6 Kislev 5778 24/11/2017

Pesach in Exile

When Rebbitzen Chana joined her husband in Chiali, she found him to be weak and unwell. In her diaries, she recorded the unbearable living conditions that they both had to endure. If life was not hard enough, when Pesach arrived it became almost impossible to prepare for the upcoming festival.

After Purim, Rebbitzen Chana joined Rabbi Levi Yitzchok in exile. At the beginning of her long journey, she went to Moscow to find a number of items that she knew were unavailable in Chiali. These included matzos and wine for Pesach, as well as a book of Tehillim. She also made further efforts to secure her husband’s release, but these were not successful.

Rebbitzen Chana arrived at the station accompanied by about fifteen Lubavitcher Chassidim. They put all her packages and belongings on the train for her, and when there was a problem with her luggage they bribed the porter to ensure that she had a smooth journey. As the trip was expected to last five days, the Chassidim also bribed one of the railway officials to look after Rebbitzen Chana and make sure that she did not come to any harm.

When Rebbitzen Chana finally arrived at her destination, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok met her at the station. He looked so tired and emaciated that she had to make every effort to hold back her tears.

To reach the village from the railway station it was necessary to walk two kilometers down a marshy, clay path. It would have taken them forever, had it not been for a sturdy local Kazakh, who agreed to carry the luggage on his broad shoulders.

Later on, Rebbitzen Chana described their daily lives in Chiali in her memoirs:
“…. We took a room in the home of a local Tartar family, which consisted of a husband, wife, and small baby. To reach our room, we had to walk through a narrow corridor. Everything was wet with mud, and clouds of mosquitoes obscured the daylight. From the corridor, we had to walk through the dining room and bedroom of our landlord before we could reach our own small room.

“When I wanted to drink some water I had to wait until all the sediment had settled at the bottom of the glass. Yet this in itself was a luxury, as it was very hard to get hold of any water at all. At night we used a small lamp of our own to illuminate the room.

“In the summer the heat was almost unbearable. At night we would be drifting off to sleep when the mosquitoes started their relentless assault. There was no respite from their constant buzzing and stinging. The only way to prevent them from coming into the room was by closing every single crack and vent, but this was impossible in the searing heat. A second option was to light a fire with plenty of smoke to drive away these uninvited guests, but this was just as intolerable as the first option, because the fumes would choke us. Our nightclothes would be full of black spots in the morning from all of our mosquito bites.

“These privations soon became part of our daily lives. However, when the month of Nissan came around, the situation became especially difficult. Everything in the house was chametz, including all the dishes, and we needed to find food that was kosher for Pesach.

“As our non-Jewish landlords were devout people, we tried to explain to them about Pesach. We naively thought that they would understand our religious needs and would help us. Instead they were outraged by our desire to use their precious water for a purpose other than drinking and they ordered us to leave their home straight away. This made everything even more difficult. Where would we find somewhere to live just two weeks before Pesach?

“In the end, a local woman agreed to rent us a room with a separate entrance and a wooden floor (which was a real luxury!) for fifty rubles a month. The main disadvantage was that she had very unruly children who would disturb us terribly, and other people warned us against living there. However, we had little choice and we moved into our new lodgings the week before Pesach.

“We still needed to buy dishes and food for the upcoming festival. So I went to another town, which was quite far from Chiali, where there was a group of religious Jewish exiles from Kiev, including a Rabbi and a ritual slaughterer. I stayed there for two days, during which I purchased a large new tin dish. I also ordered some meat and fish to be delivered on the day before Pesach.”

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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