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Schneerson, Guests have Come to Visit Us!

Schneerson, Guests have Come to Visit Us!

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Moscow, 2011: The chuppa – marriage ceremony – in Sokolniki Park.
Moscow, 2011: The chuppa – marriage ceremony – in Sokolniki Park.

Early on the morning of June 15, 1927, members of the Russian secret police and the Jewish Communist Party (Yevsektzia) arrived at the Leningrad apartment of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, to arrest him for the counterrevolutionary crime of spreading Judaism.

Shortly after the agents arrived at his home, his future son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, approached the house. Before he entered, Chaya Mushka—daughter of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s future wife—ducked into a side room and, unaccompanied by the authorities for a moment, opened the window and called out: “Schneerson, guests have come to visit us!” Rabbi Menachem Mendel, understanding that the long-feared arrest was finally playing out, hurriedly turned around and rushed to the home of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s secretary, who—knowing that his own arrest couldn’t be too far behind—immediately proceeded to burn the incoming mail and other evidence of their “crimes.”


Several nights ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the wedding, in Moscow, of two young people—Blumi, daughter of Rabbi Berel and Chani Lazar, and Aizik, son of Rabbi Yehoshua Binyomin and Rivka Rosenfeld of Bogota, Colombia.

The poetry was especially poignant.

If one knows anything about the history of Jews and Judaism in the USSR, he knows that the entire notion of this wedding was surreal—actually, unthinkable. Over 2,000 people from around the world—I noted participants from South Africa, Over 2,000 people from around the world had flown into Moscow to celebrate a Jewish wedding, aided by the Russian authorities. South America, and every country in the former Soviet Union—had flown into Moscow to celebrate a Jewish wedding, aided by the Russian authorities. Food and drink were plentiful (especially drink—it is Russia . . . ), and the words of Torah were flowing. As the master of ceremonies explained every step of the Jewish wedding ceremony to those as yet religiously uninitiated—many of them young people newly interested in learning about their Judaism—the crowd observed and participated with excitement.

You don’t need to add an exclamation point to a scene like that, and each person can find his or her own “wow.” But here’s my personal exclamation point: The wedding took place on the fifteenth of Sivan—84 years to the day after Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s arrest in Leningrad.


Blumi Lazar is escorted to her wedding by her mother Chani, left, and her mother-in-law, Rivka Rosenfeld.
Blumi Lazar is escorted to her wedding by her mother Chani, left, and her mother-in-law, Rivka Rosenfeld.

In the winter of 1927, several months before his arrest, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak took a train from Leningrad to Moscow to conduct some of his underground activity, receiving reports from several of his traveling clandestine shluchim about their work. In a riveting entry in his diary, he relates how he was shadowed to the train station by the Leningrad Yevsektzia and, after arriving in Moscow, was spirited from the hotel by a friendly attendant who recognized the impending danger. Eventually he made it to a prescheduled meeting with an elderly gentleman at the Stara Varvarskaya Hotel.

As they met, members of the Moscow Yevsektzia finally caught up with him, burst into his room, pulled out their revolvers, and demanded that the rebbe and the other individual show their identification.

The individual with whom the rebbe was meeting was himself a member of both the Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars) and OGPU, the state secret police of the time. He pulled rank on the young bullies, demanding to see their search warrant. The tables were turned dramatically, and they now needed to provide some answers of their own.

In his diary, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak continues: “Affected by the event and the divine providence that G‑d had shown, I walk to Kremlin Square . . . Although the hour is late, my emotions are intense and my head is hurting. I think the good air and the light of the moon will calm me. I decide to take a walk. I chanced upon a good taxi, and I went to Sokolniki Park. At 1:30 AM, I arrived back at my room in the Stara Varvarskaya Hotel.”

As it turns out, the beautiful forested area in the middle of Moscow where the wedding had taken place was . . . Sokolniki Park. And yes, the air was still fresh, and the full moon was radiant.


Under the Chuppa: Aizik Rosenfeld, flanked by his father Rabbi Yehoshua Binyomin, left, and his father-in-law, Rabbi Berel Lazar.
Under the Chuppa: Aizik Rosenfeld, flanked by his father Rabbi Yehoshua Binyomin, left, and his father-in-law, Rabbi Berel Lazar.

On a personal level, as I observed Rabbi Berel and Chani as they married off their daughter, I thought of the difficult circumstances under which they went out on shlichus some 21 years ago. With literally nothing in hand, they rented an apartment where the only furnishings, for many long months, were two mattresses and a crib for their baby.

The other night, I noticed that their struggle now was a bit different. Berel strove—mostly successfully—to welcome each guest with a smile and a moment of individual attention. The Who’s Who of Russian Jewry, hundreds of shluchim from across the former Soviet Union who had flown in with their own supporters and friends, and untold other friends who had arrived from around the world, were each vying for a brief moment to speak with him and convey their wishes. The Speaker of the Russian Parliament obviously knows him well; in his remarks, he wished the bride and groom that they have as many children as the Lazars—a large and beautiful family, thank G‑d. The mattresses and baby crib have been replaced by a presentable apartment with many beds.

As I traveled home, I realized not so much has changed in 80 years . . . On the fifteenth of Sivan, in Sokolniki Park in Moscow, the Lazars, shluchim across Russia, and Russian Jewry welcomed Jews who had arrived from across the world—proclaiming, “Schneerson, guests have come to visit us!”

Elkanah Shmotkin is the Director of Jewish Educational Media, and is co-author of the upcoming book, The Rebbe's Early Years.
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Shea Werner Cedarhurst, NY June 23, 2011

well written Very well written Reply

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