One special person who endeavored greatly to help us was R. Yisrael Pevzner. He came to Samarkand during the war together with the refugees and remained there. He was an energetic man, a successful entrepreneur, and a generous donor. Outwardly, he looked like a sophisticated businessman, never without a hat and tie, but inside he was full of Chassidic warmth and vigor. He was a dynamic man, and because of his business dealings, the government suspected him of illegal activity and pursued him. He was forced to escape from Samarkand, and for some time he relocated from city to city, until he finally settled in Riga.

R. Yisrael had a well-developed Chassidic "sense of smell," and he somehow found out about our yeshiva and developed an interest in it. He was in constant touch with me concerning the yeshiva, although he always acted with greatest discretion, and avoided unnecessary questions. I visited him once in Riga and he told me the story of R. Zalman Levin, also known as R. Zalman Kursker after his hometown of Kursk, who had been sentenced to ten years in prison:

R. Zalman, a former student of the underground Lubavitcher yeshivas in Russia, was among the refugees during the war in Samarkand, after having escaped from Leningrad, along with Rabbis Isaac Karasik, Nachum Volosov and Yeshaya Gopin. When he learned that the KGB was looking for him he fled to Tashkent, and from there to Moscow. His Shabbos observance made it very difficult for him to earn a livelihood. Once, R. Shmuel Prus, then living in Riga, came to Moscow to visit the home of Rabbi Zalman and his wife Sarah. He arrived unannounced and saw the poverty in their home; even on Shabbos they literally had nothing to eat.

When R. Shmuel Prus ​​returned home to Riga, he found a job for Reb Zalman in nearby Tukums, a small Lativian town, where the factory director promised to allow him to keep the Shabbos.

R. Zalman Levin, his wife and their two small children—a boy and girl, twins born to them thirteen years into their marriage, after the Previous Rebbe's blessing—moved to Tukums. Rabbi Zalman, then in mourning after the passing of his father R. Yehudah, revived the Jewish life in town. The synagogue in town, previously closed after emptying of worshippers, began to host prayers three times daily, as there were old people who remembered how to pray from childhood. Kosher meat appeared in the city, since Reb Zalman was certified to slaughter poultry. The government despised this revival of Jewish life. They quickly moved to forbid his activities, arrested him and sentenced him to ten years of hard labor. The synagogue was shut completely, and its keys and Torah scrolls were given to the authorities. Shortly after, the authorities printed an article in the local newspaper announcing that the synagogue had been closed with the full consent of its management and members. According to the article, the locals were all loyal Soviets uninterested in religion; the recent spurt in the town's religious activity was entirely the fault of this Jew from Moscow, Zalman Levin. Now that he was finally arrested, they were “happily” giving the synagogue over to the government.

Two years after his arrest, his family moved to the city of Riga. The burden of supporting and educating the children was now imposed on the shoulders of their mother, Mrs. Sarah Levin. There was a Chasidic community in Riga, with regular farbrengens and other communal gatherings, and secret prayers in private homes; all vital contributors to the children's upbringing. Additionally, the prisons where Zalman was incarcerated were in the environs of Riga, and it was easier to bring him food parcels and to visit him when special permission was given to do so.

His only son Moshe Chaim, who by then had already become Bar Mitzva, studied with a private teacherwho would come to his house for a number of hours a day and study Torah, including the Prophets and Writings, and the Code of Jewish Law, with him. He had started studying Talmud, but he needed a study partner and would benefit greatly from a Chassidic environment.

Since the yeshiva was a secret operation, R. Yisrael could not tell the boy's mother, Mrs. Levin, the location of the yeshiva. Rather, he said that he knew of a yeshiva somewhere in Russia and convinced her that when the opportunity arose, she should send her son to learn there. When I arrived, he told her that a man had come who was prepared to take her son to yeshiva on condition that she would not ask where they were going and where her son would learn and sleep.

She agreed and all she said was that she wanted to see the person who would take her son to the yeshiva. The morning before I left the city, R. Yisrael brought me to their home. The mother asked nothing. Her only request was that I watch over her only son. I was amazed by the heroism of this extraordinary, chassidic woman. Her husband was locked behind bars, yet she was ready to send her son to a distant place, not even knowing where he would be, just so that he could learn Torah.

The next day I left Riga, and a short time later R. Yisrael sent Moshe Chaim by airplane to Samarkand. I met him at the airport and brought him to the yeshiva.

Today, this young boy has a large chassidic family and is a prominent Chabad rabbi in a Jewish Russian neighborhood in Brooklyn. I once met with him and we had a friendly discussion, reminiscing shared memories of the past. He told me that the story of his sending off was actually a bit different than I had thought. His mother would never have allowed him to leave her without knowing his final destination. R. Yisrael told her where we were headed, but he did not tell me that the mother knew our destination. He knew that if I was aware that she knew I would never have agreed to take him.

During my conversation with R. Moshe Chaim Levin, he shared with me some additional details that, had I known them at the time, would have made me refuse to accept the boy into the yeshiva. R. Yisroel, because of his great desire that the boy be accepted, hid these details from me as well.

This is what actually happened:

Shortly after R. Yisrael secretly told Mrs. Sarah Levin about the place of learning in Samarkand, a certain Jew arrived in Riga. Mrs. Levin, who did not imagine how careful we were to maintain the total secrecy of the existence of the underground yeshiva, innocently asked the Jew to take her son to Samarkand to study.

Knowing how eagerly R. Yisrael was waiting for an opportunity to send her son to Samarkand, she happily informed him that she had found someone who had consented to take the boy.

When R. Yisrael heard this, he became very upset. This fellow was of a suspicious nature, and everyone was careful around him. R. Yisrael understood that were he to arrive in Samarkand with the boy, he would be refused as a new student due to the fear of his companion. In fact, they would deny the very existence of the yeshiva!

He explained to the mother the problem with the visitor and asked her to say to her guest that her son was not well now and was absolutely unable to go with him at the present time. She followed R. Yisrael's instructions and the boy remained in Riga.

A few days later, after her guest had left Riga, Sarah sent her young son alone on a flight to Samarkand, with a transfer in Moscow, a distance of nearly 3000 miles, and the rest is history. That was the extent of his mother’s desire that her son learn in yeshiva at a time when her husband was in Siberia.