By Yosef Gurevitch
At 6:30 in the morning, grey mists still cover the skies of Moscow. The airport is already crowded with tens of thousands of passengers flying to all corners of the world. They stand with typical Russian patience in endless lines for security and border checks.
Somehow we pass them all, and at the last moment, we make it onto our connecting flight to the Russian port city of Rostov, which takes off just minutes later. Our plane cuts through a layer of feathery clouds and now we’re heading south.
A red sun paints the azure sky in a hot reddish color, and through the small window, residential buildings and smoke chimneys are visible from the huge city spread out beneath us.
The flight is supposed to continue for an hour and a half. We have a long day ahead and we are all waiting anxiously.
Immediately after landing we go straight to the Rebbe Rashab‘s house and settle into the residential wing. We dip in the famous Rostov mikvah, then daven shacharis and make our way to the Ohel.
VIDEO: Davening at the Rebbe Rashab’s Ohel
When we reach the Old Jewish Cemetery, we first stop by the resting place of a lonely Jew who we helped bury last year when we came to visit and together we say Kaddish for him.
When we reach the Ohel, the change is already evident following renovations. The new building is made of concrete, the facade is beautiful and wide, and allows the entrance of a much larger amount of people than in the past.
After spending precious moments at the Ohel, we leave with renewed hope that our prayers and requests will be answered.
We then returned to the Rebbe Rashab’s house and met with the legendary chossid Rabbi Yitzchak Kogan, visiting from Moscow, who told us fascinating stories about his experiences in Communist Russia and about all the special instructions he received from the Rebbe. Rabbi Kogan’s passion and burning faith inspire us.
The night before, many guests participated in a meaningful farbrengen in the Rebbe Rashab’s house till the late hours of Wednesday night. The following day, hundreds passed through the Ohel; in what might have been its busiest day since the Frierdiker Rebbe left Rostov in 1924.
Local Jews of all ages were joined by guests from around the world to pray together. Especially uplifting was hearing the Rebbe Rashab’s nigunim which were sung by the tzion.
After Mincha, we arrived at Rostov’s beautiful and ornate synagogue for a festive banquet in honor of this special day. Dozens of guests who came from all over Russia, Israel, and New York joined together with community members of all ages, for the elegant dinner.
Rostov’s Shliach and Rabbi Chaim Danzinger presented certificates of appreciation to New York businessmen Menachem Gurevitch and Avremel Lokshin, who together with Zev Drizin and Ralph Gut donated generously to the renovation of the Rashab’s Ohel.
“We are deeply grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world,” said Rabbi Danzinger. “And to the 1,200 individuals who financed the repairs and renovations of the Rebbe Rashab’s holy resting place.”
This year, the celebration was particularly exciting because of another reason: Today, 5 members of the community, ranging from an 8-day-old baby to a 35-year-old man, underwent a Bris and entered into the covenant of Avrohom.
The sight that was revealed to us in the Shul did not leave even the cynics among us indifferent and moved many of us to tears. There was little 8-year-old Sasha who only had a Bris just a few hours earlier, but stood before us on stage, proudly wearing his tzitzis, singing the niggun of Rostov together with the other boys in the choir with great intensity.
Rabbi Kogan was honored to read the brachos of the Bris and give Sasha his Jewish name. Fitting for this special day, he chose the name Sholom Dovber.
A 28-year-old young man, also by the name of Sasha, came up to the stage. Not long ago, he discovered his Jewish identity and exactly one year ago at the upshernish of the son of Rabbi Chaim and Kaila Danzinger, he promised that he would have a Bris in honor of the occasion.
After pushing it off all year, he finally decided that the matter could no longer be postponed. Before undergoing the Bris, Sasha trembled with fear. But his desire to do what was right overcame everything. He chose the name Aharon for himself after his grandfather, Aharon, who lived here in Rostov.
I watch these Jews on stage and in the shul. How courageous, how devoted and soulful they are. How thirsty they are, and how proud they are that they are Jews. And how happy they look to be celebrating now.
The Frierdiker Rebbe, or maybe it was his father, the Rebbe Rashab, said of Rostov’s Jews that they were “peninim,” sincere internal Jews. The words of the Rebbe are eternal. And now we get to see it with our own eyes.
In order to obtain the approval to perform the Brissim, various medical documents were also required. The documents for one of the men who wanted a Bris were held in archives in another city.
Yesterday, Rabbi Shmuel Stolin traveled about 7 hours to that city in order to obtain the necessary documents. But he does not make a fuss about it. If Rabbi Danzinger had not told us about it, we would never have known.
It is interesting to see here the cooperation and harmony between the Shluchim and Shluchos. The division of labor is such that each one does what it takes to get to the best results and give the most nachas to the Rebbe.
The mohel, a Chassidish Jew who flew in especially from Israel, tells the audience that he is from Bnei Brak, the most haredi city. Among the reasons for this, is the fact that the first Rabbi of the city, Rabbi Yaakov Landa, had been instilled with a fear of heaven from the years when he lived in Rostov by the Rebbe Rashab.
One woman, 91-year-old Miriam Goldfarb, was asked to say a few words, and tells us that she remembers how when she was a young college student, she would stand with her friends at the entrance to the synagogue building, but because their university refused to let anyone pray at shul, they could only dream of entering.
If they entered, they would be expelled immediately from the university. Instead, they would wait outside until the end of the prayers and accompany their brave grandparents home. And now she was inside the same shul, standing proud, not afraid of anything. What a triumph!
She told us that she read in a book based on the talks of the Rebbe, that Moshe Rabbeinu must have known about our generation, an orphan generation, yet this is the generation Hashem chose to reveal Moshiach.
Afterwards, Rabbi Danzinger tells us that this woman, who has no children, participates in every single event in the Shul. Recently she asked him to come and inspect the mezuzahs in her apartment.
She also asked him to provide her with a book she had heard about: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. A few days later she called him crying that she had only now discovered some new rules of kashrut that she didn’t know about and feels very regretful.
Miriam recently received a pension given to her by the German government as compensation for living here under the Nazi occupation. The next day she arrived at shul holding an envelope with a big sum of money, her eyes sparkling with tears; at last, she could perform the mitzvah of charity, which she had longed to do for so many years.
These are the Jews here. These are the souls. Where are they and where are we?!