In the courtyard of the large synagogue in the old city of Samarkand stood a structure known as “R. Yechezkiah’s Shul”. Its name was after R. Yechezkiah Kaikov, rabbi of the Bucharian Jews in Samarkand, who would pray there. R. Yechezkiah was a student of the chassid R. Simcha Gorodetzky, and in his youth he was sent by him to the Tomchei Tmimim Yeshiva in Poltava, Ukraine. During the 1950s, when the persecutions of Chabad Chassidim intensified, he was imprisoned and sentenced to exile in Siberia together with his former teacher R. Simcha.

The prayers in R. Yechezkiah’s Shul were recited in the rite of the Arizal, as per the custom of Chabad Chassidim, and the books lining the library bookshelves included the Chabad classics Tanya, Likkutei Torah and more. It was considered the sole Chabad shul in the old city. In those years, only the elderly Jews were permitted to pray there. Its warden, or gabbai, Mulla (Rabbi) Abbo, was appointed to his honorary post by the government, and if anyone below the age of 18 would appear at the shul, he would dash after them with his stick and chase them away.

Occasionally, on Shabbos afternoon - once it had become dark outside, and inside the shul it was dim as well - we youngsters would muster the courage to sneak inside, being ever so careful not to be spotted by Mulla Abbo. According to the Kabbalists, this time of Shabbos - known as Rayva d'Rayvin - sees the peak of the holy day's spiritual intensity, and in Chabad circles, it is a time dedicated to soulful song and study. In the Samarkand shul, it was a time we couldn't bear to miss. Overcome with sheer delight and pleasure, we would watch and listen to the elder Chassidim as their bodies swayed in time with the soft medley of old, stirring Chabad melodies. Soon after, we would listen intently as R. Yerachmiel Chodosh, or R. Yerachmiel der Alter, as he was known, would deliver a Chassidic discourse from Likkutei Torah, by memory.

When our luck would run out early and the gabbai would become aware of our presence in the shul, we would run over to R. Berel der stoller - the carpenter - Gurevitch, who would hide us and treat us each to a cup of the shul's compote, from the table.

Another opportunity for us to visit the shul came once a month, during the tehillim minyan on the last Shabbos of every month. As is customary, the minyan assembled at dawn, but the warden would not show up until the usual time for the services. Thus we would slip inside and recite chapters of tehillim along with the congregation. I can still vividly recall the sweet and heart-felt melodies R. Berel the Carpenter would use to recite the tehillim.