R. Yaakov Notik came to Samarkand in the summer of 1964. This wasn’t his first time in Samarkand. He had been there after he tried his luck at crossing the border in 1946 and was unsuccessful. At that time he was a semi-official resident and he stayed with the Mishulovin family while he hid from the authorities.

After he married, he moved to Kartli, Georgia, and became a shochet, enabling the Jews in the region to have kosher meat. Religious life in Georgia was relatively unrestricted compared to the other Soviet republics because Stalin was a native Georgian and he allowed his birthplace more freedom.

When R. Yaakov’s children grew older and he had to provide them with a proper Jewish education, he decided to move to Samarkand. He remembered the Mishulovin family and had also met Michoel Mishulovin when the latter traveled to Georgia to raise money for the yeshiva in Samarkand and stayed in his house. R. Yaakov was thrilled when he heard that there was a branch of Tomchei Tmimim in Samarkand. He himself donated a large sum to the yeshiva, more than he could afford, and went along with R. Michoel to help him fundraise from the Jews in the area. R. Yaakov observed the deeply chassidic personality of R. Michoel, and his piety, and yearned to provide his children with the kind of chinuch that a person of his calibre would bring.

When R. Yaakov Notik arrived in Samarkand, I looked up to him as a special person. He was a genuine chassid, a Torah scholar, and a humble person. I never saw him sit idly. In every free moment he would go to a corner or lean against the wall and peer into a Shulchan Aruch, Gemara, Tanya or any other holy book. He was uninvolved in worldly matters and wouldn’t even glance at a newspaper, instead placing his focus exclusively on Torah matters. His discussions revolved around matters of Halacha, Gemara or a concept in Chassidus. Nevertheless, he was a modest person, who tried to conceal his true greatness.

Although my father would slaughter chickens for the community until then, once R. Yaakov came he refused to continue, saying that he was over sixty and already too old. Instead, he referred people to R. Yaakov.

As I related earlier, people would regularly go to R. Eliyahu Levin (Paritcher) with their Halachic questions. In Adar, 5728, 1968' R. Eliyahu passed away. From then on, when such a question question would arise, people would ask R. Yaakov, since everyone respected his scholarship and knowledge of the law. In his great humility, he would first say that he did not know how to decide, but would then add that it was worth looking at this-and-this paragraph in Shulchan Aruch and that the Halacha was probably such-and-such. Needless to say, he never erred.

R. Yaakov Notik was an expert shochet for many years in Georgia, and once he came to Samarkand he would occasionally check the knife of Mulle Yosef, who had taken up shecitah duties after my uncle, R. Baruch Duchman, left for Israel.

On a few occasions, it was arranged for R. Yaakov to slaughter at the government slaughterhouse outside the city. On these occasions, he would attach his official seal that he had brought from Georgia to the side of the cow, attesting that it was kosher. To us this was exceedingly strange, since we had never seen a seal like that before in Samarkand. The meat would then be brought to a butcher in the Jewish quarter, enabling many Jews to buy kosher meat which had beenslaughteredwith the utmost adherence to the law.

A Yeshiva and Mikvah in the Yard

As will be related in a later chapter, on the 19th of Kislev, 1960, the underground yeshiva of Samarkand began regular sessions. The first students were Naftali Estulin, Shmuel Chaim Frankel, Yeshaya Gertzman and Yitzchok Mishulovin. The lecturer, counselor and mentor for the Yeshiva was R. Michoel Mishulovin.

By the time R. Yaakov Notik arrived in Samarkand, the yeshiva had already grown both in the number of its students and of locations used for learning. At that time - the end of the 1960s - the government terror had died down somewhat. In the 1950s we didn’t dare write the names of relatives who lived abroad on official documents and we did not submit requests to leave the country out of fear that for this crime alone we would be punished. By the end of the 1960s, by contrast, people began requesting to leave. Only a few of them received exit visas while the rest were turned down; but the fear of submitting a request had dissipated.

We didn’t feel completely free to do as we wished, but we allowed ourselves to expand the yeshiva, accepting additional students and opening new learning locations. One of the new locations was in the yard of R. Yaakov’s house. His home was located in a small alleyway, which gave it an advantage as well as a disadvantage. On the one hand, the yard was not close to the street where passersby might notice the unusual activity inside. On the other hand, when one entered the alley it was obvious to the neighbors that he was going to the Notik’s house. But the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. The yard was fenced in and separate from the neighbors, allowing the students to walk outside in the evening and breathe some fresh air. Additionally, the age of the students matched the age of R. Yaakov’s children, so if they were noticed they could say that they were coming to visit their friends. Finally, there was a shed in the yard that could be used for learning, as opposed to learning in the kitchen or bedroom as they did in other houses.

Another great advantage of learning in R. Yaakov Notik’s house was that his wife Chana cooked food for the boys, so they did not have to go elsewhere for meals. This saved precious learning time, and more importantly, it was safer because the neighbors wouldn’t see them constantly coming and going.

One day, the students decided to build a mikvah in the yard. They began digging a hole near the small shed where they learned. The result of a few fifteen to sixteen year old boys trying to build a mikvah was not all that impressive. It was fun and good exercise, but after a few days they grew tired of the idea and abandoned the hole.

But R. Yaakov took the idea seriously. He found some drunkards who had recently been released from jail and convinced them to work for him for a bit of vodka and a hot lunch. However, this arrangement didn’t last too long either, as they would come to work for one day and then drink for two

R. Yaakov, who had already begun to visualize the completed project, did not give up. He brought down professional workers, and within a short time the mikvah was complete.

A creative solution was needed for heating the water of the secret mikvah. It required a water heater that was portable so it could be quickly hidden when necessary. Hashem granted me talents in this department, and I constructed a portable heater that operated on gas. Over the years I built a number of heating systems, adding improvements each time. I still remember how happy R. Yaakov (and I) was when, after fifty minutes of heating, the water began to boil . . . The new mikvah served not only the boys of the yeshiva, but also the Jewish families in the area.

As I write about him, I recall R. Yaakov’s true inner character, and I feel a pang in my heart as I yearn for that sincere chassid. Woe for that which has been lost...