I now had the opportunity to meet more of my old friends and many new ones, too.

I also seemed to have lost my special 770 semicha (rabbinic ordination). Instead of everyone referring to me as Rabbi Jaffe, as in the past, people now simply call me “Reb Zalmon,” or just “Zalmon!” Everybody seemed to know me as they shook my hand, saying: “Sholom Aleichem, Zalmon.” I wish I knew all their names. A friend once asked me if I knew his son who was studying at 770. I asked what he looked like. He replied, dark suit, open neck shirt, black trilby hat, glasses and a small beard. “Sure I know him,” I replied, “I know them all!” But please do not ask me their names. Only the Rebbe knows everyone’s name.

A new friend I met was Rabbi Berel Zaltsman. He recently left Russia. There were quite a large number of Russian chassidim here for their first time ever. (They, too, all required – and deserved – to have yechidus with the Rebbe.)

Rabbi Zaltsman fascinated me with some stories of what life was like for him behind the Iron Curtain. He told me how he was in charge of a small factory with about twenty employees. They arranged to put aside from the profits to pay for the education of over 1,000 children who had to be taught the rudiments of Judaism. One major problem was a dearth of siddurim (prayer books). Fortunately, there were sensible tourists who, when visiting synagogues there, surreptitiously left behind their siddurim. Rabbi Zaltsman would sometimes need to purchase these from the gabbai (warden) of his shul, but at least he got them.

Of course, the children could not be taught openly in regular classrooms, so they were divided out a few to a house. This required additional teachers who, in turn, had to sacrifice some of their time; and lost time meant less money to be earned. This was all very worrying. Rabbi Zaltsman related how, many years ago, he told Reb Mendel Futerfas that he did not know where the next kopeck would come from! Reb Mendel asked him if he had a watch. When the reply was in the affirmative, Reb Mendel retorted, “Then you do not have to worry – yet!” On the other hand, it was even more worrisome for the wives and children, because if the fathers were ever discovered they could be jailed and even banished to Siberia, or worse.

I also met a young man, Bentzion Kravitz, originally from Dallas, Texas. He introduced himself to me, his whole face beaming, and told me how happy and proud he was to be a baal teshuva and how lovely it was to be frum (religious). We are very proud of him, too! He and nine other boys from Texas are studying at the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Morristown, New Jersey, in a program tailored for students with a secular background. (There are over fifty students at that yeshiva.)

Anyone who knows the wilds of Texas, especially regarding basic Judaism, will appreciate the wonderful achievements of Rabbi Shimon Lazarov, whom the Rebbe recently sent to that state. These ten boys were attending university in Austin, Texas but had known very little about their heritage and practiced even less.

It is no wonder that intermarriage and assimilation have reached such catastrophic proportions.

Rabbi Lazarov prevailed upon these ten students to travel to Morristown to study in yeshiva.