Emotional suffering

My husband now started to experience great emotional suffering. Although he was surrounded by many people who related to him with the greatest degree of respect and loving devotion imaginable, he longer had the strength, despite all his efforts, to utilize this properly, and he felt self-conscious because of his physical weakness.

His present situation was most difficult, while his future didn’t hold much hope, either. This was the main tragedy: his hopeless condition in the face of his spiritual inspiration that impelled him to accept his suffering with love of G‑d; his feeling that somehow he deserved it all.

It was very different from when we lived in Chi’ili. His presence there had spread by word of mouth, and a large number of Jews would visit him. They included women and girls living on kolkhoz communal colonies some five to eight kilometers away from us. Despite the great heat, they would make their way by foot to seek my husband’s advice, consolation and encouragement.

Hearts broken by their troubles and sufferings, many had been expelled from Bessarabia and Romania, or had fled from other places. When the Soviets entered those lands, they expelled entire families of the so-called “bourgeois.” In the middle of the enforced journey from their homelands, the Red Army had arrested the menfolk of the more prominent and wealthy families, separating them from their wives and children, whom they allowed to continue traveling.

Many of these women came to our region, and immediately heard about my husband. At first they would come to visit him in pairs, but later they came in groups. The positive effect he had on their spirits is indescribable. They arrived with such broken hearts, but left so encouraged.

Despite the strict censorship, we also would receive postcards on which pidyonot1 or halachic questions, etc., were written.

There is much to write about that period, but it is difficult for me to do so . . .

But all those visitors in Chi’ili were only casual acquaintances, temporary residents just passing through. Moreover, my husband still held out some hope for his own future, which strengthened his fortitude.

When we came to Alma-Ata, on the other hand, my husband became the leader of a community with whom he could set the tone of his interaction. The community, in turn, took care of his needs and eagerly supplied him with everything he required, in the finest possible manner.

Just at that point, however, his illness deteriorated drastically. This crushed him physically, and as much as he tried to rally himself, it took an emotional toll on his spirit. I was the only one who understood this. Others noticed that something was amiss, but were unaware of the cause.

My husband didn’t want anyone to notice he was losing his ability to function properly. I did everything for him on my own. It wasn’t possible to hire a nurse. When necessary, I had to ask one of our visitors to help out, but my husband was most unhappy about that. Indeed, taking care of him would have been a most difficult task even for a stranger, but was particularly so for someone so close.

Writing Torah insights until the last possible moment

Before Shavuot, we moved into a nice, two-room apartment with access to a porch and private garden. It was surrounded by many trees, with plenty of fresh air. The lease was paid in advance for a year and a half.

One of the rooms was nicely furnished, relative to local conditions. There was a writing desk for my husband, and a place for his Torah books, of which he had already accumulated quite a few.

Indeed, he spent most of his time writing, which continued until two weeks before his passing. By then, however, his handwriting had become somewhat unclear. I checked to see whether he had written a last will and testament. But although I didn’t understand the depth of his writings, the terminology appeared similar in style to what he had written in the past.

Before penning his insights, he would smoke a cigarette (although they were very difficult to obtain, he was supplied by our friends with an unlimited supply of the choicest cigarettes). He would then become deep in thought, after which he immediately started to write.

Later I left all his writings with friends in Moscow. I hope they weren’t subsequently burned.2

Neighbors and friends

As noted, walking had become very difficult for my husband. Instead, people visited us.

Our neighbors in the house were a Jewish couple from Leningrad, who considered themselves very “intellectual.” The husband boasted to me that although he was already 52 years old, he knew no Hebrew. At first he said that Jews of his “new neighbor’s” ilk meant nothing to him. After several conversations with my husband, however, as they both sat on the porch in the evenings, he started hurrying home from work as soon as possible in order to have discussions with him, which he found very interesting.

My husband conversed with him on general issues, and was still capable of engaging in very animated discussions. Sometimes, however, he started to feel suddenly ill, and immediately would ask me to help him inside, because he didn’t want to, or couldn’t, continue talking with the neighbors in that condition.

The warmth and devotion towards us of our good friends, taking care of everything on our behalf, made it much easier for us to bear our problems. These friends included both old acquaintances and some with whom we had only recently made an acquaintance. As a result of their friendship, my husband felt absolutely no loneliness during those last months.

On Shabbat, after they finished working, many of them would visit us—young and old, men and women. Each of them showed such true devotion, which was palpable at the time and which I still fondly remember now.

They supplied us with all the very best and most expensive items and products, such as could not be obtained by anyone even in Moscow except by those most privileged. At first their intention was to help cure my husband’s illness. Later, as the prognosis for a cure became more unlikely, they continued supplying these items just to make him feel better.

The professor paid my husband a second visit, and directed that he spend more time outdoors in the fresh air. That meant obtaining another bed to set up on the porch, which was no simple matter. There was a great shortage of beds at that time, and even families of six or seven who were quite well off had no more than two or three beds.

Nevertheless, within a few hours on the day the professor gave his orders, four beds appeared in our yard! I have no idea where they had been procured, because there was nowhere to buy them. It was some sight to behold when the beds were carried to our home. There were no carts to carry them, so groups of people took turns dragging the heavy load on their shoulders.

We experimented switching around the different beds to see which one my husband would find most comfortable.

Later, when I left Alma-Ata, I was able to help several families that included sick people by leaving them the beds. Previously, they had no choice but to sleep on the damp ground.