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The Scientist Goes to the Soviet Union

The Scientist Goes to the Soviet Union

A trip to Russia to answer three professors’ questions

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The situation in Soviet Russia was horrible on all levels: economically, socially and spiritually. The Soviet government of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982 seemed destined to continue the destructive patterns set by the previous Communist governments. The Cold War, according to analysts, would continue for a long time.

It was during that time that I received a call from Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Aizik Hodakov, chief aide of the Rebbe, of righteous memory. “Is it possible,” he asked, in the name of the Rebbe, “for you to arrange an invitation for yourself as a visiting lecturer to the Soviet Union?”

And why did the Rebbe want me to travel to Russia? The response astonished me. "There are three professors, two in Moscow and one in Leningrad [what would today be called S. Petersburg], who are studying in the Chabad-Lubavitch underground Jewish educational system.”

“Is it possible,” he asked, in the name of the Rebbe, “for you to arrange an invitation to the Soviet Union?” The secretary told me that these professors were having difficulty taking their Judaism to the next step “since they seem to have found contradictions between Torah and science.”

For this reason, he told me, “the Rebbe wants you to travel to Russia to speak to them.”

It was not easy organizing this trip. First I had to prove to the Soviets that I wanted to travel there as a scientist. The Rebbe, who paid for the entire trip, insisted that my wife should also travel with me, so I needed to explain why she would need to join me for lectures. Finally we received the visas, and we headed to Russia via London. In London we would receive guidance for our next step from representatives of Chabad-Lubavitch.

We met with Rabbi Shmuel Lew of Chabad-Lubavitch in London. He gave us a crash course in what we are allowed and not allowed to do in Russia. He told us whom we could trust and whom we should not trust. He filled up our luggage with everything a Jew in Russia would need. For example, he filled up my wife’s blush case with ink that a scribe could use to write mezuzahs. He gave us kosher food. We took many Jewish books.

And all this—why? Because there is a rabbi in Brooklyn who cares about three professors, whom he found out—who knows how—cannot move forward in their journey in Jewish life.

Adapted from a talk, in Hebrew, at Chabad of Beer Sheva, Israel.

A former Fulbright scholar and a pioneer in exobiology, Professor Velvl Greene spent years working for NASA searching for life on Mars. He continued to lecture right up until his passing in 2011. Read more about Professor Greene’s life, scientific research, and relationship to the Lubavitcher Rebbe here.
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