By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
In 1955, Rabbi David Hollander, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, was visiting Washington, D.C., when he had an inspiration.
He felt that no one had heard from Russian Jewry in a long time, and it would be a good idea to have a delegation of rabbis visit the Soviet Union to assess the situation first hand.
He visited the Soviet embassy, and after describing his proposed trip to a clerk, he was cordially invited to visit the USSR. The idea was not as well received in Jewish circles, however, where many saw it as giving a Jewish stamp of legitimacy to an oppressive regime.
Unsure how to proceed, Rabbi Hollander sought the Rebbe‘s advice.
At the time, the Soviet Union was hostile to all religion, and practicing Judaism openly was dangerous. Those who not only practiced but were active in promoting observance were in even greater danger.
The Rebbe, who was secretly involved in efforts to preserve Jewish life there, told Rabbi Hollander he should go and gave him some advice.
You have an American passport, the Rebbe told him, and so you are not taking much of a risk by going. But do not forget that your very presence puts the people there at risk.
“You may speak against Communist oppression in a synagogue and then return safely to the United States, while those who listen to you are held responsible for your words.” The KGB agents will ask the congregants why they let you speak. “Why did you associate with the American rabbi?”
The Rebbe told him that he should not interpret the fact that he was given permission to visit as an indication that the government would be lenient after he left.
The people there will be careful when they come in contact with you, the Rebbe told him, and you should be careful too. “Don’t say everything you want to say. You are the one who is safe.”