Current Issue

 Click here to subscribe.

Share

Search
BeisMoshiach.org
Web
Tags
"Misnagdim” #1000 #1001 #1002 #1003 #1004 #1005 #1006 #1007 #1008 #1009 #1010 #1011 #1012 #1013 #1014 #1015 #1016 #1017 #1018 #1019 #1020 #1021 #1022 #1023 #1024 #1025 #1026 #1027 #1028 #1029 #1030 #1031 #1032 #1033 #1034 #1035 #1036 #1037 #1038 #1039 #1040 #1041 #1042 #1043 #1044 #1045 #1046 #1047 #1048 #1049 #1050 #1051 #1052 #1053 #1054 #1055 #1056 #1057 #1058 #1059 #1060 #1061 #1062 #1063 #1064 #1065 #1066 #1067 #1068 #1069 #1070 #1071 #1072 #1073 #1074 #1075 #1076 #1077 #1078 #1079 #1080 #1081 #1082 #1083 #1084 #1085 #1086 #1088 #1089 #1090 #1091 #1092 #1093 #1094 #1095 #1096 #1097 #1098 #1099 #1100 #1101 #1102 #1103 #1104 #1106 #1107 #1108 #1109 #1110 #1111 #1112 #1113 #1114 #1115 #1116 #1117 #1118 #1119 #1120 #1121 #1122 #1123 #1124 #1125 #1126 #1127 #1128 #1129 #1130 #1131 #1132 #1133 #1134 #1135 #1136 #1137 #1138 #1139 #1140 #1141 #1142 #1143 #1144 #1145 #1146 #1147 #1148 #1149 #1150 #1151 #1152 #1153 #1154 #1155 #1156 #1157 #1158 #1159 #1160 #1161 #1162 #1163 #1164 #1165 #1166 #1167 #1168 #1169 #1170 #1171 #1172 #1173 #1174 #1175 #1176 #1177 #1178 #1179 #1180 #1181 #1182 #1183 #318 #319 #350 #383 #390 #550 #560 #594 #629 #642 #776 #777 #778 #779 #780 #781 #782 #783 #784 #785 #786 #787 #820 #823 #824 #825 #826 #827 #828 #829 #830 #831 #832 #833 #834 #835 #836 #837 #838 #839 #840 #841 #842 #843 #844 #845 #846 #847 #848 #849 #850 #851 #852 #853 #854 #855 #856 #857 #858 #859 #860 #861 #862 #863 #864 #865 #866 #867 #868 #869 #870 #871 #872 #873 #874 #875 #876 #876 #877 #878 #879 #880 #881 #882 #883 #884 #885 #886 #887 #888 #889 #890 #891 #892 #893 #894 #895 #896 #897 #898 #899 #900 #901 #902 #903 #904 #905 #906 #907 #908 #909 #910 #911 #912 #913 #914 #915 #916 #917 #918 #919 #920 #921 #922 #923 #924 #925 #926 #927 #928 #929 #930 #931 #932 #933 #934 #935 #936 #937 #938 #939 #940 #941 #942 #943 #944 #945 #946 #947 #948 #949 #950 #951 #952 #953 #954 #955 #956 #957 #958 #959 #960 #961 #962 #963 #964 #965 #966 #967 #968 #969 #970 #971 #972 #973 #974 #975 #976 #977 #978 #979 #980 #981 #982 #983 #984 #985 #986 #987 #988 #989 #990 #991 #992 #993 #994 #995 #996 #997 #998 #999 1 Kislev 10 Kislev 10 Shvat 10 Shvat 10 Teives 11 11 Nissan 112 Tammuz 12 Tammuz 13 Iyar 13 Tishrei 14 Kislev 15 Elul 15 Menachem-Av 15 Shvat 17 Tammuz 18 Elul 19 Kislev 2 Iyar 20 Av 20 Mar-Cheshvan 20 Menachem-Av 22 Shvat 24 Teives 25 Adar 27 Adar 28 Nissan 28 Teives 29 Elul 3 3 Tammuz 33 Tammuz 352 5 Teives 6 Tishrei 7 Adar 770 864 865 881 9 Adar 9 Av 9 Kislev 903 Acharei Acharei-K'doshim Achdus Adar Ahavas Yisroel Alef-Beis All Jews Shall Rise Alter Rebbe Amalek Argentina Arizal army Artwork Aseres HaDibros Australia Avoda Zara B’Chukosai B’Shalach Baal Shem Tov baal t'shuva Baba Sali Balak BaMidbar bar mitzva Basi L'Gani B'Chukosai be Bein HaMeitzarim Beis HaMikdash Beis Nissan Beth Rivkah B'Haalos'cha B'Har B'Har-B'Chukosai Birthday Bitachon Blindness Bo B'rachos Brazil brit milah Brussels B'Shalach Canada chai v'kayam Chanuka Chassidic Rabbis Chayei Sara Chernobil chesed Chevron children chinuch Chitas Choshen Chukas Churban controversy convert Dan Diary of the late R’ Saadya Maatuf Dollars dreams D''varim Editorial Editor's Corner Eikev Elections Elul Emor Europe Family Purity fire France free choice Gaza Gentiles Georgia Gulf War Gush Katif Haazinu Hakhel Halvayas Hameis Hashavas Aveida HaYom Yom Hebron hiskashrus Holy Temple Honesty Honoring Parents Hospitality IDF Igrot Kodesh India Intermarriage Internet Iran Iron Curtain Israel Japan Jewish Refugee Crisis Kabbala K'doshim Kfar Chabad Ki Savo Ki Seitzei Ki Sisa KIDDUSH LEVANA Kiryat Gat Kislev kKi Sisa Kohen Gadol Korach korbanos KOS SHEL BRACHA Krias Shma K'vutza Lag B'Omer lashon ha'ra Lech Lecha letter Litvishe maamer Machatzis HaShekel mahn Mar-Cheshvan marriage Massei Matot Mattos Mattos-Massei Menachem Av Menora Metzora Mexico Mezuzah Miami MiKeitz MIkvah Mishkan Mishpatim Mitteler Rebbe Mitzva Tank Mitzvah Tanks Mivtza Kashrus MIvtza Neshek Mivtza T’fillin Mivtza Tefilin Morocco Moshe Rabbeinu Moshiach & Geula Moshiach Seuda music Names Napoleon Naso Nazi Holocaust niggunim Nissan Nitzavim Nitzavim-VaYeilech Noach Noachide North Africa olive oil painting Parshas Parah parshas re'eh Parshas Zachor Pesach Pesach Sheini Pinchas Pirkei Avos P'kudei Poland prayer Prison prophecy Purim R’ Avrohom Schneersohn Rabbanus Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Rabbi Shlomo Galperin Rambam Ramban Rashbi Rashi Rebbe Rebbe Maharash Rebbe Rashab Rebbe Rayatz Rebbe Rayatz & Joint Rebbetzin Chana Rebbetzin Chaya Muska Rebbetzin Rivka Red Heifer Reform movement R'ei Rishon L'Tzion Rosh Chodesh Rosh HaShana Russia S’firas HaOmer Samarkand seifer Torah s'firas ha'omer Shabbos Shabbos Bereishis Shabbos Chazo Shabbos Chazon Shabbos Hagadol Shabbos Nachamu shalom bayis Shavuos Shekalim shiduchim Shlach shleimus ha'Aretz shliach shlichus Shmini Shmita Shmos Shoftim shtus Shvat simcha Simchas Torah South Africa Sukkos summer summer camp tahalucha Talmud Torah Tanya Tazria-Metzora te Tefila Tehilim Teives Terror teshuva Tetzaveh t'fillin the soul tisha b'av Tishrei Toldos Tomchei T'mimim Truma t'shuva tTruma Tzanz Tzav Tzedaka Tzemach Tzedek Tzfas tzimtzum Tzitzis Tzniyus Ukraine undefined Upsherinish VaEira VaEs'chanan VaYakhel VaYakhel-P’kudei VaYechi VaYeilech VaYeira VaYeishev VaYeitzei VaYigash VaYikra VaYishlach Vocational Schools Winter women Yechidus Yerushalayim Yeshiva Yisro Yom Kippur Yom Tov Zionism Zohar Zos HaBracha. B'Reishis סיביר
Visitor Feed
Thursday
Aug252016

UNDERCOVER MISSION IN SOVIET RUSSIA

On Rosh HaShana, the Rebbe called for the Chassidim who left Russia that year to come up to the bima and be near him during the blowing of the shofar. Chassidim sensed that at this time, the Rebbe was thinking about the Jews of Russia who were in distress, and was working, spiritually, on their behalf. * 51 years have passed since the Rebbe sent Rabbi Binyamin Katz on a secret mission to the Soviet Union. * He was only 25, but with ingenuity, cleverness and stealth, he was able to outwit the KGB agents who dogged his steps. * In a fascinating conversation with Beis Moshiach, RBinyamin reveals never before disclosed details of his breathtaking mission.

By RYaron Tzvi

The Great Synagogue, MoscowThe conversation with RBinyamin was fascinating. He refers to details as though they happened yesterday. He has an excellent memory and maybe this is one of the reasons he was chosen by the Rebbe for this secret mission. He told us from the outset that since nearly all details of his mission have been publicized and documented, he wants to reveal never before disclosed aspects related to the events that transpired on his mission, along with key people who helped him, some of them known, and some of them we are hearing about for the first time.

WHY ISN’T L’CHAIM BEING SAID FOR THE JEWS OF RUSSIA?

The story of R’ Binyamin’s shlichus begins in 5724/1964. R’ Binyamin, who was learning in Tomchei T’mimim in Montreal, had no idea what lay in store for him. Back then, R’ Chaim Meir Chaikin was the rosh yeshiva and he had a good relationship with Binyamin. He even chose him to be in charge of the Otzar HaS’farim.

Now and then, the bachurim would travel to Beis Chayeinu to attend the Rebbe’s farbrengen. That year, R’ Binyamin was present at the farbrengen on Shavuos when the shlichus began. During the farbrengen, the Rebbe spoke very sadly, “People are sitting here and nobody picks up his cup and says l’chaim for the Jews behind the Iron Curtain…”

The Rebbe spoke about the Jews of Russia who were living under the rule of Khrushchev and asked the Chassidim to say l’chaim for those remaining in Russia.

R’ Binyamin: “I sat behind the Chassid, R’ Itze Chorgin, and heard how he said l’chaim to the Rebbe for the Jews of Russia. After what the Rebbe said, I saw him go over to the Rebbe and say, ‘Rebbe! I said l’chaim for the Jews in Russia …’ The Rebbe responded, ‘Indeed, you said l’chaim, but it was done quietly. You need to shout in a loud voice so that it reaches straight to the heavenly throne. I wanted a loud l’chaim that would rent all the heavens and split the skies.’ After a farbrengen like that, it was clear to us that something needed to be done. The Rebbe spoke about the need to help the Jews of Russia and we could not ignore the fact that we had to do something, but what?”

YOU ARE THE MAN THE REBBE IS LOOKING FOR

Following the Rebbe’s horaa, every year, on Isru Chag Shavuos, there is a Kinus Torah, when participants listen to pilpulim and chiddushim in Nigleh and Chassidus.

Rabbi David Hollander, member of the Agudas HaRabbanim of the United States, had just returned from Scandinavia. He used the kinus that took place in 770 to urge the audience to help Jews behind the Iron Curtain. He told about the appointment of Rabbi Ezriel Chaikin (who was previously a shliach in Morocco) to a new shlichus, as rav of the community in Denmark, in an area where Jews had suffered German oppression. Some of them had been saved and had been transferred to neutral Sweden. R’ Chaikin had dealt with many difficulties in his place of shlichus until he was finally accepted by the Jewish community in Denmark.

In conclusion, Rabbi Hollander said that a shliach was needed to go to Denmark to help R’ Chaikin.

There were three candidates, among whom R’ Binyamin Katz stood out. The Rebbe encouraged him in a yechidus which he had before his 25th birthday.

R’ Binyamin: “A few minutes before I entered the Rebbe’s room, R’ Bentzion Shafran came over to me and said, ‘I think you are the person the Rebbe is looking for! You are not married, you have an outstanding memory, you can get by on minimal food, and you can learn alone, without a chavrusa. Now that you are first going in for yechidus with the Rebbe about the possibility of going to Scandinavia—that is near Russia,’ and he spread out a map of Europe and pointed at some places, ‘Copenhagen is close to Leningrad, five hours by train from Finland and you are in Leningrad. Binyamin, this is a golden opportunity to help the Jews of Russia.’

“‘Fine,’ I said, ‘I will bring it up with the Rebbe,’ and I entered the Rebbe’s room with awe.

“I don’t intend on describing everything that occurred from the moment I crossed the threshold, because I cannot … In any case, after the Rebbe said that he approved the suggestion about my going to Denmark, I dared to say, ‘My friend Bentzion Shafran told me that Finland [Denmark] is close to Russia and that it would be possible for me to go to Russia and tell Jews that someone is thinking of them, that there is someone who says, and it is not simply talk, that soon they will leave Russia. I will also try to retrieve some of the Rebbe’s father’s s’farim.”

“‘You will do this all yourself?’ asked the Rebbe with a smile.

“‘No, Hashem will help,’ I said. ‘And I am ready to accept the Rebbe’s instructions and advice.’

“There was silence and then the Rebbe said, ‘You are going to Scandinavia and you need to think solely about Scandinavia. Write me a report about your activities in Scandinavia and as far as Russia, nobody knows that everything is changing there now. When you finish in Scandinavia, we will speak about Russia. In any case, you are in America now, so I will ask you to go to R’ Chadakov after this yechidus to tell him about your shlichus and he will provide you with everything you need.’

“From this I understood that my focus now was Scandinavia and that the time wasn’t right for Russia, but that could change during my stay in Scandinavia.”

LEADING A COMMUNITY OF 800 PEOPLE

“I had various concerns about the shlichus in Denmark. The one who strengthened my resolve was Rabbi Nissan Mangel who told me not to allow anyone to deter me from this shlichus. He gave me the courage to go. Before I left, my friend, R’ Avrohom Osdoba (now a member of the Badatz of Crown Heights) advised me to take along s’farim so I could learn. He advised me to learn the Gemara by heart. He told me that the king of Scandinavia has a big library and he advised me to go there and meet his friend, someone named Edelman, who would give me s’farim. This turned out to be a big help in my shlichus.”

R’ Binyamin left for Copenhagen where he stayed for four months. With the guidance of R’ Chaikin, he endeared himself to the local Jews which made it easier for him to carry out his shlichus.

“R’ Chaikin provided me with local currency and appropriate clothing. He taught me the names of the local food and what to eat. He explained to me about key people in the community and how to interact with them, and mainly what to watch out for. I eventually learned the language.”

As Tishrei approached, R’ Chaikin asked R’ Binyamin to stay until after yom tov, because there were two communities that did not yet have a chazan, someone to read from the Torah and blow the shofar on Rosh HaShana.

“I was frightened by this challenge, of leading 800 people on yom tov. Like every Chassid, I wanted to be with the Rebbe for yom tov, so I refused. We argued about it and I finally remembered what the Rebbe said, that I need to listen to whatever R’ Chaikin tells me since he has experience. So I decided to stay and rise to the challenge of leading such a large congregation on yom tov. R’ Chaikin also showed me that he had my passport, which meant I didn’t really have a choice, because I couldn’t leave Denmark without my passport.

“Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s mother, passed away on 6 Tishrei and I heard the news in Copenhagen. I sent the Rebbe a telegram of consolation and also asked, ‘When I finish my shlichus, should I return to New York? Go to Eretz Yisroel to visit my father who lives in B’nei Brak? Or has the time come to go to Russia?’ I soon received an answer that I should prepare to go to Russia and that I should go there in disguise!

“After discussing it with R’ Chaikin, it was decided that I would go to Russia in the guise of an American tourist, as he put it, “there has to be some truth in every lie.”

“Before leaving for Russia, Mrs. Chaikin taught me ninety important words in Russian so I would be able to make do when necessary.”

PREPARATIONS FOR A DANGEROUS MISSION

The one who helped R’ Katz prepare for his trip to Russia was someone he met after yom tov who guided him in how to conduct himself there. “If not for what he told me, it is possible that I would not have gotten out of there alive!”

This was Dr. Wilhelm Brickman, an academician who was fluent in the Russian language and culture and who knew how to exercise the proper care in Russia of those days. “I met him in Copenhagen and he asked me what I was doing there. I explained that I was on shlichus for the Rebbe. When I told him that I might go to Russia too, he gave me a lot of information about how to behave without showing signs of fear. He explained about the flight and the hotel and places I needed to visit. He told me that on the flight, Russian security people would intimidate the passengers. They would take passports and read the names of people in order to scare them, but I should display no signs of fear.

“He also told me that at the hotel there were women whose job it was to clean the rooms of tourists and be receptionists, but their real job was to spy on guests. They looked in the trash cans, examined the contents of suitcases, and even checked the bed sheets in the morning. If they were wrinkled, that indicated that the person was nervous and did not sleep well, which would be a red flag for them. Because of this, I would sleep at night without a sheet, and in the morning I would put it back on so it would be smooth.

“He also advised me to drink only tea, and eat only bread, fruits and vegetables in the hotel, nothing else. He told me not to talk to anyone, even with Chabad Chassidim; only with hints.”

R’ Binyamin took s’farim from the king of Scandinavia’s library (“I took Sh”ut Yerushas HaPleita, Talmud Bavli, and Tanya”) and throughout his shlichus in Denmark he learned material by heart, “which gave me a lot of strength and bitachon when I visited dangerous places in Russia.”

When I questioned R’ Binyamin Katz about this, he said “In one instance, there were policemen who did not like my having these s’farim. They wanted to take the s’farim from me, so I told them I wanted their badge number since I was going to complain about them for taking something that belonged to the king of Scandinavia. That scared them off.

“In general, whenever I went through the hotel lobby, a group of armed soldiers stood there, examining every move of the tourists for anything suspicious. One would naturally be nervous when walking past them. When I passed them, I would review pages of Gemara that I learned by heart, literally picturing the pages, and so I did not display any signs of fear. I don’t know whether this was the behavior they expected to see, but they never stopped me.”

THE AMERICAN TOURIST

R’ Binyamin’s pretending to be an American tourist included putting on weight so as not to appear like a skinny yeshiva bachur. It also involved taking a camera everywhere.

While in Moscow, he spent most of the day at the central shul. He hoped to meet as many Jews as possible, bolster their spirits, and collect information for the Rebbe. It was not a small matter, since the shul had state appointed gabbaim who spied on everyone entering the shul, including R’ Binyamin.

“Despite the communist oppression, the Rebbe’s long reach was apparent. Over the years, emissaries of the Rebbe brought t’fillin, siddurim, esrogim and menorahs.

“The Jews in the shul suspected I might be a KGB plant. Of course, I could not openly tell them that I was on the Rebbe’s shlichus, because it wasn’t clear who was ‘ours’ and who was a KGB plant reporting to the authorities. Sadly, there were Jews like that, so the suspicions were mutual. Nevertheless, there were Jews who checked me out and when they felt secure, they contacted me with hints, wanting to know about me. For example, R’ Yaakov Elishevitz, the head shochet at the shul in Moscow, would meet me every day. Then one day, he took out his sh’chita knife in front of everyone and said he wanted me to teach him how they slaughter animals and chickens in America. Then he took me to a private, side room that was designated for sh’chita where he revealed the real reason he had done that, knowing that I did not know sh’chita. ‘I want to leave Russia,’ he whispered. ‘I want you to tell me how to get a visa to America. Tell me everything you know.’

“I traveled around Russia despite the dangers lurking everywhere, for the purpose of collecting information and reporting to the Rebbe what was happening with Anash in particular, and the general state of the Jews and Judaism throughout Russia. I could not write down anything, because if my notes would be confiscated, the future of those Jews would be bitter, and maybe for me too, because then it would be obvious that I was not an innocent tourist. I had to memorize all the information.

“At the shul in Moscow they would surreptitiously put notes with names into my siddur. I would study the names and then flush the papers down the toilet. I memorized the names of about a hundred heads of families. Many people came to me so I would mention their name to the Rebbe for a bracha. Many asked me for help with a visa to get out. I would memorize all the requests, the names and dates of birth. When I had a chance, I did not only take messages from them but also conveyed the message that someone was thinking about them and was working for them to get out and move to Eretz Yisroel. Their faces lit up at hearing that.

“In Russia of those days, espionage, or even the suspicion of espionage, was a crime punishable by death, but the Rebbe wanted information about the Jews of Russia and I had to obtain it. I saw how divine providence directed me and how things that I needed to know to be able to convey to the Rebbe, came to me, but I was really frightened the entire time.

“There was a tremendous interest in the Rebbe and a desire to know what was happening and what was said in 770.

“One day, the Chassid, R’ Nosson Kanelsky, a local Lubavitcher, came over to me. While making believe he was davening, he managed to whisper to me that that night there would be an official, government celebration at the shul. And since every Lubavitcher wanted to connect to the Rebbe, and they knew that the Rebbe taught new niggunim in recent years, and since they would not have an opportunity to sit with me and learn the niggunim, I should come that night and say that I was a chazan from the US and sing all kinds of songs, familiar and unfamiliar, and I should include niggunim from the Rebbe. All Anash, he told me, would come that night to the official celebration. In order to indicate which niggunim were from the Rebbe, I should preface the Rebbe’s niggunim with: This is a song from malchus beis Dovid, and Anash would get the hint.

“That is what I did. I sang all sorts of songs and included three niggunim from the Rebbe, ‘Eimasai K’asi Mar,’ ‘Hoshia es Amecha’ the way the Rebbe changed it, to ‘v’racheim al nachalosecha,’ and ‘Tzama Lecha Nafshi.’

“After the celebration was over, R’ Nosson Kanelsky stopped near me and whispered, ‘Many of Anash are outside and want to see you. Before R’ Mendel left here, he farbrenged and made many baalei t’shuva, including many that you see here. We want more farbrengens, at least a farbrengen with our eyes, i.e., that you, the Rebbe’s shliach, will look at each one of us and we will suffice with that. And another thing, Moshe Sarah’s, that is Moshe Katzenelenbogen, left prison today. Tell the Rebbe.’

“I went outside and saw many of Anash standing there and waiting for me. It was some official government holiday so they could allow themselves to be out and about.

“A policeman came over and my heart began to pound wildly. R’ Yaakov Elishevitz noticed and whispered to me, ‘You should know that if you run away, we are all lost and you will be first. Whatever you do, don’t run. We have to start talking nonsense and laughing like chickens and you laugh like the biggest chicken of all.’ And that’s what we did. They started talking Russian among themselves (and since they spoke quickly, I did not understand a word) and they laughed a lot and I joined in. Then the policeman turned aside and suddenly, everyone scattered.

“When I was in Rostov, I held a farbrengen in an inner room of the shul with a few Chassidim who took in every word I said in describing Beis Chayeinu, about the last maamarim that the Rebbe said, etc.

“When I was in Tashkent, I met a few Chassidim, including R’ Zalman Leib Estulin. They asked me to sing the niggunim the Rebbe taught on Simchas Torah. I sang, ‘Eimasai K’asi Mar’ and ‘Hoshia es Amecha.’ The chazan, R’ Levi Pressman, was there and he quickly caught on to the niggunim and he taught them to the others.”

SENSITIVE MATERIAL THAT SAVED FAMILIES

“I will never forget what I experienced there. I have no doubt that if not for the support of friends who came to my aid at the beginning, R’ Mangel and R’ Osdoba, and if not for all the help that Hashem sent me, I would not have been successful. I knew that the Rebbe was with me and despite my fear, it would be okay.”

R’ Binyamin’s shlichus led to many blessed results. Not only did he convey much information to the Rebbe about Chassidim, and encourage the Chassidim in Russia and give them hope, he also helped convey the names of Chassidim in Russia to the right people who sent them visas to Eretz Yisroel. Many people were able to make aliya, thanks to him.

At the end of our conversation, I asked him to look back and tell us about his shlichus from the perspective of today. He thought and then said, “It was an interesting adventure for a young bachur like me, interesting and frightening. But when the Rebbe says something, when he gives a horaa, we need to do it immediately. I am very happy that I agreed to go there. It’s the kind of shlichus that if I were given a million dollars, I don’t know whether I would do it again, but once I did it, I would not sell the merit of that shlichus for the Rebbe for any amount of money.”

TERRIFYING ENCOUNTER

R’ Binyamin Katz relates:

My visit to Moscow, despite the many challenges, went by reasonably well until one day when something happened. It was when I was sitting on a bench in the big shul to rest a bit. Suddenly, a tough looking guy appeared and with an evil look in his eyes he motioned for me to go over to him.

With a rapidly beating heart I got up and began following him. We passed darkened corridors until we reached a locked door. The man opened the door and motioned for me to enter the room.

The room was dark and empty and only a weak light came through a narrow window. I stood facing him. He came closer and looked at me and I could smell the vodka on him. I did not know what to think.

After a few moments which seemed like an eternity, he shouted, “Do you know who I am?”

“I saw you a few times,” I stated, without fear, “but I don’t know who you are.”

“I am Efraim Kaploun, president of the shul! Shalom aleichem,” he said with a vicious smile as he raised his clenched fist near me.

When he saw that I wasn’t frightened, he banged forcefully on the table and said, “I will yet show you what this is! Let it be clear, you are leaving this shul right now!”

“Why?” I asked.

“There is no reason for you to be here,” he said.

“But I’m just a tourist,” I said.

“A tourist? A tourist? Don’t try telling me that. I know precisely who you are.”

He tried intimidating me and throwing me off balance. I knew that I had to prove myself.

“Who am I?” I asked in as calm a tone I could muster, knowing that Kaploun did not know the truth.

“It makes no difference. A person like you does not have the right to be in my shul. You come early every day and leave late at night.”

“Mr. Kaploun,” I said, trying my luck by being polite, “that is because of the magnificence of the shul. I love beautiful shuls and I have never seen such a nice shul as yours.”

I finished my little speech as Kaploun pushed me forcefully against the wall, like I was a doll.

“If I catch you here tomorrow I will break your head,” he threatened.

I unhesitatingly replied, “If someone tries to break my head, I will break his head first.”

I knew that nothing bad would happen to me in Moscow, like any American who was protected by the government. I knew how things were done and that I had to be tough.

That encounter ended well. I continued to frequent the shul for hours every day and he continued his efforts to intimidate me and even threatened to report me to the communist government.

MEETING THE BROTHER OF…

R’ Binyamin Katz relates:

I knew that throughout my visit, KGB spies, as well as informers at the shul, were constantly following me. I made it my business to broadcast that I was a tourist who meant no harm, who took more of an interest in food than in gasoline and weapons.

I spent many hours a day in the big shul in Moscow where I knew I could be in touch with numerous Jews. The authorities guessed that it wasn’t happenstance that I chose to sit every day in shul for hours rather than go touring. They tried dogging my footsteps and figuring out what my real purpose was. At the same time, no doubt they reassured themselves by saying, what can he do there already, under a tallis?

I’d like to mention the help of the baal koreh who was a great source of encouragement and help to me. He explained how to deal with certain people, including KGB spies in the shul, and who it was worth forging bonds of trust with for the purposes of my shlichus.

I did not have only the KGB agents to contend with. The people who davened in the shul were afraid to stand next to me, thinking I could be a KGB spy. It was only after a long time that everyone began to feel they could trust me. When I entered the shul every morning, the government appointed gabbaim would swoop down on me, take my tallis and t’fillin, and lead me to my place which was far away from anyone else. They noticed every move I made and in general, all the Jews who davened in the shul, most of whom were in their sixties and seventies, followed every move I made.

Throughout the day, people wrote their names on small pieces of paper and surreptitiously put them in my siddur. After I studied the names and memorized them, I discarded the papers to prevent informers from getting any information. Over a period of three weeks, I memorized over a hundred family names.

One image, that of the secretary of the big shul, R’ Mordechai Chanzin, was particularly memorable. His first name may not convey anything to you but his last name told me a lot. I got to know his brother R’ Dovid a”h in New York and wanted to talk to Mordechai, but was afraid to go against the rule instilled in me back in New York, not to interact with any government people. Since he was the official secretary of the shul, I knew I could not talk to him.

Then, Erev Shavuos, I was sitting on my bench alone when he suddenly came and sat down beside me. He opened a Gemara and began learning what it says there about Dovid HaMelech, “The spirit of the Angel of Death hovered over Dovid’s bed and Dovid, who knew this, learned nonstop in order to get rid of that terrible spirit that wanted to annihilate him.” Mordechai Chanzin stopped learning and looked at me. Then he continued learning, “Then, that Erev Shavuos, when Dovid HaMelech stopped learning, he returned his soul to his Creator.”

Having learned this story in the Gemara a few times, I nodded while trying to figure out what this man was about. He suddenly turned to me and said emotionally, “You know, my brother who lives in Eretz Yisroel is also named Dovid.” He did not wait for me to respond but immediately said, “Tell my brother that I urgently need a visa.”

That’s when I realized that he was one of us. I went on to have a conversation with him through hints. I briefly told him about his brother and he listened open-mouthed. After this conversation the psychological barrier between us was broken.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.