This story concerns the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who led the Chabad Movement from 1920 to 1950, passing away on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, 5710. His yahrzeit is commemorated this Shabbat.
I was born in Moscow, Russia, during the Soviet era, when to be a Torah observant Jew was a big challenge. Nevertheless, my parents – Mordechai Dov and Chaya Sarah Teleshevsky – persevered.
When the time was nearing for me to attend kindergarten, my father wouldn’t even entertain the notion that I should be enrolled in a non-Jewish school. Of course, there were no Jewish school of any kind; they had been outlawed. But attending a Communist government school meant violating Shabbat, and G-d forbid I should do such a thing. Yet, how many times, week after week, could I be absent on Shabbat pretending to be sick? How many times before the school authorities caught on, and my parents were penalized for practicing Judaism?
Not knowing what to do, my father wanted to contact the Rebbe, but all mail was censored, and any suspicion of dissent from government policies could land him in Siberia. So, instead, my father found someone who was fleeing the country and asked him to contact the Rebbe in Latvia. (During that time, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Rebbe was living in Riga after being released from Soviet prison for the crime of promoting Torah observance, and it was possible to reach him there.)
“I want you to give me your word,” my father told the man, “that if you see the Rebbe, you will tell him that I don’t want my children to go to a non-Jewish school. I want them to remain Jews.”
The man promised, and they shook hands on it. And, indeed, he did what my father asked because a short while later my father received a message from the Rebbe. How he managed to send it I don’t know, but the message said that my father was to go to the authorities and tell them that he wants to leave Russia. (more…)