We were excited to learn that we would be assigned to Ulyanovsk, Russia, since we had spent the previous Passover and summer there, and had made many meaningful connections.

We arrived about a week before Passover, and immediately got to work. After koshering the kitchen of the Chabad House and the Jewish kindergarten, we prepared many kitchens around town for Passover. We sold matzah and wine, Passover’s essential ingredients, to people in the community. We organized a mock Seder, explaining to 30 children what to expect at the Seder. The night before Passover began, we had 25 teenagers join us in the Chabad House, and we searched for leaven together, ensuring that the premises was ready for Passover. In the week preceding Passover, we wrapped tefillin with more than 100 men. What we enjoyed most was the reunion we had with our former summer campers. After catching up, we took the opportunity to teach them about the upcoming holiday.

The morning of the Seder, after burning our remaining bread in a communal ceremony, we jumped into a marshutka–a minibus with the top speed of 27 mph—and headed towards nearby Dimitrovgrad.

We arrived at the apartment that had been arranged for us. We were promised that it would be large and luxurious. In reality, it was a stereotypical Soviet Union apartment building. The year before, our apartment was on the seventh floor, in a large building with an elevator—not very convenient accommodations, since riding an elevator is forbidden on the holiday. We had explained to the local community leader why it didn’t work. Now, she had placed us in a small building, in a fifth-floor apartment, without an elevator, and with an electronic magnetic door, which we would not be allowed to operate on the holiday. We walked into the apartment, and didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. It was completely bare, lacking even beds and windows! One of the locals told us, “Don’t worry, I’ll build you beds. And windows.” He was good as his word, but the beds broke as soon as we sat down. The kitchen was so tiny, only one person could stand in it at a time. We turned the bedroom into a multipurpose room, using it as a kitchen, dining room and sleeping area. We made some arrangements, and then left to the hall for the Seder.

Our Seder was a huge success! Forty-five adults and five children attended. The translator we had hired never showed up, so we had the opportunity to practice the Russian we had picked up over the years. As a substitute for speeches, we sang boisterous songs, in true Jewish style! The people were so happy, enjoying every moment. They told us that they want to have more Jewish events and parties, especially during the holidays.

After the Seder, a man approached us. “I am so inspired by tonight, I want to keep the rest of Pesach the way you do. Can I stay with you?” Of course, we agreed. He walked home with us, and we spent the next two days together. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning discussing the Haggadah and singing Jewish melodies.

The last morning of the holiday, we were awakened by loud knocking at our door. It was our landlord, who told us that our two-day rental was over and our marshutka was waiting to drive us back to Ulyanovsk. Luckily, our newfound friend was still staying with us. He explained to her that we couldn't drive on the holiday, and we could leave only at eight in the evening. After a lot of negotiating and animated gesturing, she left. Our friend told us that she had agreed to let us stay only until six, and was heading to tell the driver that we would be leaving then. Unperturbed, we went about our day—praying, eating, learning and walking around town in search of Jews.

We were finishing the festive meal in our apartment when we heard another knock on the door. Two elderly Russian women walked in, and wordlessly began moving our suitcases to the door. We realized that they had been sent by the landlord to clean and lock up the apartment. To lighten the atmosphere, we began singing some Russian Jewish songs that we knew. To our great shock, one of the women started singing along. She told us that she has no identifying documents, so she doesn’t know if she is Jewish, but she remembers these songs from her youth. We spoke to her and sang more songs for her, until the sky had darkened, marking the end of the holiday. We recited the Havdalah prayer, and then headed to the marshutka and our ride back to Ulyanovsk.