“There I was, sitting in a Soviet prison without even the remotest possibility of lighting the Chanukah candles,” related Reb Berke Chein, a venerable chassid who spent years in prison after a failed attempt to duck under the Iron Curtain.

One of the many unsung heroes of the Chabad effort to stand up to the Soviet monster, Reb Berke was legendary for his sincere devotion to fulfilling every mitzvah in the best possible manner.

And this is what he told about his personal Chanukah miracle deep in the Soviet penal system:

“We prisoners were regularly interrogated, and if even the slightest item was found on our person when we were pulled into the interrogation room, we could be charged with treason and sentenced to death.

“As Chanukah approached, I was increasingly worried about how I would procure matches, wicks, and oil to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the menorah. How would I obtain these precious commodities in a sealed-off prison cell? And even if I did get them, how would I hide them from the guards?

“To my good fortune, I was on friendly terms with the other inmates in my cell. A few days before Chanukah, one of them approached me and asked why I was so down. I explained my predicament, and after sharing my problem with the other guys, one of the long-time inmates asked, ‘Tell me, exactly what you need?’

“ ‘Oil, a little cotton for wicks, something to hold the oil, and most importantly, matches.’

“ ‘No problem,’ answered this burly, hardened, non-Jewish Russian inmate. As Chanukah came, he presented me with his findings: An onion chopped in half would serve as the menorah. A slab of butter saved from my daily rations would replace the oil. A few threads from his threadbare prison uniform would form the wicks.

“I was impressed with his resourcefulness, and of course, deeply grateful. But what about the matches? That was the hardest part, and being caught with matches would certainly spell the end for the guilty party.

“He took another few threads from someone’s uniform and started rubbing them very quickly on the stone floor with the sole of a shoe. Again and again, he mercilessly rubbed those tiny strands between the hard surface and the leather. And sure enough, they started to glow and smoke. Before long, my wicks were lit, and there was my menorah burning against the Soviet darkness.

“That,” concluded Reb Berke, “was my personal Chanukah miracle.”