Community divided into two camps

The Zionists and the other parties were resolute in their opposition to Schneerson’s candidacy, and two opposing camps formed in the community.

The Chasidic camp was led by Sergei Fallei.1 This reminds me of what Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said of a Jew he saw reciting his daily prayers while greasing the wheels of his wagon. “Even while greasing the wheels,” he commented, “he’s praying to G‑d!” Similarly, it sometimes happened that Fallei could be sitting on the boulevard on Shabbat afternoon, smoking a cigarette, while considering ways to get the Chasidic Rabbi appointed. He would say he viewed this not as an issue affecting only an individual, but it was in order to ensure that the philosophical outlook of Chasidism not be forgotten and, in general, to reinforce the traditional Jewish way of life.

In the past, Fallei had been quite distant from Jews with grey beards, and generally from those of the more religious type. But on this issue he united with them and became their leader.

They were primarily “shul Jews” who attended shul for prayer. They had never been organized at all, as was generally the situation throughout Russia at the time. Suddenly, they had to learn all the rules of elections, together with subtle parliamentary maneuvers, which previously were utterly unfamiliar to them. Fallei educated them in these matters—as he sat on the boulevard, as mentioned.

The other camp comprised members of parties, who ran their lives based on party ideals. They were led by the wealthiest man in the city, a great philanthropist. Many supported him out of fear that otherwise it could harm their livelihood. He sought to have the greatest power in the community. In some cases, he had given individuals jobs, later arranging to get them appointed as members of the Jewish community council.

Fallei, too, was very wealthy, although he was by no means a philanthropist, and it was most unlikely that anyone would support him merely for economic motives. But he was greatly respected, both for his fine character and for his distinguished status. He had the intelligence to serve as a leader, but his “army” was extremely weak. Meanwhile, the battle in the “Jewish street” became very intense.

At that time, Jewish youth still took part in the community’s religious life. I recall that my husband, of blessed memory, traveled to Yekatrinoslav during the month of Elul. The opposing camp realized how more and more members of the community were becoming interested in him, and this interest was becoming a force to be considered.

At first the opponents thought that since my husband was a young man, only 30 years of age, and was also a Chasid—belonging to a group they held in very low regard—only a few old Jews would support him and that would be all. But the attitude towards him improved by the day, and people of all backgrounds began to come over to him.

In order to prevent this movement in favor of my husband from becoming too influential, the opponents immediately called a meeting at the building of the “Upravver” (Jewish community council), as it was then called. The initiative for the meeting came from the more powerful camp noted above. Police were stationed at the door, admitting only a very limited number of people, mainly from the opposing camp. Accordingly, decisions were taken that were not entirely to Schneerson’s benefit.

On the morning following the meeting, young people walked around the streets dressed in the party uniforms of the era—black shirts with leather belts—showing their lack of any connection with Orthodox Jewish life. Their faces reflected their sense of triumph, giving them great cause for rejoicing.

Triumph in battling for traditional Judaism

Although at first the side supporting my husband was the smaller one, nevertheless, as always happened, he succeeded in prevailing. Indeed, it took time and energy, because he always battled for issues of importance from a religious viewpoint, whereas most of the community consisted of maskilim and non-religious Jews.

A certain member of the Yekatrinoslav community, a doctor, once reflected that “Schneerson is a most interesting person, but he is exactingly meticulous—he insists on fulfilling every single word stated in the Code of Jewish Law. When we read through the protocols of community meetings, three quarters of them consist of Schneerson’s proposals—which are of no concern to the rest of us at all. Yet he manages to get all these proposals incorporated into our community’s social life.”

The false witness

I don’t know whether it was because my husband sought it out, or whether that was his destiny, but there was always some reason or other to disturb his tranquility.

There was once a case with a shochet who had slaughtered with a defective knife.2 He was an elderly man who had a large family, who were prominent members of the community. Schneerson removed this overhasty shochet from his post for several months.

This happened right at the beginning of my husband’s tenure as Rav. There was a non-Chasidic Rav in the city, who had served for over 30 years. He had great authority in the community and insisted that, without his consent, nothing should be done in the city’s religious life. He greatly disliked Chasidim, and was usually very upset at any interference with his leadership.

Testimony was heard concerning the case. The older Rav brought a witness who said he was passing through the city, but stated that he knew the shochet very well. He claimed to have been present, by chance, when the shochet slaughtered on that day, and swore to that effect [contradicting my husband’s charge against him].

It’s most unpleasant for me to write the following but it’s a fact. I remember how upsetting it was to my husband whenever he related this episode.

The witness, who had a red beard, stood up, as required by Torah law,3 to give his testimony. As soon as the man started speaking, Leivik [my husband] immediately recognized, from his voice and manner of speech, that he was no traveler passing through the city but was, in fact, one of the official supervisors of the shochetim, who was close to the older Rav. Black-bearded, he had disguised himself by dying it red and by wearing dark glasses—which he never wore otherwise.

My husband immediately called out aloud, “It’s David the supervisor! What a liar you are! Why are you claiming to be a traveler passing through?”

Everyone present in the room smiled, realizing my husband’s words were correct, and that the entire testimony had been fabricated, with the agreement of the older Rav or even at his direction.

Although my husband had done everything in this case in full accordance with the Code of Jewish Law, it affected his health, causing him to lie sick in bed for two weeks.