In 1961, we first received an official invitation from Eretz Yisrael. We debated about whether to submit a request to leave. Very few people who submitted requests were actually allowed to go, and the majority that was turned down, suffered afterwards. Some of them were brought into the offices of the KGB for interrogations and many were fired from their jobs.

At that time, R. Mordechai Gorodetzky, who lived in Tashkent, paid us a visit in Samarkand. My brother-in-law, R. Eliyahu Mishulovin, who wanted to gauge how the Chassidic community in Tashkent viewed the possibility to leave Russia, asked him casually, “If you received an invitation from Eretz Yisrael, would you submit a request to leave?” (He did not ask him clearly as he didn’t want to reveal that we had indeed received such an invitation.)

R. Mordechai said that he would, adding that he anticipated that the times had changed. To a certain extent, this encouraged us to begin preparing the documentation.

It was extremely difficult for us to come to terms with matters as they were then. My sister's children had already reached schooling age and were legally required to be sent to school, where they were at risk of being indoctrinated with communism and atheism. It was tremendously risky to hide them at home, as the government kept a careful watch over all Soviet citizens and any child missing from school would be removed from his parents’ care and entrusted to special government educational facilities. We were thus restless to leave Russia as soon as possible.

The process of gathering the documents took half a year and to our great disappointment, we were turned down. We had the right to contest the decision and we appealed directly to Yuri Andropov, chairman of the KGB (who later became the head secretary of the communist party, a position equivalent to that of president in other countries). A few more months went by until we received our answer, which was … negative.

Since the visa we had received from Eretz Yisrael was valid for only one year, we were forced to receive a new invitation and start the process all over in order to try again. Once again, the process took a year and once again, we were turned down.

The years dragged on as we impatiently waited for the day that we would be permitted to leave. Although we were continuously declined, we still lived our lives as though we were about to leave. Why buy furniture – an oven, refrigerator, couch, and other important household amenities – when we might receive a positive answer in another few months? Our hope was always renewed as we thought; maybe this time we would be granted permission.

In the Soviet Union at that time, we would say that when two Lubavitchers met and wanted to know what was going on, they would ask each other, “How long have you been living on the road?” as if to say, how many years have you been submitting documents? For example, I began the process in 1957 as an unmarried youth and only left fourteen years later, in 1971, with a wife and family!