Over time, the Chabad population in Samarkand fluctuated, as I mentioned earlier. Once most of the Lubavitchers left Russia in 1946, it was at first extremely difficult to put together a minyan, and we did not have possession of a Torah scroll. We barely managed to assemble ten men for prayers on the Holidays. By contrast, during the 1960s and early 70s—which was when we departed from Russia—the Chabad community in Samarkand expanded substantially.

I remember that before R. Mendel Futerfas left Russia in 1964, he asked to sit with me to discuss the community in Samarkand in detail, saying, “I will need to give a full report to the Rebbe.” At that time, I recall there were four separate minyanim every Shabbos with fifteen to twenty people in each. There was even the occasional minyan during the week.

The expansion of the community was due a number of reasons. Aside from the natural population growth, a number of locals had been attracted to and joined the Chabad community. Additionally, there were Chassidim who relocated to the town from other areas in Russia. Samarkand held a special attraction for them.

For example, in the 1960s R. Yosef Greenberg (Yossel Besseraber), a G‑d fearing man of great self-sacrifice, came to Samarkand with his wife shortly after their marriage. R. Sholom Vilenkin arrived at that time with his family as well. He was a vibrant Chassid who farbrenged with warmth and emotion. I will never forget the sweet way he prayed, sitting over his open Siddur as he uttered every word as though counting diamonds and jewels. If a word was not pronounced correctly he would go back and repeat it properly. In the middle of his prayer, before Borchu, he would pause and spend quite some time meditating on Chassidus. The pleasant sound of his prayer rings in my ears until today.

Following them, and along with his family, came R. Chaim Zalman “Chazak” Kozliner, who contributed greatly to the chassidic atmosphere in Samarkand. R. Dovid Okunov and his family arrived as well, and his children learned in our underground yeshiva. So too R. Chaim Volovik; his children were part of the yeshiva as well, and later on his son Yosef became a lecturer there. R. Yaakov Notik, who arrived in Samarkand following the departure of R. Mendel Futerfas, was also an important influence in our community.

Another person who comes to mind is a Jewby the name of R. Aharon Friedman, a brother-in-law of R. Yitzchak Zilber from Yerushalayim, who arrived in Samarkand in the late 1950s. R. Aharon had come from prison, where he was thrown after attempting to cross the border in 1946. He was totally permeated with a spirit of defiant self-sacrifice.He didn’t remove his beard, and would walk to the synagogue in open view, even though he was a young man—as a rule, only the elderly would dare be seen walking to shul. He was brave and fearless, and after his experience in jail nothing frightened him. We, being extremely wary of the secret police, were afraid to have him join our minyan.

He would recite Kaddish at every opportunity, and would proclaim the words “may He bring near the time of Moshiach,” accompanied by dramatic hand movements, with his long blond beard swaying to and fro. On Yom Kippur he would come to shul wearing an old, bloodstained coat over the white kittel customarily worn on the holy day. He explained that during his interrogation, when the interrogator tried to remove his tzitzis, before thinking twice, he slapped the man on the cheek. The interrogators, in turn, beat him viciously, and the blood from his many wounds stained his coat. “It is with this coat that I want to pray before Hashem on Yom Kippur,” he concluded.

Each one of the above-mentioned Chassidim—as well as others whom I have not mentioned—deserves entire pages of praise and honor. However, I did not spend much time with each of them, and there are those with whom I did not become acquainted at all. Hence, I am unable to write about them as they truly deserve.