March 31, 2015
Beis Moshiach in #968, Pesach, Pesach, Stories

remember that seder until this very day even though over sixty years have passed since then!

It was 5711/1951 and I was a young boy around bar mitzva age. My older brother Berel and I were in Tashkent. Our mother had died a young woman due to the events of World War II.

At that time, my father, R’ Shmuel Pruss, was not with us as he had fled the KGB who were searching for him. Also, as a released prisoner, he was not allowed to live in big cities, including Tashkent. He had to hide in Samarkand and now and then we would get regards from him.

At the beginning of the winter, we two young boys set our minds to the matter of obtaining wine that we needed to prepare for Pesach. We did not know how to make wine. Obviously, we couldn’t go to the nearest store and buy wine with a good hechsher the way you do today.

One of Anash in Tashkent told us what to do; buy grapes and sugar along with a large bottle like a jerry can. Then put the grapes into the bottle, first checking that there were no bugs on the grapes but being careful not to wash the grapes with water, and after a certain amount of grapes to put a layer of sugar and then a layer of grapes and another layer of sugar. Then close the bottle well and allow the fermentation process to take place.

We did as he said. We went to the local market and bought a lot of Shiraz black grapes. We measured out grapes and sugar and then closed the bottle and left it in a protected, cool place.

A few hours before Pesach our father came from Tashkent to be with us. We knew he was supposed to come but did not know when. We had managed to obtain matza that Anash, who were still in Tashkent, had baked.

We set up the seder table in the courtyard for it was very warm in Tashkent at that time of year. Of course there were no fans or air conditioners and so we decided to sit outside for some relief.

I remember the atmosphere, a sort of freedom within all the harsh years in Stalinist Russia. After a festive Maariv we all sat around the table. My father sat at the head and my brother and I sat on a bench on the other side. My father’s new wife sat opposite. My father made Kiddush using the holiday tune and then we all recited it too and everyone drank the first cup while leaning.

My father used a regular glass cup while we used small clay cups that those in Uzbekistan use for hot drinks.

My father suddenly said to us, “I must put my head down on the table for a few minutes. Continue with the seder and I’ll catch up to you.” He thought that because of the trip he had made that day he was exhausted.

Not much time elapsed before my older brother Berel said his head was feeling heavy and he too wanted to put his head down on the table for a few minutes and we should continue. As he said this, I felt my head begin to get really heavy and I felt dizzy. I put my head down too, “for a few minutes.”

Dawn was beginning to break as we all woke up from a very deep sleep. We looked around us in astonishment, right and left, up and down, and did not understand what had happened to us. Minutes went by before we realized that the wine we had made was particularly strong so that an ordinary person couldn’t take it. We didn’t know what to do next. The leil shimurim had passed without our having done the mitzvos of the night.

My father recovered first. He rushed us, and washed his hands and quickly ate a k’zayis of matza and maror before day had fully arrived.

The next night we were well prepared and we diluted the wine with plenty of water so we could drink the wine and fulfill the mitzvos of the night properly.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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