In the meantime, we thought of an idea: Unlike Georgia, summers in Samarkand invariably had no rain at all. Thus, if we could obtain a large amount of locally produced wheat that had been protected from water from the time of harvesting, we would have enough wheat for all of our matzos.

Summers in Samarkand invariably had no rain at all

We asked R. Refael Chudaitov to shoulder this new undertaking. He knew the language of the local famers and was familiar with the Muslim mentality. He also knew all the Samarkand collective farms, or kolkhozes, as they were known, and would be quick to befriend their owners. My brother Berel had a late model motorcycle and he offered to drive R. Refael: if he wasn’t afraid to ride with him. R. Refael, known to be a brave man, smiled at my brother and said, “Afraid? I have driven such a bike before you were even born! Let’s go.” They devised a story to tell the farmers about why they needed the wheat, and they left in search of a kolkhoz.

The closest kolkhoz where wheat was grown was thirty kilometers from Samarkand. When they arrived there, the Muslim Uzbeks were in the midst of eating their midday lunch, pita bread and green tea with sugar. As soon as they noticed R. Refael with his flowing white beard, they stood up and honored him by inclining their heads, shaking his hand and treating him with much respect.

On top of having to convince the farmers to supply them with the wheat, and explaining why they needed such a large amount of wheat, R. Refoel and Berel had another challenge. Eating matzah at the Seder constitutes the fulfillment of a Biblical commandment, and as such, a Jew is required to be directly involved with all of the stages of the matzah preparation, and have the express intent of doing so for the purposes of the mitzvah. For R. Refoel and Berel, this meant they would need to personally sit on the tractor during the harvest, and to declare “lesheim matzos mitzvah,” "For the sake of the matzah commandment," as they did so. To this end, R. Refael concocted an entire story so they would not suspect this to be something related to religion: “I am soon marrying off my grandson. There is an ancient custom among Jews that at a grandson’s wedding, all guests are served lepyoshki (flat bread) baked from wheat cut by the groom’s grandfather himself.” R. Refael then added with a wink, “Of course, we will pay you well for it.”

The chairman of the kolkhoz was amenable to this special request and told them that the wheat would ripen in another two weeks and they would be able to come then and harvest it themselves. They came to an agreement regarding financial compensation and returned to Samarkand.

Two weeks later, as the two prepared to leave, we started to plan a way to move the large quantity of wheat to Samarkand. Traveling by train with sacks of wheat was not an option, because police officers would check the passengers and their packages. If they would inspect the sacks, it would be clear to them that we were transporting illegal wheat to sell. Being charged with a criminal offense was all they needed.

In the end, we rented aWe cleaned the floor of the truck thoroughly truck that belonged to someone we knew. We cleaned the floor of the truck thoroughly, bought ten new bags, and R. Refael and Berel set off. Arriving at the kolkhoz, they were greeted by a sea of ripe wheat swaying in the wind, ready for harvest. As agreed upon, they climbed onto the combine, proclaimed “lesheim matzos mitzvah,” and it began harvesting the wheat. The machine did all the necessary work, and at enormous speed: it cut the wheat, removed the husks, and dispensed the kernels into the sacks. Within a half hour, the new sacks were filled with two hundred kilograms of wheat. My brother Berel said that it was the first time they saw the work of a combine. It was amazing to see wheat flowing in such large quantities directly from the field into the sacks.

This arrangement continued throughout the following years, until our departure from Russia. Each year a few of us would travel to the kolkhoz to harvest the wheat.

On one occasion, Yitzchak (Itche) Mishulavin went along with R. Refael for the cutting of the wheat. On the return journey, R. Refael sat near the driver and Yitzchak sat atop the sacks in the back of the truck in order to guard the wheat. From his perch above the sacks, Yitzchak suddenly felt a few cool drops of water land on him. Lifting his eyes, he saw that the skies were clear, so he yelled at R. Refael to halt so they could check where the water was coming from.

The driver refused to stop as he was afraid the police would discover the undocumented merchandise, but Yitzchak pounded on the roof until he came to a halt. It turned out that near the driver's seat there was a basin of water to be used for cooling the motor should the need arise. The water was in a large rubber bowl, and the jerky ride made the water spray from the bowl andThe jerkey ride made the water spray from the bowl hit the wheat. Having no choice, Yitzchak stood for the rest of the journey as he tightly clutched the sides of the rubber bowl to prevent any water from splashing on the wheat.

Naturally, the more scrupulous amongst us did not want to use the flour from the first layer of sacks that had been subject to the spraying water. We made signs on the sacks to mark those that were lying below, and it was those that were used for the higher quality matzos.