I started to get involved in communal work at the age of 16. When I approached the age of twenty, I began to make trips throughout Russia on various missions related to the communal good.

When I returned from one of these trips at the end of the summer of 1960, I noticed an unfamiliar boy, mingling with the community. In Russia we knew to be wary of strangers, so I immediately approached R. Moshe Nissilevitch and asked him about this boy. R. Moshe told me that the boy’s name was NaftaliI noticed an unfamiliar boy, mingling with the community Estulin from Tashkent, and he was the son of the Chassid R. Zalman Leib. It was difficult for R. Zalman Leib to hide his son at home and he refused to send him to public school. He decided to send his son to Samarkand, in the hopes that he would find some sort of program there. At the very least, he wouldn't be spotted by the neighbors at his home in Tashkent, and the authorities in Samarkand would not know to look out for him. At the time, he was around thirteen years old.

For parents, of course, it was not simple at all to send such a young child to a strange city, not knowing where he would eat or sleep, or who would teach him. But R. Zalman Leib decided to send his son, no matter what obstacles were involved. Naftali was the first yeshiva-age student to come to Samarkand from another city. At that time the boys still had no regular study curriculum, but the rumor among the wider Chabad community was that in Samarkand there were boys who study Torah.

Naftali’s father had waited for an opportune time to send his son to Samarkand. The opportunity soon came in the form of a group of people from Tashkent traveling to a wedding that took place in Samarkand. R. Zalman Leib sent Naftali along with them and hoped that he would be able to remain in Samarkand.

The wedding took place on the 12th of Tammuz, which was also the anniversary of the Previous Rebbe's liberation from Soviet imprisonment. Of course, the community took advantage of the opportunity to rejoice and farbreng on the special day. At a later point, Naftali told me that at the wedding he noticed one of the bearded men dancing and rejoicing more enthusiastically than the others and he assumed him to be a close relative; perhaps the father of the groom or the bride. However, upon inquiring, he was astounded to hear that the man was not even a distant relative.

Naftali wondered why this fellow was dancing so enthusiastically until someone explained to him that he was dancing for another reason entirely—it was the twelfth of Tammuz, the Liberation Day of the Rebbe Rayatz! The man was none other than the famed Chassid R. Berke Chein.

R. Zalman Leib’s hopes indeed materialized, and R. Naftali succeeded in adjusting to the Lubavitcher community in Samarkand. After the wedding, Naftali stayed at the home of R. Feivish Genkin in the Old City. R. Feivish was a simple man who had been a soldier during World War I. He and his wife Chasha were childless, and together they managed the mikvah after it had been reopened. Remaining in Samarkand,The couple did not allow him to spend time outdoors they joined our community, and were known to be able to keep a secret.

Naftali stayed with them for a month without any friends, or really anyone else to talk to. The couple did not allow him to spend time outdoors and, as R. Naftali recalls, he felt as if he was under house arrest. The only person who came to visit was Berke Chein, who was a frequent visitor of R. Feivish.

Early one morning, after R. Berke had immersed in the Genkins's mikvah inpreparation for prayer, he began enthusiastically reciting the Shema from a mezuza parchment with devout concentration, as was his daily custom. In the meantime, Naftali had woken up and realized that he had forgotten to leave water and a cup beside his bed the night before. According to Jewish law, one is supposed to wash his hands immediately upon waking, ideally before even leaving the bed and walking four cubits. Still, he did not want to bother R. Berke in the middle of his fervent recital of the Shema and so he went to the sink to wash his hands.

After he finished saying Shema, R. Berke said to Naftali, “You walked four cubits without washing?! You should have told me and I would have stopped and brought water!”

Naftali was extremely impressed with Reb Berke: "Although he was in middle of reciting Shema and I was just a youngster, he was prepared to interrupt so that I should not walk four cubits without washing!"

OneFriday afternoon, R. Berke took Naftali to immerse in the river in preparation for Shabbos and on their way back he invited Naftali to his house for Shabbos. Naftali happily accepted, because he was lonely at R. Feivish’s house..

Naftali spent an uplifting Shabbos with R. Berke. After Shabbos, when he returned to R. Feivish’s house, R. Feivish chastised him and said, “Why did you go to R. Berke for Shabbos when he doesn’t have enough food for his own family?”

After he had spent a long time in the house of R. Feivish, Naftali began to receive visits from Eli Mishulovin. He spoke with Naftali several times to ascertain whether or not he was able to keep a secret, as well as to gauge his level of learning.

In the meantime, some of the community members in Tashkent had noticed Naftali’s absence. One of them, R. Gershon Gertzman, “sensed” that Naftali was in Samarkand and believed that he was learning there, so he sent his son Shaika to Samarkand as well.

Another youth from Tashkent by the name of Shmuel Chaim Frankel was in Samarkand at that time as well. His family had left in Samarkand a few years earlier, and his father R. Yisroel had sent him there in 1958 to avoid sending him to public school. Shmuel ChaimHe doesn’t have enough food for his own family! stayed in the house of R. Tzvi Hirsch Lerner, a family friend from the time their families had lived together.

After R. Naftali successfully passed Eli Mishulovin's tests, we began to think about an organized schedule for this small group of boys. Ideally, the schedule would belike that in Tomchei Tmimim, with seven hours of Talmud and Jewish law and four hours of Chassidus being studied daily.