When they farbrenged with us, they would describe the Chassidim who left Russia after the war. We were still young at the time, under ten years old, and did not remember much. They would depict that period with great nostalgia, particularly so the farbrengens of the senior Chassidim. When they wanted to sum up that era in one sentence, they would say, “Es hot zich gigosin Elokus mamosh.” “G‑dliness literally poured forth.”

They would vividly describe to us the way the Chassidim prayed in those days. R. Asher Sossonkin (Batumer) would be totally absorbed in his prayer, enunciating each word evenly and precisely. Then he would suddenly be roused from his rapture and cry some of the words aloud.

I heard that Chassidim once farbrenged in the central Chabad synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, New York, with R. Asher among them. At the height of the farbrengen, after having downed a few cups of vodka, someone called out to him, “R. Asher, you’re still a Russian.” To which he responded: “If only I continue to remain a Russian!”

They also spoke a lot about the intense prayer of R. Nissan Nemenov, or R. Nissan der geller, as he was known, and R. Yisrael Noach Blinitzky, as well as of many others. We were able to see that in their retelling, they were re-experiencing the legendary conduct of these great Chassidim.

Mentioning as I am R. Yisrael Noach, I will relate something remarkable he once let slip about himself. For a time, he worked as a cashier in a factory, and one of his tasks was to pay a daily visit to the bank. At a farbrengen he spent urging his listeners to be constantly occupied with Chassidic thought, and after having drunk a fair amount of vodka, he declared of those daily walks to the bank: “You should know that there is not one rock between that bank and the factory where I work, upon which I have trodden without thinking Chassidus!”

The older boys would relate these stories to us to foster within us the dedication to learn Chassidus no matter the circumstance. They didn’t just repeat pretty proverbs and clever aphorisms at our farbrengens, but demanded substantial effort from us in improving our character, overcoming our coarser instincts and the like. After a farbrengen like that, we came out differently than the way we were when we came in. We might have not changed entirely, but a certain change was apparent in every one of us, in thought, speech, or action.

In the 1960s, R. Michel Vishedsky lived in Tashkent in the home his brother-in-law R. Mordechai Gorodetzky, whose father R. Simcha lived there as well. R. Michel told me that one Shabbos, he participated in a monthly community farbrengen there that R. Simcha had been unable to attend—his wife was unwell, and he had to come home immediately after prayers. When he came back, R. Simcha asked him what had been discussed at the gathering.

R. Michel reported that they had spoken about a certain matter that the community felt needed more attention. Two months went by, and R. Michel faltered in the particular area discussed. “How can that be?” R. Simcha said to him. “You yourself told me that Chassidim resolved together that this matter needs fixing!” That was what a Chassid was about—after he heard that Chassidim, even those younger than himself, had farbrenged and spoken about correcting something, it was a given for him that it would be corrected.