“When I turned 15, my uncle Moshiach Chudaitov helped me transfer to a school for working youth, which held classes for only three days a week. Although I was too young for this school, he got a note from a doctor stating that I was very weak and could only attend school a few days a week. That solved my Shabbos problem.

“When I went to the new school for the first time, I noticed that most of the names on the honor roll were of Jewish students that I knew, like Moshe Lerner, Yaakov Lerner, Tamar Rubinson, and others. All of the Chabad children who studied there were outstanding pupils, while the rest of the students did not put much effort into their studies.

“A school for working youth was different than a regular school. In any other school, the students were afraid of the teachers; over here, the teachers were afraid of the students: Although the school was nominally ‘for working youth’, the students were mainly young adults who had been released from prison. Most of them were hooligans and thieves. The government was interested in educating them, so they put them into a program that combined academics and work for a few days a week. Unsurprisingly however, these delinquents were generally uninterested in the academics, and only the Jewish students put in any effort. This is why the teachers and administration greatly admired the Jewish students, who actually knew the material they were taught.

“When we received permission to leave Russia, everybody in school knew that I was leaving, since some of the forms I needed in order to apply for an exit visa came from the school. During the two weeks before we left Russia, I was busy preparing for the trip and did not attend school. Right before we left, I decided to go to school to say goodbye to my classmates. When I arrived, they were in the middle of a lesson with a particularly antisemitic teacher. She had heard that I was leaving for the Land of Israel, and she considered me a Zionist traitor. When she saw me enter the classroom she yelled, ‘Get out of the classroom!’

“I kept my cool and said, ‘I just came to say goodbye!’ But she yelled again, ‘Get out!’

“One of the students stood up and ordered, ‘Everybody, leave! We will say goodbye to Misha - my nickname in class - and then we will come back to class.’ He was a former inmate and I used to help him complete his homework assignments.

“It was very moving to see all of the students simply stand up and walk out of the classroom to say goodbye to me. We hugged each other and they all wished me a safe trip, and then they returned to class.”