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Zeidy

Wednesday, 26 February, 2014 - 11:36 am

 

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‘Small man in stature, large man in spirit’ was how Zeidy was described this week. 4ft something at this point in his life and of small build, but still managing to fight off three nurses as they try to adjust something for him.

But that’s not surprising as Zeidy has spent most of his life fighting.

Studying Torah as a child in Russia under the noses of the communists, Zeidy was sent to a Cheder that consisted of a few children and a teacher, moving from place to place so as not to be caught for their illegal activities. At some points they studied quietly in the shule attic under a scorching tin roof, not moving during services so the men below wouldn’t know they were there and word wouldn’t reach the KGB.

Eventually he was caught, and was sent to a Siberian gulag for seven years. The frigid temperatures, lack of basic provisions, starvation were all reasons not to survive. But Zeidy fought. He fought not to work on Shabbos and he fought to stay alive. When asked what kept him going each day digging for gold in -40F degree temperatures, he told us how the other prisoners would sing their folk songs but he sang the niggun Poltava, a haunting song of yearning and connectedness.

When he returned home to Kiev after his imprisonment, he found his whole family had been wiped out in Babi Yar, and he went right back to teaching Torah. He studied to become a shochet and mohel, both highly illegal trades, and provided the Jews of Moscow and surrounding areas with kosher meat and circumcisions. Always moving to another town when he got wind that the authorities were on to him.

Yuli Edelstein, an Israeli politician who currently serves as Speaker of the Knesset, describes a bris he once attended in Moscow in the early 1980’s. Family and friends were gathered in a basement with windows blackened by sheets, a few minutes before the bris began the KGB arrived banging on the door and dispersed a terrified crowd. Zeidy, the mohel, had seen the commotion as he was about to arrive and waited across the street. Minutes after the KGB left, Zeidy strode in, performed the bris and went home. Another Jewish child was brought into the covenant of Abraham our forefather because Zeidy knew that there was no alternative, and fear was simply not an obstacle.

In 1973 a relative asked the Rebbe if Zeidy could leave Russia to visit New York. The Rebbe asked, ‘then who will serve as shochet and mohel for the Jews in Moscow?’. Zeidy stayed. Until finally in 1993, when more shochets and mohels emerged in Russia, he joined his family in America.

From the early years of my joining Zeidy’s family, I was always moved by hisIMG_0001.jpg exclamations at family get-togethers. “All I prayed for in Siberia was a Jewish burial and not to be left to be eaten by the dogs; never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren”.

Last year I was in New York for a conference and decided to visit Zeidy for havdallah after Shabbos, I stood there holding the candle as he shuffled around his apartment gathering all he needed, annoyed when I offered to help. He adjusted his two pairs of glasses, the lamp and siddur beneath his nose to overcome his challenges and read the prayer. After havdallah he had more prayers to read, and I was utterly amazed by his unwavering determination to do what he needed to without giving in.

Zeidy had a health set back this week, but his doctors know he’s a fighter and now so do his nurses. Our love and prayers are with him and we hope with all our might that he comes home soon to continue his schedule of davening, learning Torah and showering his descendants with Torino chocolate bars.

L’chaim for Boruch Mordechai ben Fruma Sarah who has shown us that Yiddishkeit is not something to compromise, not under any circumstances.

~Nechama~

For a glimpse into his life under communism click here.

Article in Hamodia magazine.

Picture of the week: 
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Crunchy brownie baking - finger licking good! 

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