Cure in Crimea

As a young man, my father suffered severely from asthma and the doctors ordered him to relocate to a warmer climate. They recommended the Crimean peninsula. My father traveled to Narzan, Crimea, and he rented an apartment from a Jewish landlord. After living there for a year and drinking the local warm spring water, he was completely healed.

My father had always been good with his hands, and that year his landlord gave him a plot of land upon which my father mastered the skill of gardening. He loved gardening because in this work one can see Hashem’s blessing in action, how a simple seed can produce an entire plant. It was also healthy for him to be out in the fresh air doing physical activity.

The landlord played the violin and during that year, after asking for lessons, my father also learned to play. Later on he bought himself a violin that would go on to accompany him for many years thereafter. At weddings that took place in Samarkand during the war years and afterwards, when there was no possibility to hire a band or musicians, he would happily volunteer to bring his violin and enliven the atmosphere. He would perform the kazatzke dance as if he were still a youngster, and after having a bit to drink, would stand on his head and dance on the tables, and continued to do so into his old age.

On special occasions marked by a chassidic farbrengen, he would bring along his violin and play in honor of the auspicious day. This continued for many years, including following his emigration from Russia and his subsequent settling in Nachalat Har Chabad, in Israel.

Having a talent in music was not unusual for my father’s family; many of his siblings were likewise involved in music and art, some of them professionally.

During the late 1920s, Shlomo (Solomon) Michaels, a famous Jewish artist of international repute, was encouraged by the Soviet regime to organize a Jewish theater. He announced that every young Jew with talent in the arts should come to be tested, and whoever would pass his evaluation would be guaranteed a considerable salary. During those years of hunger, many young Jews went to get tested: perhaps they would be accepted to the theater and would have some kind of income. About five hundred people arrived from many locations within the Soviet Union, and among them were my uncle, Shimon Zaltzman, and my aunt, Nechamah Zaltzman. From the hundreds of applicants, only eighteen candidates were accepted, including my uncle and aunt.

After the war, Stalin decided to liquidate the Jewish theater and arrest the actors. On the night of January 12th, 1948, Stalin’s angels of death and terror killed Michaels in a dark alley in Minsk, the capital of White Russia—Belarus.

My uncle Zalman, who was killed during the war, was a student in an art academy. For his graduate degree, he submitted a rendition of the famous painting The Last of Pompeii and it was considered the best piece of art to be submitted from all the graduating students.