Whenever people hear that my family left Russia in 1964, they tell me that it’s impossible. As those who are familiar with Soviet history know, Jews weren’t able to leave during that period. But when our relatives in the free world – my grandfather and others – asked the Rebbe to pray for our release, he assured them that we would come out of Russia without a problem. Somehow, my parents, Reb Asher and Fraida Menia, and myself were indeed allowed to leave that year, along with a number of other chasidim.
When we arrived in Israel, my father wrote to ask the Rebbe whether he should immediately travel to New York – he had never seen the Rebbe before – but was told to first reunite with his relatives in Israel, whom he hadn’t seen in years. He eventually came for Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays.
In those days, guests who spent the holidays in the Rebbe’s court were granted two private audiences, one on arrival, and another before leaving. When my father came to the Rebbe for the first time, he brought a present from Russia: a carton of Kazbek cigarettes.
“I don’t smoke,” the Rebbe told my father, “but since this is something a Jew from Russia has given me, I will accept it.” He then took the carton and put it in the drawer of his desk.
The Rebbe also told my father something that, at the time, he couldn’t comprehend: The three families that had just left Russia had opened up the “pipelines,” and soon all the Jews of Russia would be able to leave. Standing there and listening, my father could not understand how this was even remotely possible, but he believed the Rebbe.
Just a couple years later, there was an earthquake in the city of Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, where we had lived. The houses in the city were built with mud-brick, not concrete, and almost all of them were destroyed. As a result, the Russian government decided that the Jews of Tashkent all had permission to leave. And only a few years after that, the ban on immigration to Israel was lifted entirely. (more…)