in various places, are still extant, is uncertain.14

In any case, I will try to continue recording as much as possible.

Our second Passover in exile

This is how we celebrated our second Passover. Our previous year’s guest15 wasn’t with us because in the interim he had been joined by his family.

Meanwhile, a Jewish landowner deported from Romania had arrived. In his hometown, he had been among the wealthiest category of bourgeoisie. When the Soviet authorities annexed [Bessarabia],16 he was forcibly separated from his family and deported to Central Asia. He had wandered about and suffered so much that it was difficult to see on him that he hadn’t always been a wandering Jew. He was a G‑d-fearing man and a Torah-scholar, and was very concerned about kashrut. He was our guest for that Passover and in general for every Shabbat and Yom Tov.

I originally met our guest in the following circumstances: One night, when a store was about to close, I requested very cautiously—in a manner that others shouldn’t notice—that a kilo of bread be left for me. But I was too timid in voicing my request. This deportee, however, who had once conducted large business enterprises with great energy, employed some of his past skills to humbly request some bread. They gave him, and along with him—gave me as well.

Like our first Passover, I made the Passover arrangements again, using shmura matzoh I had brought with me. Finding fuel to make a fire for cooking was no small problem.

As best as possible, I set up the room for Yom Tov. We had everything we needed for holding the Seder. Even real maror (bitter herbs)—besides the continuous bitterness of our lives there—my husband had managed to obtain from a religious Kazakh to whom he had explained why it was needed.

I draped the windows well to ensure that what was happening in our room should not be visible from outside. The Haggadah was recited aloud and even discussed in depth, as the Romanian Jew was a Torah scholar. Outside the windows, gentile boys stood and mocked, with gales of laughter, as usual.17 But this, after all, was a “leil shemurim,”18 so we paid no attention to it.

The prayers took place at home; there was no minyan. We had just one siddur.

But we had no need to wait in line for bread and no need to interact with anyone living around us. Yet, my husband still had to register regularly at the NKVD office and, as usual, this created problems for him when he had to sign-in on Yom Tov. It certainly didn’t increase his Yom-Tov joy.

After spending one Passover in prison,19 he had now completed the second of the Passovers he spent in exile.