My Bar Mitzvah was held in our house. We lived on the second floor of apartment 6, Chudjumskaya Street, Toopik 1 (toopik was a reference to a dead end street, and each such street that branched off of the main street was assigned a number). The year was 1952, a terrible year for the Jews of the Soviet Union. It is believed that Stalin was preparing to expel the Jews to the frozen, faraway Eastern Siberia, where there were forty thousand barracks already built for the country’s three million Jews. Because of the fear and uncertainty in the air, no one was thinking about organizing my Bar Mitzvah.

No one was thinking about my Bar Mitzvah

In the evening, a few loyal, trustworthy Jews gathered in my home. Uncle Boruch Duchman, Dovid and Eliyahu Mishulovin, Moshe Nissilevich, and Berke Chein, who was hiding in our home at the time. Together with my father and brother Berel, we were a total of eight people. We sang quietly the tune preceding the Chassidic discourse traditionally delivered by the Bar Mitzvah boy, and other melodies.

There was a disagreement about the question of a gift. All the prayer books in those days were well used and torn, and there were none available in the Arizal rite normally used in Chabad circles. Only one Jew by the name of Osher Shlaif had such a siddur, prayer book, of the Torah Ohr edition, and in extremely good condition. In exchange for the siddur, however, he wanted three hundred rubles, an enormous amount of money in those days. My aunt Rosa claimed that it was more important to buy me a winter coat, but I insisted that I wanted the sidur. I eventually prevailed, and they bought me the Torah Ohr. I was thrilled about the gift, but I remember how a relative of ours flipped through its pages before she remarked, “For this book three hundred rubles? I would have expected to see a lot of pictures in it.”