Life in the Soviet Union for Yane Krichevsky, the son of Chassidic parents, was not easy. His father, not wanting to work on the Shabbat, was without a steady job, which forced his family to live without knowing where their next meal will come from. Yane would often eat at the Belenitzskys, who were close family friends. The father, Yisroel Noah Belenitzsky, had an accounting job in a factory. He managed to avoid working on Shabbat by remaining late on Thursday and coming early on Sunday morning.

Due to the danger of maintaining a religious lifestyle in Communist Russia, Yane never went to synagogue as a child, but on early mornings, a teacher would come to his home to teach him Judaism. The teacher's salary was some food that Yane's mother, Tziporah, scratched together. His upbringing left him with only a very basic Jewish education, while he graduated the Soviet school system.

After his marriage to a girl from Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Yane learned that life on her side of the Soviet Union was much better. Though they were not able to publicly practice Judaism or teach Torah, the authorities there were much more lax in enforcing the laws aimed against those who were doing so underground.

Thus, many religious Jews found their way to that side of the country and Yane easily found his place there. He joined prayer services in the home of Lubavitch chassidim where there was standing room only due to the large crowds that regularly gathered. The services were always followed by a chassidic gathering, where the participants would share words of Torah, sing soul-stirring melodies and speak to one another with open hearts.

Yane's mother Tziporah Krichevsky (photo reproduction by Yossi Vodovsky)
Yane's mother Tziporah Krichevsky (photo reproduction by Yossi Vodovsky)

For the first time, Yane met Jews whose entire lives centered around serving G‑d with love and awe. They would cover their heads and faces with their prayer shawls and say the words of prayer with deep concentration. To these individuals, the words were not merely words, but each one had deep meaning and was murmured with precious fervor.

Yane learned to love his Judaism. It was not just about doing, but it was about connecting to a higher Creator.

Meanwhile, Yane slowly climbed the ranks in business, and ran numerous fabric factories. His position now gave him the opportunity to employ many of those who did not want to work on the holy Shabbat.

He also followed the Belenitzskys' example, opening his house to assist others in need. At times, his living room floor was covered with mattresses from wall to wall, leaving no room to walk through.

In their home, they prepared kosher food for those who were imprisoned for disseminating Judaism. He also assisted other prisoners by convincing top officials to relocate them to safer prisons or labor camps.

As an official manager of numerous profitable factories, Yane was well connected. But it also brought additional surveillance and inquiry on anything that he did. He knew that his Jewish activities were done under the watchful eyes of the Soviet government. With a lot of bribing and expensive vodka, Yane was able to continue his illegal activities.

A Party for the Newborn Boy

Yane Krichevsky (photo reproduction by Yossi Vodovsky)
Yane Krichevsky (photo reproduction by Yossi Vodovsky)

When his second son was born, Yane was immediately contacted by local Soviet officials who warned him, "If you ritually circumcise your son, you will be sent to Siberia for at least ten years."

Yane responded in a rigid tone. He told them that while he would respect their wishes, there is no way he'd surrender his right to make a huge celebration for his family and friends in honor of his son's birth.

The officials agreed and bade him well on the birth of his new baby boy.

Yane and his wife Rochel immediately began preparations for the celebration. They invited their family and friends, all from the chassidic community. Not to arouse any suspicion, they also invited Mr. Spiegel, a high ranking official in the Uzbekistani government in Tashkent, who happened to be Jewish.

The crowd gathered for the celebration. Yane sat with Spiegel and offered him a huge serving of vodka. After that, it was another attendee's job to drink with Spiegel, and then another. A short while later, Spiegel was drunk, and they were ready to do the ritual circumcision...

The Krichevskys honored Rabbi Shmaya Marinovsky, a highly respected and pious chassid, with holding the baby boy, to be the traditional sandek. Rabbi Marinovsky's flowing white beard was wet with tears of joy at the privilege of holding the newborn entering the Covenant of Abraham, at great sacrifice to his parents. He knew that if Spiegel would come to his senses, Yane would be sent in exile for many years.

As ten men gathered around the baby, the child was circumcised and named Matisyahu. He was named after the famed Jewish hero from the Chanukah story, who stood up to the Greeks in the face of oppression, and was ultimately triumphant.

Rabbi Shmaya Marinovsky
Rabbi Shmaya Marinovsky

As the crowd dispersed from around the child and sandek, Spiegel suddenly awoke, pointed, and asked, "Who is that holy man?"

Worried that Spigel had figured out what was going on, they told him that it is the custom for a righteous, elderly man to hold the baby and give him a blessing.

The communist responded, "I want to bend down and give him a kiss on his hands." Rabbi Marinovsky's face became white with fright and feared the worst for Yane, his family, and the entire community.

No one knew what would happen.

Shortly thereafter, Yane went to Mr. Spiegel's office in Tashkent. He wanted to find out whether Mr. Speigel had reported him to the authorities, and as a result, if anything was brewing against the Jewish community. Yane brought some extra goodies he could use as a bribe.

When his second son was born, Yane was immediately contacted by local Soviet officials who warned him, "If you ritually circumcise your son, you will be sent to Siberia for at least ten years." To his shock, there was no sign on Spiegel's door and he was nowhere to be found in the building. In the Soviet Union, the removal of an office sign usually meant that its occupant was arrested.

He immediately began to investigate, worried that if the Soviet authorities found out that this high ranking official attended a ritual circumcision, Yane and his family would surely be arrested soon thereafter.

But, surprisingly, he was told that Spiegel had retired due to health reasons. Yane decided to visit him at his home.

When Yane arrived, he was surprised to learn that Spiegel was greatly moved by the self-sacrifice that others had for their Judaism, and had decided to give up his high ranking and well-paying career and return to his Jewish roots.

Yane (80 years old at the time this story is being published in 2009) immigrated with his wife Rochel to Israel where he is an official Russian diplomat and a representative for Trans European. He has grandchildren who are Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in the Former Soviet Union—which he considers the greatest revenge against Communism.