I was born on Yom Kippur in 1938, in the city of Kazan, Tatarstan, Soviet Russia, where I was educated in Torah by underground Chabad teachers. At a time when the practice of Judaism was against the law, a Chabad chasid used to come to our home to teach us the basics, despite the danger of imprisonment.
In this oppressive environment, my parents tried their best to be Torah observant. Even after the war when we moved to Moscow, where Jewish life was even harder, they took great pains to keep kosher and, against all odds, they succeeded.
I attended public school and I tried to avoid desecrating Shabbos as much as I could. Generally, this was not completely possible, though I managed to play hooky on the Jewish High Holidays. After that, in 1955, I went to university – the Moscow Conservatory of Music – to become a pianist, and I was arrested twice while trying to attend the great Moscow Choral Synagogue. I was questioned and held in jail a few days each time, but I suffered no further fallout from those incidents.
From that time on, I – along with the rest of my family – was actively trying to leave Russia. Finally, in 1970, a Chabad emissary went to the Rebbe in New York to ask for the Rebbe’s blessing that we get out. And less than a year later – at a time when this was near impossible! – we received the green light to go. As soon as we arrived in America, of course we came to see the Rebbe to express our gratitude.
That was the first time I participated in a farbrengen and saw thousands of Jews gathered together – something which was forbidden in Russia. It was amazing to hear the Rebbe speak and to see everyone so happy, singing with such joy. For me, it was an unbelievable experience. (more…)