One of the elder Chassidim in Samarkand was my uncle, R. Boruch Halevi Duchman, who was married to Alte Raize Gneshe, my mother's sister. My uncle was the son of R. Dovber Menachem Mendel Halevi Duchman and the grandson of the famous Chassid, R. Mordechai Yoel, who shared a close connection to his teacher, the famous Chassid of the Alter, R. Isaac of Homil. R. Isaac Homiler, as he is known, was also R. Mordechai Yoel’s matchmaker. My uncle had three brothers: R. Yisrael Noach, who left Russia in the 1930s and settled in Eretz Yisrael; R. Zalman, who left Russia in 1946 via Poland and settled in New York; and R. Chaim Avrohom, who remained in the Soviet Union and lived most of his life in Omsk. It was recently discovered that they had a sister whom we had never heard about. Her descendants now live in Toronto, and they were brought back to Judaism through my nephew and local Chabad emissary, R. Yosef Yitzchak Zaltzman.

Before the war, my uncle Boruch lived in a small town by the name of Medved, near Leningrad, where he served as a ritual slaughterer. During the war he lived in Kharkov, Ukraine, and he then fled from the Nazi invasion to Samarkand with many other Lubavitcher Chassidim, staying with us until he received permission to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael in 1957. After the war, his brother Chaim Avrohom traveled to Samarkand as well, but in the early fifties, during the Doctors’ Plot, when Jew - and Lubavitchers in particular - were severely persecuted, he returned to Omsk, where he eventually died.

The years that the two brothers spent in Samarkand were truly enlightening as we reveled in hearing the wealth of Chassidic stories and anecdotes they had to offer. They had both spent many years in the house of their grandfather, who told them numerous stories he had heard from his teacher R. Isaac of Homil.

One must take into account that my uncle Boruch and his brother Chaim Avrohom, and their grandfather R. Mordechai Yoel, were each blessed with an exceptional memory, and were very meticulous in relating stories accurately. The tales we heard were utterly precise and exact, down to every nuance and detail. These Chassidim were so scrupulous in the way they recounted stories that when a detail was unclear and we asked them to explain or expound on it, they would respond, “I don’t know; that’s how I heard it from our grandfather.” Thus the stories they told were cherished and held dear by all in Samarkand.

My uncle related that as a young boy, before his bar mitzvah, he had slept for many years at his grandfatheR.s house. Often, when he awoke early in the morning, he would find his grandfather up and about, deeply involved in his learning. When R. Mordechai Yoel noticed that his grandson had awoken, he would hurry over and smooth his blanket, murmuring, “Sleep, my child. A little boy needs to sleep.” But after his bar mitzvah, if he continued to sleep past six in the morning, his grandfather would shake him awake, saying, “Get up, get up; how can a Jew sleep so late?”

I lack the ability to convey with the written word the tone of voice my uncle assumed when describing the manner in which the Rashab would bless the bochurim: “Zolst lernen, zolst davenen, un zolst dinnen dem Aibershten” - You should learn, you should daven, and you should serve G‑d. When he reached the word “Aibershten” his voice would escalate several notches, adding additional power and depth to the word. It was clear that this word was the key emphasis in the phrase.

I heard from my uncle R. Baruch, as well as from my father, that the Rashab had a deep, baritone voice. He once spoke at a farbrengen about lofty spiritual levels, saying with a tune: “What Atzmus - the most essential aspect of G‑d - is, we don’t know; neither we know, and neither does Ak - a lofty, but lower aspect. But we can begin to imagine, for we are neshamos - souls.” When he reached the word “neshamos,” he would once again raise his voice to a higher, more powerful pitch for special emphasis.