After Shavuos I found a suitable home, and two weeks later my revered mother, my wife, my daughters and my grandson arrived, and brought with them all of our household belongings. The manuscripts of Chassidus were already with me. I had been afraid to leave them behind, because the Yevsektsia had boasted that they would seize them. Before leaving Rostov I therefore packed them in crates and dispatched them as baggage, in order to save them (thank G‑d!) from their hands.

When my family arrived we began to settle in somewhat, but our material situation was extremely difficult. In the course of summer the daily expenses became a little more manageable; as for the debts, not only was I was unable to settle them, but they increased from day to day. It was our friends from America who came to our aid, and by early 5685 (תרפ"ה; late 1924) my situation was not bad, and I began to pay a little of what I was owing. No one knew of my situation; I bore everything alone.

In the year 5685 the causes of fear abated somewhat. My activities in public affairs got into a routine that allowed me to devote more time to the teachings of Chassidus: regular study sessions were set up in various places, and I delivered maamarim almost every Shabbos. After I committed them to writing, I had them copied and sent out. This continued throughout the year 5686 (תרפ"ו; 1926), until by the following Rosh HaShanah, more chassidim arrived than the rooms of our home could accommodate. (One of our rooms was about the size of the room in Lubavitch that was known as “the little minyan or “the little hall,” and our other rooms were also large. There were twelve rooms in all, apart from the veranda, but the only ones we could use [to accommodate visiting chassidim] on festive occasions – such as Rosh HaShanah, the three pilgrim festivals, Yud-Tes Kislev and Purim – were the above-mentioned hall and two other big rooms.) The crowding was extreme.

On Yud-Tes Kislev, Simchas Torah and Purim, the joyful days on which the festive meals customarily lasted eight hours and sometimes all through the night, I utilized the occasion to arouse those present to buttress religious observance, to establish chadarim, and to maintain their regular study sessions.

The subjects spoken of were diverse – some related specifically to Anash, others to communal affairs, and others to fanning the flame that those present would take out with them to light up the remotest corners of the land.

I would often also declare publicly that according to the law of the land, every Jew was a citizen and hence was legally allowed to teach his son Torah and all other religious subjects, undisturbed; that the members of the Yevsektsia were unconnected with the government and were merely private individuals with whom we could argue and whom we could oppose, just as they opposed observant Jews; that we too had a party, except that it was utterly apolitical and sought only to advance Jewish religious observance; and that in all matters of Torah and mitzvos we were obligated to act to the point of literal mesirus nefesh, actual self-sacrifice.

These points were illustrated by narratives of our people’s history, from the time of the Inquisition and continuing throughout the centuries of exile in all our dispersions. I cannot deny that thanks to kindness from Above, these words left an impact – not only on Anash and on other G‑d-fearing listeners, but also on people who were unlettered, or intellectuals, or utterly unobservant. In the course of those two years, 5685 and 5686, many individuals who had been far removed not only from Chassidus but also from the simple observance of mitzvos found their way to a love of the Torah.

In honor of Yud-Tes Kislev, 5687,1 guests arrived from many places. Over 200 people participated in the festive meal, some of whom stood throughout the night in those three crowded rooms. From the perspective of content, however, this was a gathering in grand style. I recounted the events of Yud-Tes Kislev,2 and delivered a lengthy discourse on the difference between the faith that is present in the souls of Jews and the faith held by non-Jewish scholars, who also believe in creation ex nihilo.3 I spoke in Yiddish in order to be understood by almost everyone, and there was a lively spirit of arousal in the air.

The fact is that I, too, was exuberant (I had also said LeChaim several times). I visualized myself as standing in the midst of a large gathering, where one individual was being coerced (Heaven forfend!) to deny the One G‑d, and he was called upon to sanctify the Divine Name4 – not by potential, virtual self-sacrifice, but by actually giving his life for this principle of faith.

In the same spirit I spoke about the need for self-sacrifice – to protect children from attending schools founded by the Yevsektsia, and instead to set up chadarim in every single town. I stated that it was the absolute duty of every single man and woman to engage in this work, and obligated them all to publicize these words of mine wherever possible, by word of mouth or in writing. I demanded of Anash uncompromisingly that they should devote their hearts and souls to fulfill this charge, regardless of any consideration in the world.

Some of those present wrote down what I said at the time. At any rate, within several days it had all appeared in books and in letters and messages to all the communities. Wherever my words reached, groups of activists were formed, regardless of whether they were chassidim or misnagdim, and all the clandestine places of Torah study were fortified. New underground chadarim were also founded, which by the following month of Teves had reached a sizable number.

[…] From the time that I had expressed my opposition to the desire of the Leningrad community to call a countrywide conference of communal representatives, as explained in my earlier letter,5 it became known that the communities of Moscow, Minsk, Vitebsk, Yekaterinoslav, Kremenchug, and others too, shared my view on this subject. Odessa, being a Zionistic community, sided with the community of Leningrad. […] I had stated my opinion that even if the entire conference as proposed was religiously flawless,6 without even a single leftist delegate, this was not an appropriate time for it, for two reasons: (a) the government would make open discussion impossible; and (b) if some speaker, even one of the G‑d-fearing delegates, would utter a mere word containing a hint of a reform, the Yevsektsia would make capital out of it and try to prove from it that the Jews were seeking religious leniencies.

In order to demonstrate to the rabbis how hazardous the proposed Leningrad conference would be, one of the rabbis of Volhynia, R. Kipnis7 (of Ovrutch) visited me and told me confidentially that he and R. Molevsk and another rabbi wanted to convene an assembly of Volhynian rabbis (and not community representatives, on the Leningrad model). He read me a list of a hundred names from that province, all of them G‑d-fearing men, and including a number of chassidic Rebbeim.8 He had come to consult with me on the matter, and we agreed to keep the plan absolutely secret; only my secretary [R. Chaim] Lieberman was to know of it.

I thought over his proposal. Quite apart from it, and unknown to him, from the beginning of the year 5686 I had quietly dispatched two itinerant emissaries from town to town throughout the Volhynia region. Their function was to urge the local people to establish chadarim for children and regular study sessions for adults, to encourage the conduct of a seudah shlishis in their synagogues, to relate stories about chassidic Rebbeim,9 and to fortify chassidic life in general. Not a soul knew who had sent them there. They accomplished a great deal in all these areas, and also reported back about the state of each town’s rabbis, chadarim, mikvaos and shuls.

Thinking now about the list that R. Kipnis had read out to me, I noted that it corresponded well with the reports that I had been receiving. I thought that if this assembly were to eventuate, the opportunity could be utilized for publicizing and furthering the cause of study sessions and for buttressing other matters related to religious observance. Although my own stance was that no assembly was advisable, even of G‑d-fearing rabbis, this one would certainly cause no harm and in fact could have beneficial results. On the other hand, even such an assembly might enable someone to draw unwarranted conclusions in favor of the kind of conference that the Leningrad community desired to convene.

Speaking on behalf of the rabbis of his province, R. Kipnis had merely wanted to consult with me on a number of subjects. He also wanted to know if I could secure financial support to cover the expenses of the assembly, or at least to help them by contributing a few hundred silver rubles. This I undertook to do.

Six or seven months later I was informed that an assembly of rabbis was being convened in Volhynia. R. Kipnis’ visit with me of course remained a secret, and from several quarters I received queries asking me about that assembly.

To all those letters I replied in precise and moderate terms that I had already stated my view that this was not an appropriate time for conferences and assemblies. This applied not only to the hazardous kind that was being planned in Leningrad; even an assembly of rabbis was unadvisable. The difference was that the Leningrad conference would (G‑d forbid!) seriously harmthe House of Israel, whereas the assembly to be held in the Volhynian town of Korosten would bring no benefit, but also no harm. Besides, the rabbis organizing that assembly were all pious and devout.

As soon as I heard that a date had been set for the assembly, I instructed my two itinerant emissaries to mix with the visiting delegates, and not to relate at all to the proceedings of the assembly, but to resume their accustomed mission of fortifying Torah study and founding chadarim.

The delegates included some members of Anash, such as R. Zamsky, R. [Shlomo Yosef] Zevin10 of Novozivkov, R. [Gershon] Chein of Alexandria, as well as many delegates from Kiev, Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov, Odessa, and so on.

Then suddenly, without my knowing a word of it in advance, I received an urgent telegram. Its message: the rabbinical assembly in Volhynia had unanimously chosen me to be its honorary president. The telegram was signed by its executive board.

I had to reply to this telegram, including lengthy expressions of gratitude and blessing, and also sent a letter that sought to arouse the recipients to fortify the observance of Torah and Yiddishkeit in general. (If I find the text I will send a copy with this letter or with the next.11 )

This honorary presidency aroused […] the fury of the Yevsektsia, who demanded a copy of my telegram of reply. A few days later its text was published in their newspaper, together with a long explanation. They demanded that severe measures be taken against this counter-revolutionary who lived in Leningrad and addressed all the Jews throughout the country to fortify religious matters – exactly as had been done a century earlier! They also wrote there that this counter-revolutionary received huge sums of money from abroad, distributed them among his institutions, and maintained thousands of children in defiance of the law.

Ignoring everything in the newspapers, I went ahead with my work. Just then I was informed by our New York office that Dr. Rosen had traveled to Russia, and that the Joint had approved the budget of 50,000 dollars that I had requested, as explained above. I therefore summoned a meeting to be held in Moscow, early in the first month of Adar. It soon had to be deferred for a week, after I heard that Dr. Rosen would stay in Berlin for two days longer than originally planned. It goes without saying that [the rabbis who now met in Moscow] discussed the state of affairs in a comradely manner and expressed satisfaction concerning the conduct of the various activities and concerning the financial support that was now forthcoming. After hearing a report on the above from the general secretary, R. Zevin, the delegates went their various ways on Tuesday and Wednesday. I stayed in Moscow for another day, intending to leave for home on Thursday night, which was Purim Katan.12

At ten o’clock on Wednesday night I was told by telephone from Leningrad that my departure from Moscow should await further instructions, and that a courier had been dispatched to me. At the same time they informed me that my secretary, R. Elchanan,14 had been arrested and imprisoned.

That news struck me hard. Nevertheless, the work that had been planned for that night was not affected. R. Klemmes and R. Zevin, together with two of the secret itinerant emissaries and myself, had arranged to meet from 11:00 PM until 1:00 AM in order to plan our future steps – and that was what was done.

On Thursday morning the courier arrived with an explanation of what was going on, as well as the earnest request of my family that I should stay in Moscow for another day or two. They further suggested that I move to the Caucasus for a month until things cleared up – because when the police came to arrest R. Elchanan, he managed to pass on the mail that had reached him to his lively six-year-old son, who managed to escape. Since their first question was whether R. Elchanan was the aide of So-and-So, my family concluded that his arrest was directly linked to me, and that I should therefore flee.

The same day I made it known that since it was Purim Katan, I intended to daven Maariv in the Lubavitcher minyan and to deliver a maamar of Chassidus there. By this time there were some forty chassidim13 in Moscow, and the message had been passed around by word of mouth. At six in the evening I went there, and delivered the maamar that begins with the words, VeKibeil HaYehudim. That discourse related to the prevailing situation in Russia with regard to the necessity to teach young boys. In clear and explicit words I urged those present to teach Torah publicly and to support Torah students, and reminded them that in defiance of Haman’s decree, Mordechai gathered together 22,000 children14 and taught them Torah.15

Also present in the shul were the journalists of the daily Pravda (literally, “Truth”), which is Falsehood, and a brief article duly appeared. After three hours there I went to my hotel, and at 11:00 PM left for home, arriving at 10:00 on Friday morning. On no account did I want to extend my travels, since if the GPU (the Cheka16 ) were looking for me, they would be able to find me in the Caucasus or in any other place. I knew for sure that they were tracing every step of mine, so nothing would be gained by fleeing anywhere. To hide was also impossible, so the best plan was to be at home.

From the moment of my arrival in Leningrad I was visited by people who were conspicuously spies. I received people regularly [for yechidus] on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on almost all of those days some such individual would pay me a visit and ask me odd questions – about laws and conspiracies, and about various ways and means of escaping abroad. I always managed to answer with maximum vigilance, and G‑d protected me.

R. Elchanan’s arrest continued for several days and we hoped that he would soon be released, yet days came and went, and nothing happened. After three weeks we found out that he had been arrested on a trumped-up charge that he had arranged for someone to cross the border abroad – a subject with which he had absolutely no connection. However, a letter of his had been found in the possession of someone, and the police imagined that he knew him. No efforts were of any avail, and I resumed my work as before.

Many guests came for Purim. At the festive meal I delivered a maamar of Chassidus, and then, as is customary, I drank a little, perhaps more than usual. My heart was pained and heavy. As usual, my first words were about endeavoring to strengthen the observance of Yiddishkeit, and we then talked about the need to teach young children. In the meantime, the bottle gradually emptied and the cup was repeatedly filled. The adult chassidim and the temimim17 sang chassidic melodies with all their hearts, out of profound anguish.

The sight of them aroused strong emotions, recollections of bygone days – when we were in “the Yerushalayim of Chassidus,” the village of Lubavitch, when the miniature Sanctuary18 stood in its due location, and its high priest,19 the holy of holies, officiated in all his grandeur, surrounded by hundreds of “chassidim and men of good deeds,”20 and hundreds of yeshivah students sat and stood on planks in the great study hall, all aflame with holy fire. My thoughts pranced and ran from subject to subject. I recalled our departure from Lubavitch,21 the exile of the Temple; I recalled the exile in Rostov, the dwelling in Rostov, then Slaviansk, then our return to a new dwelling in Rostov; I recalled the change of regimes,22 the civil war, the state of the country during the war, the fears, the frightening rumors of the various bands of terrorists; I recalled the passing of the greatest of the luminaries,23 being left fatherless, loneliness, illness, the awesome famine, the closing of the Yeshivah, the police searching our home, the letters written by informers, the conspiracies, the coerced departure (or flight) from Rostov, the arrival in Petersburg, the exile and the financial straits, the first stages of settling in, the weighty difficulties from every direction, and the dreadful fears. And at the present time here we were, in the heart of Leningrad, sitting in a spacious residence that had once belonged to Polianov,24 the Minister for the Army, in whose time no Jew dared to walk through that courtyard. Now, thank G‑d, among the hundreds of chassidim present, there were some who twelve years earlier had been in “the Yerushalayim of Chassidus,” the village of Lubavitch, and today retained the same spiritual level and sensitivity that they had had then. With pure thoughts and refined senses, they were utterly dedicated to holy things. They were not to blame that they were now bereft of the faithful shepherd whom they needed! Thus, crushed in spirit, I chastised myself from deep within.

Throughout all this time I was sitting with my hands covering my tear-stained face. Understandably, the chassidim present were moved accordingly. With increasing intensity they sang those evocative chassidic melodies which arouse the heart alone, even when unaccompanied by memories. How much more so when all those memories surface, and how much more so when the heart is responsive and pulsing with emotion.

For me, all the above added up to an intense experience. I suddenly descended, as it were, from the clouds above (or: ascended from the abyss below) and stood up, all afire and trembling – as I was later told – and began to speak as follows:

“My brothers: Jews in general, and Anash and the temimim in particular! All of us, the Jews living in Russia, now stand in the same predicament in which our forefathers stood after leaving Egypt: the wilderness on either side, the sea before them, and Pharaoh and his hosts behind. Every Jew ought to know, and every one of you should pass this on in my name to his friend, that according to the law of the land, every Jew is allowed to observe all the mitzvos without any hindrance. Everyone is allowed to have his son study Torah with a melamed, and so on.

“Brother Jews! On either side of us is the barren wilderness; the Egyptians – the Yevsektsia – are pressuring us from behind. We are in a grievous situation. We have no option but to throw ourselves into the sea of self-sacrifice,25 the sea of trust in G‑d.26 Let all the Jews living in Russia – irrespective of their community, age or social class, both common people and intellectuals – recall the period of the Inquisition, when their counterparts allowed themselves to be burned and slaughtered for the sake of the Torah and the mitzvos. Let every Jew say only that he is a Jew, and let him demonstrate that by actively participating in the founding of a cheder. Let every Jew remember the present moment. Fellow Jews: Let us throw ourselves into the fire of self-sacrifice. Let everyone keep in mind that his children are being taken away from him. They want to leave us childless, G‑d forbid. All of us – regardless of whether we are rabbis, shochtim, melamdim, householders, peddlers, lawyers, doctors, men or women – are obligated together to know that we are Jews and that we are going to literally give our lives, to be burned (G‑d forbid), for the sake of the Torah and the mitzvos – andthereby we will be found worthy of being the parents of children and grandchildren.

“Fellow Jews! Explain to each other the awesome situation that has been brought upon us by the members of the abhorrent Yevsektsia (May it be eradicated!). Remember who your enemy is. Let every one of you arouse the G‑dly awareness that is present within himself and let him battle against the bitter foe, the Jew-haters of the Yevsektsia (May it be eradicated!). Jews have suffered a great deal. ‘In every generation our enemies rise up against us to annihilate us – and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.’27 The Yevsektsia want to apostatize Jews! Keep that in mind, and save yourselves while there is still time. Set up chadarim, attend your shul, and study there every day. Hold on tightly to the lifestyle of our Patriarch Yaakov, and may G‑d bless you all with children and grandchildren.”

I then took my seat – as I was later told – and was left undisturbed as I wept at length. The gathering was bestirred noiselessly, from within. About an hour later, as I recall, I was told that it was already 5:30 AM. (The festive meal had begun at about 4:00 PM, and at about 7:00 PM – in the midst of the meal, before the maamar – we had davened Maariv.) The gathering continued, with LeChaim and rejoicing, rousing words and melodies, until the first signs of daybreak28 at 7:30 AM, when the seudah of Purim came to an end.

The message of the above sichah was relayed in many directions, with the result that new study sessions were established and new chadarim and schools were founded.

At the same time, I was informed that the leftists – the members of the Yevsektsia – were slandering me, and that articles had been published in various Yiddish and Russian newspapers. Some of them reprinted what had already appeared in overseas journals about my work in the dissemination of Torah study, and concluded that the time had come “to drive the tzaddik out of Leningrad, the capital city, to Salavki.”29

After Purim, the chairman of the Joint, Mr. [Felix] Warburg, visited Russia. Dr. Rosen had suggested that I go to Moscow to meet him twice – once on his arrival from abroad, before he visited the farming colonies, when I would explain all our needs at length, and again before he left for home, about three weeks later. The suggestion was that the second meeting should also be attended by several members of the rabbinical council whom I would call upon. Thus it was that on the second day after Mr. Warburg’s arrival in Moscow I was allocated four hours with him, from 2:00 to 6:00 PM. Present at that meeting with Mr. Warburg were Dr. Bernard Kahn, Dr. Rosen, two other gentlemen, myself and my secretary. For about three-and-a-half hours I reported on the state of Torah matters in our country. I also explained my stance on the running of the farming project and on its needs, as I had already made clear in the year 5685 (תרפ"ה; 1925).

On my second visit to Moscow two weeks later, I was accompanied by the rabbi of Moscow, and by Rabbis Minsky, Vitebsky, Zevin, A. Horenstein, and Bassin from Kharkov. We had been allocated only one hour, during which each of the above-mentioned spoke for a few minutes, and Mr. Warburg thanked me for having made him aware of the activities of the rabbinical council. He added that he for his part would endeavor to fulfill all the requests that I had made at our previous meeting, and hoped that the Joint would do everything possible to satisfy the requests of the rabbinical council, and we took our leave of him. He then asked to speak with me privately for a few minutes. He very much wanted to hear about the work of communal activists fifteen and twenty years ago, but this I find difficult to explain in writing. Since my colleagues had already left the room and were waiting for me in the hall, he escorted me there, and with another handshake expressed his gratitude for the trouble I had taken to come to Moscow again. He said that he was gratified to see that my work was well organized, and added that he was now able to appreciate the admiration that Dr. Rosen and Dr. Kahn had expressed for its efficiency. He concluded by sharing his hope for positive results that would benefit Russian Jewry at large.

The night that I had left Leningrad for Moscow, I saw that Warburg was about to take the same 11:00 PM train, but did not look in his direction. I asked that a bed be prepared for me, closed the door of my compartment for the first quarter-hour of the journey, and feigned sleep. I was afraid to speak with a person from abroad, because of the ever-present eyes of the GPU. Once when we met overseas, he told me that when he was in Leningrad he had wanted to pay me a visit at home, but his fellow travelers had warned him of the risk involved. He later saw that when I approached the train I also acted as if I did not know him – and then he realized what degree of vigilance was called for in Russia.

Dr. Rosen also thanked me warmly for having brought my colleagues of the rabbinical council to meet with the chairman of the Joint, and said that he too looked forward to tangible results.

At that time the Leningrad community was headed by Mr. Horowitz, an ardent Zionist. (Today, of course, that is an undesirable label and its bearer must act with caution, because a number of such people have been sent to Siberia. He nevertheless retained his status – though it was said of him that he himself was a member of the GPU….) At any rate, he and his committee were seriously displeased that on a variety of subjects, the directorship of the Joint took my views into consideration.

One day, at a public meeting, they hurled fire and brimstone upon me in terms that would incite the journalists of the Yevsektsia to do likewise. The result was an extensive series of articles about R. Sh. of L.30 (printed in bold font and with an explicit title), who was undoubtedly a traitor to the regime, an agent of overseas magnates with a particular goal….

As stated above, I opposed the holding of the conference proposed by the Leningrad community, and at this time I wrote an outspoken open letter to whoever was living in this country, as in the enclosed copy.31 However, I did not want to send it out and publicize it until I had spoken with R. [David Tevel] Katzenelenbogen, in the hope that he would change his mind on this matter (… he was a very old man, and may G‑d bless him with a long life), and dispatched three rabbis to discuss it with him.32

My three rabbinic emissaries set out on Monday morning for the health resort where he was staying at the time, but left him emptyhanded. He told them that the Leningrad community was angry with me for not having taken their views into consideration and for not having invited them;33 after all, they, too, knew all about what was being done in Torah matters, quite as much as the rabbis of Kharkov, Moscow and Minsk. R. Katzenelenbogen concluded by asking that one of my rabbinic emissaries visit him again the following day, which was Tuesday.34

On that day, after my emissary had spoken with him at length, he replied that the countrywide conference should take place; he was dismayed that I opposed it; and ordered my representative to neutralize my opposition, because some of the community leaders were great rascals,35 and this could be very risky.

My emissary returned at 9:00 in the evening, and on that day I finished [preparing] the above open letter for publication. However, since I was in the midst of receiving people, as I did every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, I left my original handwritten letter on my table before passing it on to be copied according to need. At that point only a few copies had been made.

I continued my work of receiving people until 11:30 PM, davened Maariv, and at 12:15 AM went out to the dining room to take my evening meal. At 12:45 AM, before I had finished eating, the GPU arrived – to ransack my home.36