For over two years after I had reached school age, my father managed to hide me as well. However, my respite did not last, and at the age of nine, our neighbors discovered my existence and passed the information on to the principal of the local school. After refusing to send me to school, my father began receiving threats from the principal. If my father did not send me to school, warned the principal, his rights as a parent wouldAt the age of nine, our neighbors discovered my existence be revoked. I would be then be sent to a Soviet orphanage, where I would be under the danger of total religious isolation. He had no choice, and was forced to register me in public school; however, he was determined that I would not attend school on Shabbos.

My father registered me in a school in a neighborhood of non-Jews, outside of our own, in the hope that the teachers and staff would be non-Jews and unfamiliar with Jewish law. This way, they wouldn’t notice that I was only missing from school on Shabbos and other holidays.

The author with his sister, Sarah Mishulovin.
The author with his sister, Sarah Mishulovin.

Because of my advanced age, I was registered for second grade. My father spoke to the teacher – Ms. Nina Semyanova was her name - and after presenting her with a nice gift, he explained that until now I hadn’t attended school because I was a weak child and the doctors said that I needed a lot of rest. For this reason, I had to rest two days a week: in addition to Sundays, when the entire school was out of session, I would not be attending on Saturdays either. The teacher, who was unaware of the sanctity of Shabbos in the Jewish religion, naively accepted his explanation and allowed me to stay home on Shabbos.

My father's family was artistically and musically inclined. As a child, I also loved art, drawing and music. I can remember my classmates enthusiastically declaring me an artist after seeing my pictures in art class. However, I preferred to withhold my talents, and refrained from exposing my abilities to them.

Every song in music class praised Mother Russia, Father Stalin, Lenin, and the Communist Party. Although I knew how to sing well, I despised singing these songs. The teacher once asked me, “Zaltzman, why don’t you ever sing?” Without thinking, I blurted out, “I don’t like your songs.”

I managed to extricate myself from the predicament

In the immediate second that followed my response I realized this comment of mine had placed me in jeopardy. I broke out in a cold sweat. The teacher’s brow shot up and looking at me in amazement, she asked, “What do you mean by 'your songs'? Which songs are 'ours' and which songs are 'yours'? Go over to the blackboard and sing one of 'your' songs!”

With G‑d’s help, I managed to extricate myself from the predicament I had brought upon myself. Our landlord’s son, a university student by the name of Pinchas Pinchasov, lived near us and enjoyed listening to records of Rashid Baibutov, a popular Azerbaijani singer. He would play his music loudly and I knew many of his songs by heart. As I walked to the blackboard, my heart skipping a beat, I decided to sing one of his songs.

As I began to sing, the teacher opened her mouth wide in surprise. She had not imagined that I was able to sing so nicely! She enjoyed it so much that she completely forgot my faux pas, or she thought that I had been referring to Azerbaijani music.

In those days, due to the shortage of classrooms, lessons took place in shifts: one shift in the morning, and one in the afternoon. The music class took place in the final hour of the morning session, and at the precise time that I was singing, the teachers of the afternoon session arrived. When they entered the hallway, they heard me singing, and noticing them, my teacher invited them to quietly enter the classroom. She took pride in her student who sang so well.

Once they discovered my singing ability, they began asking me to perform on all sorts of holidays such as May 1st, International Workers’ Day; November 7th,A tumultuous battle waged within me anniversary of the Communist Revolution; and New Year's. Every time I was asked, a tumultuous battle waged within me. On the one hand, like any child, I loved to perform and be able to demonstrate my talent, to prove that I could perform and sing well. On the other hand, I had a deep-seated aversion towards the non-Jewish atmosphere of the school and Soviet holidays. I recall standing with my classmates during our daily exercises before entering class, and asking myself: What am I doing standing here with these children? The desire to perform and my hatred of their alien culture battled within me.

In the end, I never performed for their celebrations and I didn’t even attend them. When I think about it today, I realize how powerful my upbringing – my chinuch - must have been, and how firm the set of values I had received from my parents were. How much courage an 11-year-old boy needed to not be drawn after his gentile classmates and to hold strong for such a long time!