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Tuesday
Jan142014

EXODUS MIRACLE FROM BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

Stories and memories about the Chassid, R’ Herschel Lerner, recounted by his granddaughter and suffused with Chassidic flavor. * Sixth and final chapter

PROVIDING SHMURA MATZA WITH MESIRUS NEFESH

Throughout the period of time that my grandfather lived in Samarkand, he did much to help others along with developing Chassidic life in the city. He did this with tremendous mesirus nefesh.

One of the great things to his credit is the effort he put into providing shmura matza for every Jew who wanted it. He did this together with the famous Chassid, R’ Refael Chudaitov. He supplied the wheat, the flour, and sometimes the matzos too, at his own expense. There were people who he was mekarev to Judaism and he would tell them, “I got a bargain of a kilo of matza for fifty kopeks.” That was a ridiculous price which covered the cost of a trolley ride within the city. The real price per kilo was a very large sum.

The process used in preparing the shmura matza was not only hard and dangerous and required a lot of money, but also demanded a lot of time together with many helpers. The process was comprised of the following stages, each of which was dangerous: 1) obtaining replacement parts for the machines, 2) locating managers who were having trouble harvesting wheat due to poor technology, 3) finding the least dangerous place from the aspect of tattlers, 4) finding a place to store the wheat that was cut, 5) finding transportation that was safe from rain, tattlers and the GPU since the fields and warehouses were always far from the roads where one could find transportation, 6) finding a place for the bachurim who went with him to arrange the grinding and supervising the process. My grandfather had to provide them with food, drink and lodging. The bachurim who went with him were unwilling to compromise on anything, not on the time for davening and surely not on the kashrus of the food.

After having already brought the wheat to the city, they had to find a place to store it as well as a series of justifications and excuses for all those who had participated in the project and had been absent from work or from school, by means of all sorts of fictitious documents.

This is what went on every year until he left Samarkand. 

The replacement parts for the harvesting equipment were prepared secretly in a military factory. These parts were given to the one who grew the wheat. This was how those in charge of the farming industries pressured those overseeing the growing of the wheat to allow Anash to cut the wheat themselves. The pressure came as a result of the fact that they themselves were unable to obtain the necessary parts and without them, they could not operate the machinery needed to cut the wheat. This process took two weeks to a month.

The next stage was grinding the wheat. That required a great deal of strategizing since they had to kasher the flour mill that operated via water pressure. The depot was located outside the city. The manager was a distinguished local person by the name of Osman Acca. He greatly respected my grandfather and said that when my grandfather came to him, he saw success in his work. He did things for which it is hard to imagine that a manager could take such risks. He had to stop the mill for a few days so it could be koshered.

The Chassid, R’ Feivish Genkin was in charge of koshering the flour mill. Without any lift tools, they had to remove the upper stone and afterward, go over all surfaces of the upper stone and lower stone with a blowtorch. After reassembling it, Anash began the work of grinding the flour.

One of the locals was ordered by the manager of the mill to ensure that no stranger entered the area during those days and nights that Anash were busy grinding.

When the flour was ready, they transported it to the city and again, they had to make sure that nothing happened to it before it was baked.

The next stage was baking the matzos. This was difficult because the work was done within the city and the likelihood of being caught was much higher.

Throughout all those days, the Lubavitcher families were together: eating together, sleeping together, and being frightened together when danger was imminent. They also thought up solutions together. They only parted late at night. These were the Mishulovin, Zaltzman, Goldschmidt, Lerner and Schiff families.

My grandfather was the youngest of the group. His friends said that in his company it was always easier to deal with the various hardships.

HELPING RELEASED PRISONERS

Many Chassidim who sat in jail and were later released, returned home as broken men and without parnasa. Many of them were forbidden to return to their former place of residence and had to move to the unknown with their families.

My grandfather helped Chassidim like these. He always made sure that it was more comfortable for them in their new situation and he took care of the little details too. For example, when R’ Lazer Nannes was freed, he was only able to make Kiddush on spirit (96%) alcohol and my grandfather made sure to get some for him so he could make Kiddush.

So too, when the Chassid, R’ Chaim Dov (Berke) Chein was released. For a period of time he hid in the Zaltzman’s attic without being able to go outside. My grandfather worked to obtain papers for him so he would be able to go out. This took a lot of effort and was dangerous. Three times a day he went to Mrs. Vera Ivanovna who was in charge of permits. Each time, they promised him that the document would be ready in a few hours. He paid for this out of his own pocket.

This went on for nearly half a year until he finally got the document and the man with the underground nickname of Yefim Petrovich was finally able to see the light of day.

When R’ Mendel Futerfas came to town after he was released, his health was very poor. My grandfather brought top doctors and they all said he needed to eat large amounts of butter. But R’ Mendel was unwilling to eat butter from the store (which is what everyone ate in those days). My grandfather went every day to a barn that was about twenty kilometers away and brought large quantities of chalav Yisroel milk out of which they made butter. That was the only butter that R’ Mendel would eat.

My grandfather knew of many people who were unable to get to a top doctor. Among Anash there were also famous doctors such as Dr. Boris Chudaitov and Dr. Shifra Bergman. But they often had to use outside doctors like Professor Meller and Professor Weingrad. They liked my grandfather, especially his humility and simplicity, which is why many of them could not refuse him. He “dragged” those doctors to the homes of R’ Berel Stoller, R’ Feivish Henkin, R’ Avrohom Yosef Antin, and R’ Eliyahu Paritcher (who had been a chozer by the Rebbe Rashab).

TAKING CARE OF THE MIKVA

One of his great projects was building a beautiful mikva. Many of Anash who were in Samarkand remember it till today with pleasant memories. R’ Moshe Scheiner of Kfar Chabad said that “although it did not have the luxuries of today’s mikvaos, it was a good place to meet. The mikva was accessible to everyone.”

The mikva was built within a room where they bathed and the entrance was covered with a rug which disguised it. Outside the house was a pit for the rainwater and this too was covered. Occasionally, city officials came to ask about the pit in the yard and my grandfather explained that it was a reservoir, since often there was no water in the faucets. This was their back-up supply of water. The officials accepted this answer and the mikva continued to operate.

ARRANGING FARBRENGENS

Usually, the t’fillos and farbrengens on Shabbos and Yom Tov moved among the homes of Mishulovin, Zaltzman, Notik, Levin (the son of R’ Eliyahu Paritcher Levin), Lerner, Schiff, R’ Avrohom Zaltzman, the Goldschmidts and Gareliks.

Another group of Chassidim was in the Gishmal section where the Chudaitov, Nisselevitch, Boroshansky, and Kozliner families arranged a minyan. 

Despite this, my grandfather hosted more often because the mikva was in his yard. Farbrengens were often held in his house, especially the farbrengens of Simchas Torah, Shvii shel Pesach, 19 Kislev, 12-13 Tammuz. He would arrange the farbrengens and was helped by Meir, Herschel, and Mendele Okunov, the sons of R’ Dovid Rumener. My grandfather took extra care with the 19 Kislev farbrengen that it not be canceled even if the conditions were very difficult.

All of Anash who lived in Samarkand in those days attended these farbrengens: R’ Yerachmiel Chadash, R’ Eliyahu Levin Paritcher (who had an underground name, Ilyosha), R’ Dov Ber Itkin (whose underground name was Borka), R’ Sholom Vilenkin, R’ Feivish Genkin (whose underground name was Fedya), R’ Yosef Schiff, R’ Eliezer Mishulovin (whose underground name was Luzik), R’ Avrohom Zaltzman (who was nicknamed Avrasha), R’ Refael Chudaitov (whose underground name was Rafik).

All these activities were carefully planned by my grandfather despite it taking a lot of time and thought.

When his oldest son R’ Yaakov Lerner came of age, he did not give his consent to a shidduch until he received the Rebbe’s bracha. The connection with the Rebbe was maintained through secret means, through R’ Moshe Nisselevitch. It took two months until they got a phone call about the bracha for the shidduch.

AN OPEN MIRACLE

One year, my grandfather attended the 19 Kislev farbrengen. When he returned home, he said that a shadar had come from the Rebbe and said that whoever knocked on the gates, would have them open wide and all would be able to pass through. In other words, it was an auspicious time to submit requests to leave the Soviet Union.

Submitting papers in those days for my grandfather and his family was extremely difficult. This was because the authorities did not allow anyone with an important position or higher education to leave the country. My grandfather’s children worked at sensitive jobs with access to state secrets and his daughter-in-law, Dr. Sarah Lerner, was a doctor and a high officer. In those days, they did not even allow simple guards at a non-secret military base to leave the country; all the more so, people in these senior positions.

My grandfather, as a faithful believer in what the Rebbe said, and despite the facts on the ground, submitted requests for his entire family to leave. Miraculously, two weeks later the entire family received visas. This was even though not a single family member personally presented himself, which was the norm. Within two months, the entire family was in Moscow on their way out of the Soviet Union. It was an open miracle!

IN ERETZ YISROEL

My grandfather arrived in Eretz Yisroel in 5732. He built his home amongst the Chassidim in Nachalat Har Chabad in Kiryat Malachi. This neighborhood was built and situated according to the Rebbe’s instructions. Some tried to convince my grandfather to settle in Yerushalayim. Being centrally located he would be able to start a business, but my grandfather said, “If the Rebbe said that this is what we need to do, this is where the blessing is!”

He was beloved to all in Kiryat Malachi. He was known as someone who could be relied upon. He got children to attend R’ Mottel Kozliner’s school by convincing them that in this yeshiva they would get the best. Thus, Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Nachala grew.

As in Russia, he looked to do acts of chesed for those around him. He would buy products in the market and grocery store for those who found it hard to walk. The lonely neighbor was a welcome guest every Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Along with the gashmius, he also transmitted Judaism to those who were helped by him. He urged his older neighbors to learn more and more.

The first Tishrei after he left Russia, 5733/1972, he finally went to the Rebbe after many years of longing to do so. His daughter-in-law was about to give birth and my grandmother tried to tell him that maybe this wasn’t the best time to travel because his help would be needed. But he said that the greatest help he could offer would be to receive a bracha directly from the Rebbe that all would go well.

He always took an interest in his grandchildren’s studies. When he met with them, he would ask what Chumash they were learning, which parsha, etc. He made sure to wash their hands with them when they woke up, even from an afternoon nap. He also provided them with candies and did not consider it below his dignity to play fun games with them. There was always an atmosphere of simcha and humor around him.

BEIS CHABAD ARUGOT

For about ten years, every Shabbos and Yom Tov he would walk to Moshav Arugot which is six kilometers from Nachalat Har Chabad, in order to arrange a minyan. He walked there in all kinds of weather, summer and winter. When he got there, a minyan wasn’t waiting for him. He had to start collecting people from their homes, the barns, and the garden. And he did it with a smile, with a good word. Nobody could refuse him. The old-timers still remember how he got the fellow down off the tractor on Yom Kippur morning and included him in the davening.

On weekdays he put t’fillin on with people and put up kosher mezuzos on many homes. On Yomim Tovim he enlisted his sons to help as baalei kria, baal tokeia, baal t’filla, etc. Thanks, in part, to his work, today there is a shul and a minyan there every day.

***

He passed away on 30 Nissan, Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5751 at a ripe old age. In his final days he urged people to ask for and pray for Moshiach. In his final words he asked his children and family to continue in the way of Torah and mitzvos.

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