Those who are particular in their observance of Jewish law, Chassidim included, are careful to bake matzah for the festival of Pesach specifically from wheat that has been guarded from the moment it has been harvested. This matzah is referred to as shmurah matzah—protected or guarded matzah. Specifically, the wheat is guarded so that it will not come in contact with any water; doing so would result in a leavened bread product, which is of course prohibited throughout the festival. Back then in Russia, wheat fields were owned by the government, and thus an intricate and secretive operation was necessary in order to obtain even a small quantity of flour for our purposes.

During our first years in Samarkand, Famine and deprivation plagued the landWorld War II was raging, and the city was bursting with masses of refugees streaming in from Poland and other countries. Famine and deprivation plagued the land, and it was unfeasible at the time to even consider having shmurah matzah. We were thankful to have the opportunity to bake simply regular matzos together with the local Bucharian Jews, with the few halachic stringencies we were able to incorporate into the preparation and baking process.

After the conclusion of the war, scores of Polish refugees departed Russia along with many native Chabad chassidim disguised as Poles, leaving us somewhat deserted, and suddenly bereft of a sizable portion of our chassidic leadership. A new, spiritually challenging, era had dawned in Samarkand. We were suddenly forced to manage all Jewish matters on our own, in addition to the physical and monetary difficulties we faced at the time.

Lacking an alternative, a band of older chassidic yeshivah students in Samarkand, myself included, handled the situation to the best of their ability. With Pesach fast approaching, one of our chief tasks was taking charge of the matzah production. We would purchase wheat in the local market, exerting maximum effort to acquire the cleanest unwashed kernels, seeing as it was common among the Uzbekistan merchants to wash the wheat before bringing it to market. We would then vigilantly inspect the kernels for worms and other refuse. There was no electricity at home, so we would examine the wheat by the light of a kerosene lamp, calling to mind the Talmudic depiction of women checking kernels by the light of the lamps used for the Sukkos festivities.

After we had painstakingly inspected the wheat, we would bring it to a nearby mill powered by a waterfall in the outskirts of the city. Like all property in Russia, the mill was government-owned, and it was illegal for individuals to grind their own wheat there, and certainly not for religious purposes. After a hefty gift, the owner of the mill, an Uzbeki by the name of Osman Aka, would agree to give us possession of the mill for two days.

Cleaning the millstones was complicated work. The two millstones weighed about 500 kilograms each. With great exertion we detached them and scraped them with small sticks and a special brush. Osman Aka, afraid that we would destroy the stones, would stand to the side, pleading with us to stop scraping them so much. We spent a large proportion of the time we had ownership of the mill scrubbing and scouring the many crevices in the millstones. The remaining time—about two hours—was spent grinding the wheat.

The day that we koshered Cleaning the millstones was complicated workthe mill was a momentous event for the community. A large number of community members, yeshivah boys, and even us small children, would trek up to the mill and help in the koshering process.

R. Feivish Genkin was a simple Jew from Samarkand, and a constructor of ovens by trade. Despite his simplicity, R. Feivish was a man who was especially punctilious in his performance of the mitzvos. The extent of his scrupulousness in his mitzvah observance was such that even R. Berke Chein, who would not eat at the homes of certain families in the community, agreed to eat in the Genkin home. R. Feivish owned a gasoline-operated blowtorch which he would bring to the mill. After we concluded scraping out all the nooks and crannies, he would pass his torch over the grooves and scorch any remaining particles of wheat. Only then was the mill ready to be used to make our matzos.