The funeral

By morning, our yard was already full of people of all backgrounds—men, women, young and old. My husband had lived there so briefly—less than four months—during part of which time he lay critically ill. Yet, he drew in people so closely that they became deeply devoted to him. To accomplish this, he clearly had to possess special qualities.

It is impossible to describe the exertion of those involved in the tahara purification and funeral preparations, under the prevailing difficult conditions. Naturally, it was the Jews closest to us, from Leningrad, Rostov, and Kharkov, who were most involved in this. By 11:00-12:00, everything was completed, and a large crowd of people set out on the funeral procession.

The cemetery was several kilometers away, all uphill and down dale. My husband’s coffin was carried all the way. Although a horse-drawn wagon followed the procession, none of those carrying the coffin were willing to place the coffin on it, but instead they changed off among themselves all the way to the cemetery.

I didn’t go the cemetery, and I restrained other women from going.1 I was later told that many people came from Alma-Ata to be present at the burial.

The shiva and the shloshim

Several dozen men returned to our home that evening for the Maariv prayer, which they held in the room where my husband had passed away. That room was also where I sat during the week of shiva.2

The plan was to hold all the prayer services there throughout the 30-day shloshim mourning period. But soon enough some strangers began to attend the prayers; no one knew who they were. One in particular, a shoemaker, who worked at a factory, aroused suspicions of being a possible informer.

Our housekeeper, a Jewish woman, suddenly turned “religious” and attended every prayer service. Whenever two people stood together, she was there, too, and she became very haimish with the shoemaker.

On top of this, Rabinovitch3 was interrogated [by the NKVD] and asked why the funeral had been held with such fanfare, and why he had been so active in organizing it all. He had to think up excuses that had no basis in fact. A good friend of his who worked in the NKVD warned him to be careful.

All this caused some to stop participating in the prayers at our home.

Throughout the week of shiva, people came continually to offer condolences. Some of those close to us even stayed in the apartment overnight; they wouldn’t let me stay alone during those first days after my husband’s passing.

The closeness shown to us by our good friends, the significant increase in our mail, and the funds4 cabled to us from various places including Tashkent and Samarkand5—although, unfortunately, it was too late to be of any help—all aroused the ubiquitous, all-seeing eye [of the authorities]. The fact that by then we had contact with people overseas further exacerbated the negative impression all this left [on the authorities].

Consequently, the minyan for prayers continued for no more than twenty days. We were told that the landlady didn’t want too many people to gather in the apartment—although she had, in fact, eagerly agreed. Those attending were therefore informed that prayers would no longer be held at our home.

Securing the grave-site

An immediate concern was to erect an iron fence around the six burial plots that had been purchased, and also, until a tombstone could be erected, to pour cement over the area, making a sort of structure to protect it from rain and mud.

But neither cement nor, particularly, iron were obtainable. Nevertheless, within a few weeks, following various machinations, the senior engineer of a government factory gave orders to release whatever quantities of both iron and cement as were needed.

Those close to us were intimately involved in the most minor detail to ensure that the fence be the best and finest possible. After it was put up, whoever came close up asked, “Who is this and what is this?”

Some time later, a Jew named Gitterman,6 a Torah scholar related to the Hornesteipler Rebbe,7 passed away. His fellow-congregants at the shul where he had prayed brought his body to the cemetery, and sought an honored place for him. Fearing they wouldn’t be granted permission to bury him close to my husband’s grave, they climbed over the locked fence to bury him within the fenced-off area. Several of them later recounted how they had bribed the cemetery caretaker to allow this to be done.

I mention this to show how the mindset of the elderly Jews there had changed to such an extent that, despite this area being private property,8 they resorted to such unorthodox methods in order to get him buried next to my husband.

Erecting the tombstone

At long last, the evacuees started to consider returning to their home towns or finding other permanent places of residence, and no longer have to live under temporary conditions like here.

Before leaving, however, my close friends were concerned about the need to erect a tombstone. Accomplishing anything like this, though, was often “as difficult as splitting the Red Sea,” as the saying goes.

Marble, of course, was unobtainable. Whoever needed a stone used to buy it from a certain gentile who stole the best tombstones from the gentile cemetery and reworked them, selling them at a high price. But I was unwilling to use any stone from a non-Jewish grave. The man also had stones taken from a church, but these, too, were unacceptable.

I didn’t want to leave town with the grave remaining unmarked, nor did my close friends—who were more adamant about it than I.

Then we learned that several large marble stones had recently been brought from Moscow to a government factory in town. It was decided that one of these stones should be dedicated for this purpose.

But how? The senior bookkeeper at the factory, a Jew from Leningrad, was informed for whom this stone was needed. He was reminded of his grandfather, whom he recalled from his youth as constantly studying Torah. When he heard about the sermons my husband gave in shul and his conversations in general, he realized these were the same subjects his grandfather studied. He therefore committed himself to erect one of these marble stones for this purpose wherever it may be needed.

A special permit was needed to allow it out of the factory, as well as a separate order for its destination. The official in charge of checking this received a fine bribe. His responsibility was lessened by the fact that a senior employee at the factory was implicated in the same crime.

The wife of the Jew from Leningrad, the senior official, borrowed an open truck belonging to the factory and one evening, in the twilight as it was getting dark, transported the stone to the destination she was given. Later she told me she had been so tense with fright while transporting the stone that she couldn’t compose herself for the rest of the night.

The inscription

Once the stone was obtained, discussions began about what to inscribe. The considerations were not about which titles to write for my husband but concern for any undesirable publicity.

I was shown all the suggested texts for the inscription. Eventually it was decided not to inscribe my husband’s family name but only his first names and father’s names, and also not to mention the city where he had served as Rav—but only “Here is interred the renowned Chasid, so-and-so, son of so-and-so” and the date of his passing.9 Our friends found a professional engraver, who did a good job of the inscription.

Our friends often visited the grave. Many people visited on the Fast of Gedalyah.10


This is how his life ended. His path through life was a difficult one. He was always at war, never compromising his convictions, never going “fifty-fifty.” It cost him dearly, but he never surrendered. At first this made him many opponents, but eventually they became his followers and loyal friends.

He has passed away. May his merit protect his sons, that they and their families enjoy long, good lives, spiritually and materially, and may they be successful in every way, in all their endeavors.