I lived in Kharkov, Ukraine for one year when I was twenty years old. I was one of four young Rabbinical students from a Brooklyn Yeshiva who spent a year in modern USSR. We weren't worried. After all, what was there to worry about? Communism was over, and I had winter gloves.

The old choral synagogue in Kharkov is located on 12 Pushkinskaya Street. In the 1940's she stood watching as the Nazis came and left, her prayers went unanswered. After the war she became a sports center, the holy walls could only cry.

Recently, in 1992, the shul was given back to her people. True, the sanctuary was destroyed in the name of construction, but she was ours again. That Friday night the locals came to pray in the dark, the faithful danced in the cold. It was ours again.

Today, 12 Pushkinskaya Street is a functioning shul. On Shabbat the shul is full with men and women, song and prayer. Children in white shirts and little ties run to kiss the Torah. But 12 Pushkinskaya Street is no ordinary shul. My friends had told me about it. I saw it once, twice, I saw it every week.

I'm sitting up front near the old man in the brown hat. The prayers are done and the rabbi makes Kiddush. Everyone waiting gets a plate of food and a small challah. The man near me first licks the bottom of the challah roll and slips it into his pocket, now breathing a little heavier he starts eating.

Is it for later? Or for his wife and kids? I dare not ask.

Three rows behind me a woman takes a clean empty jar out of her bag. She's not embarrassed, she's not alone. The entire room goes silent, bags open and jars close.

One day an elderly man walked into the shul.

His one hand held a wooden cane, the other somehow was suddenly on my shoulder.

"Can you davven?" he whispered.

"Yes." I answered.

"Can I watch?"

I prayed in Hebrew and he stood listening to every word.

I finished one chapter and he begged for more. Then he asked me, "Was that one for me?"

The chief Rabbi of Levov was killed in World War I.

His son Nochum was only eight.

Nochum started telling me the Aleph Bet he remembered.

Only a few Holy letters and sacred memories would outlive communism.

Years later, in the old shul in Kharkov, Nochum thanks me in tears. He finally saw his father pray again.