Immediately following the Sukkos festival comes Simchas Torah, a day dedicated to joyous, often raucous, celebration of the Torah. In Chabad circles, however, the celebration begins a day earlier, on the final, eighth day of Sukkos. In Samarkand, our tradition on that last day of Sukkos was to farbreng with R. Yosef Schiff, as his father-in-law the elder Chossid R. Yerachmiel Chadash, a student of the original yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Lubavitch, lived with him.

The farbrengen would begin once we had concluded the afternoon prayers. When the sky darkened, signaling the end of Sukkos and ushering in Simchas Torah, we would remain in the Sukkah, and continue farbrenging. To avoid the appearance of observing Sukkot for an extra day - the Halachic concern of bal tosif - we would put bed-boards over the canopy of the Sukka, rendering it Halachically invalid, and continue to farbreng.

R. Yosef Schiff had studied in Tomchei Temimim in Nevel until he was forcibly drafted into the army during the war. After being wounded in battle, the authorities gently suggested that he join the Communist Party and enlisted him without his consent, as was customary in those days. He was forced to accept their “suggestion” and assume membership of the Party; refusing would have been dangerous. And that is how R. Yosef became a member of the Communist Party or as they used to say, "an owner of a red booklet.”

Divine Providence had placed him in a position where he was able to assist many Jews. As a Party member, he had special standing in many offices, and was appointed as the chairman of an enterprise under which numerous factories operated. Many Jews who were Shabbos observant worked in factories under his management.

Of course, holding a farbrengen in his house was a serious hazard. Organizing an illegal gathering was crime for an ordinary citizen, but it was an incomparably more severe crime for a member of the Communist Party to do the same. Especially considering that it wasn’t just any kind of gathering, but a Chassidic one.

However, R. Yosef was a man of fortitude and courage who found great pleasure in acting upon his convictions, perhaps especially when it was difficult, or dangerous, for him to do so. Often, when one of his workers had yartzeit or when it was a special day on the Jewish calendar, he would close his office door and arrange a minyan for the afternoon prayers. He would tell his secretary and workers that he was in an important meeting and under no circumstance should he be disturbed. If someone knocked on the door to enter, he would raise his voice and shout: “I told you already, don’t bother me! I am meeting with my employees.”

The fact that R. Yosef was a member of the Party placed extensive restrictions upon him. He was unable to publicly display his Jewishness, and certainly was not able to attend the shul. On account of this, he would often hold a minyan in his house, especially during the High Holidays. He said that were he to be discovered, he would excuse himself by claiming that he arranged the service for his elderly father-in-law, R. Yerachmiel Chadash, who had trouble walking to shul.

It once happened that in the midst of the Rosh Hashana prayers in his home, as the leader was chanting the liturgical poems, a messenger arrived from R. Yosef's main office, requesting that he come immediately to meet some senior officials who had shown up from the municipality. Naturally, we were very frightened. Prayer shawls were instantly flung off, and in a panic, we tried searching for a place to hide. The only one who did not become anxious was R. Yosef. He relaxed and calmed the crowd, and then strode outside to greet the unexpected guests. In a composed and authoritative voice, he explained that he could not leave since he was in the middle of a meeting with his neighbors for the purpose of convincing them to join the cotton-picking. In those years, cotton was considered “white gold,” and plucking it from the fields was very important to the government.