This week our family commemorated the 9th yahrzeit of Mussie's late grandfather, Moshe Greenberg. Born in the Soviet Union in 1927 he sacrificed everything to study Torah in the underground schools and at age 20 was sentenced to 25 years of harsh labor in the Siberian gulags.
Inmates would recall how he stubbornly refused to eat even a morsel of food that was not kosher, no matter how great his hunger, nor did he work on Shabbat.
"I figured that the only kosher food," he would later say, "was the 15 grams of bread, the little sugar and a small piece of pickled herring," which was a minuscule portion of food for the backbreaking work he was required to do in the camp. Since he refused to work on Saturdays, each week he was placed in solitary confinement for the day.
Before the High Holidays he borrowed a machzor from a Jewish engineer. For over a month he would hide every day and copy the book, line for line, into a notebook.
After 8 years of brutal imprisonment, Stalin died and his sentence was commuted. He married and raised a family, and immigrated to Israel in 1967 where he continued to live as a happy man.
This is the true Jewish spirit under oppression. Maybe, just maybe, this is why by the time he died he had more than one hundred descendants, including children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and by now well over two hundred, all living around the world as proud Jews continuing to cherish our sacred heritage, the Torah and Mitzvahs, and teaching them to the next generation.
Today we are blessed to live in a country where we can each celebrate and practice Judaism freely. Torah education is accessible to everyone. We are not asked for that level of self sacrifice that our ancestors once needed just to be Jewish. It is so easy to keep Kosher, and so enjoyable to keep Shabbat. Let's do it!
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.