R. Berke’s day began with ritual immersion. In his first years in Samarkand there was no mikvah and despite the danger, he would immerse instead in a small river at the edge of the city. Early each morning, while the townspeople were still asleep and the streets were empty, R. Berke would leave the house. As an additional precaution, he would don dirty rags to look as though he was homeless, tuck his beard into his coat, and walk to the river. He did this every day throughout the summer, but as winter neared, we thought he would stop, especially since he had grown sickly by then. We were wrong: he went to immerse in the river even during the frigid winter months.

During those years before a ritual bathwas set up, we boys would also immerse in the river or in a lake, and we would pass through town on the way slightly later on in the morning. During the summer however, the town center became a hangout for some of the crasser, more vulgar locals, and we felt it was inappropriate for us to walk through there. We thought of skipping the immersion on Shabbos morning and sufficing with the immersion the day before, maintaining that it was not proper for us to see the sights of the town center on the holy day of Shabbos, before prayer.

When R. Berke heard of this, he rejected the idea and said that there was nothing in the world that could substitute for the holy act of immersing before prayer. He quoted the declaration of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev: “That which immersion in a mikvah can accomplish, the greatest mitzvah cannot accomplish, and that which depression can accomplish, the biggest sin cannot accomplish.” He said that a young chassidic man had to develop the self-restraint to look only within his immediate four cubits. There was no way that we should forego immersing in the mikvah on Shabbos before prayers.

Even in later years, when the ritual bath R. Abba Pliskin had built during the war reopened in Samarkand, R. Berke preferred to immerse in the river in the summertime. He was afraid that his daily visits to the illegal mikvah would arouse suspicion and might eventually betray its location. He also preferred not to bother R. Feivish Genkin who, along with his wife Chasha, was responsible for operating the mikvah. Only during the winter, when the river was extremely cold, did he immerse in R. Feivish’s mikvah.

Later on, when R. Berke’s legal status was stabilized and he longer needed to hide, he frequented the mikvah on a constant basis. It once happened that R. Berke’s pre-immersionspiritual preparations took longer than usual and he only arrived once it was already closed. R. Feivish, a rigid and uncompromising man, refused to open for him. R. Berke pleaded with him but R. Feivish refused, on principle.

It was a winter day but despite the freezing cold, when R. Berke gave up trying to convince R. Feivish, he went to the river instead. When R. Feivish saw how serious R. Berke's commitment was, he was so impressed that he gave R. Berke the key to the mikvah so that he could go whenever he wished.

Each night, R. Feivish's wife Chasha would take charge and have the mikvah open for use of the women. When R. Berke heard the time that the mikvah was closed every night, he asked R. Feivish to leave it open for at least another hour. He said that if a woman came a few minutes after closing time, she should be able to immerse.

R. Feivish maintained that rules are rules; people should show up during hours and not come late. R. Berke could not accept this sort of stubborn pedantry, especially over something as crucial a cornerstone of Jewish life as mikvah. He turned pale and began to shake as we had never seen him before, so overwrought that he could barely speak. Summoning his remaining strength he screamed at R. Feivish, “You should know that you’re starting up with the the Baal Shem Tov and all of the Rebbeim!” Hearing this, R. Feivish relented and did as R. Berke requested.