3 Kislev 5778 21/11/2017

The Journey into Exile

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was sent into exile in the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. It was a grueling, arduous journey.

On the date specified for meeting her husband, Rebbitzen Chana arrived at the appointed place accompanied by a close family friend. She brought with her a parcel of provisions, including various items essential to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s health.

It is difficult to imagine how Rebbitzen Chana must have felt to see her husband for the first time in ten months. Her joy at seeing him was mixed with shock when she saw how badly his health had deteriorated. He had become so emaciated that he was almost unrecognizable.

“Thank G-d we have been able to meet!” he exclaimed through the iron bars that separated them. “Tell me, is Rosh Chodesh Kislev one or two days this year? I need to know so that I will be able to work out when to celebrate Chanukah.” Their entire meeting only lasted a few minutes, during which the guard interrupted them twice to remind them to speak only in Russian. When they parted, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok asked his wife to forgive him for anything he may have said or done to offend her over the years. He was clearly worried that he might not survive the hard journey ahead. When they parted, Rebbitzen Chana made sure to leave the parcel of food with him.

Soon after this Rabbi Levi Yitzchok and his fellow exiles boarded a train to central Asia. It was a long, arduous journey that dragged on for a whole month. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok himself later related that he was particularly troubled by a lack of water for washing his hands for prayer. For eleven days he was not given any water at all. Eventually a daily ration for drinking was allocated to the prisoners, but this was barely enough to quench their thirst. Instead of drinking his water, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok decided to use it for ritually washing his hands. To make sure that he had enough water to perform this mitzvah properly, he gave the small quantity of food that he possessed to the soldier in charge of distributing the drink rations.

On 15th Shevat 5700 [1940], Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s train pulled into the station at Almaty, the capital of the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. The prisoners were divided into groups according to their places of exile. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s group was sent to Kazil-Orda. This was a relatively large town and some of the group asked to stay there so that they could live close to the local Jewish community. The authorities turned down this request and the exiles were sent on their way.

Among the other exiles was Rabbi Avraham Baruch Pevzner, who was arrested on Shushan Purim in 1939 when many Chassidim were dragged from their homes in an infamous purge. Rabbi Pevzner was exiled to Kazil-Orda some time later. Shortly before his death, his wife, Rebbitzen Alte, was allowed to join him. He told her that he had seen the some of suffering that Rabbi Levi Yitzchok had to endure on the way to the village of Chiali, where he was ultimately exiled.

Rabbi Pevzner was marching to his own place of exile surrounded by armed guards when he saw Rabbi Levi Yitzchok. The latter was guarded by armed soldiers with vicious dogs. It was too dangerous for both men, who were good friends, to show any open sign of recognition, but they managed to greet each other with a slight nod that escaped the notice of their guards.

Rabbi Pevzner continued to watch as Rabbi Levi Yitzchok stumbled slowly on his way. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was so weak that he fell to the ground several times, unable to continue. His cruel escorts did not show him any mercy. Whenever he fell they beat him and even set their dogs on him. These brutal animals bit him and tore his clothes until he was forced to stand up again and continue on his way.

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Featured photo
The president of Kazakhstan presents the head shliach with a document signed by the government (in 2000) denouncing the persecution of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.
The president of Kazakhstan presents the head shliach with a document signed by the government (in 2000) denouncing the persecution of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.
31/07/2007
Featured gallery
A Gallery  of Notable Visitors to the Chabad Center in Almaty and the Tomb of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok
A Gallery of Notable Visitors to the Chabad Center in Almaty and the Tomb of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok
20/02/2007