We were little children at the time, yet to this day I recall how R. Dovid Mishulovin and his younger brother R. Eliyahu returned from Lvov, their eyes ablaze with terror. The fear was so palpable that when R. Eliyahu would go out in the street he would hold one of the communist newspapers, Pravda or Izvestia, in the crook of his arm. In public he spoke only in Russian, and refrained from speaking in Yiddish to Jews who were not religious. He did everything possible to avoid suspicion for associating with anything Jewish and, specifically, with Chassidim.

The fear was so palpable

Due to these onerous circumstances, it was impossible to maintain a school or yeshiva, and even a steady minyan for prayers was not feasible: We were too frightened to even enter the shul in Samarkand. Only the elderly men prayed there.

Ironically, the regular prayer services in the shul made arranging a secret minyan for the youth more of a challenge. According to Soviet law, official freedom of speech and religion was granted after the age of eighteen. At that point, one was old enough to decide whether he wanted to expose himself to constant religious persecution. A child under eighteen, however, was considered a minor, and while children couldn't be punished under the law, it was forbidden to engage minors in religious activity. Offending parents would be accused of promoting religious propaganda and, as a consequence, their children would be detained in government orphanages.

The shuls were officially under the purview of the government’s cultural department, and every shul had a ring of informants recruited by the KGB. Everybody knew about them, and the informants themselves scarcely tried to conceal their activities. At times these traitors proudly flaunted their position, declaring that it was because of them that the government allowed the existence of their shuls. The Chabad Chassidim did not attend these shuls, only joining in the secret services and farbrengens, which took place in private homes.

Since going to shul was forbidden for us children, our parents and the older boys wanted to organize a secret minyan that we could attend, so that we could answer Amen at the appropriate points in the prayers, recite the Kedushah, and so on. The setback, however, was that since we were young children and not yet bar mitzvah, we were unable to form the minyan on our own. Our fathers were required to join us if we were to have ten men, but if our parents were not present at the shul, this would be clear evidence that they had formed a secret minyan.

ThenThey longed for us to experience a proper davening again, they longed for us to experience, a proper davening, proper prayer with a minyan; to listen to a Borchu, or to the Leader's Repetition, and to answer Amen. They desperately wanted to organize this minyan. I remember that when I was under 10 years old, my father would wake me up for the sunrise minyan, reasoning that the informants were still asleep, and would only arrive later. In that early hour of the morning, the shul was almost exclusively attended by simple day laborers who sincerely wanted to daven with a minyan. But that was during the war years. When the persecution heightened, my father wouldn’t dare take the risk of bringing me to the main shul. For the most part, we didn’t have much of a choice and stayed home alone, without a minyan.