This week on the 20th day of Av, marked the yahrzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878 – 1944), the Rebbe's father. When our son Levi was born two years ago, we chose to name him in honor Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.
A great scholar and teacher, for over thirty years he served the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk, first as a rabbi, and eventually as the chief rabbi. He unapologetically stood up to the communist regimes, and risked his life to ensure that even under their oppression there would be kosher, synagogue services, and Jewish life cycle ceremonies.
His ironclad commitment to his people and faith, came at a great personal cost. He was constantly harassed, persecuted and then arrested by the KGB. He also had to endure the Soviets forbidding him from attending the wedding of his oldest son, the Rebbe, his second son had to flee the border to save his life, and his youngest son was killed by Nazi collaborators.
He had a number of opportunities that he could have left the USSR and safely relocated to Eretz Yisroel, or America. But the Jewish community in Ukraine was in need, and he felt that had that responsibility. A true leader can not turn his back on his people.
On the night he was arrested, the KGB also confiscated all his books and decades worth of his scholarly handwritten manuscripts. As he was led away, his fate remained unknown. For weeks on end, the KGB viciously refused to tell his wife if he was still alive, and where they had taken him. He was imprisoned, and after several years eventually sent off to a remote, isolated town for a harsh exile, where he passed away.
Shortly before his passing, a friend walked into his home. His son, Evsey Neymotin, a retired nuclear scientist and former refusenik, related the following:
My father entered their house and he saw Rebbetzin Chana had a very serious look on her face and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was crying. She asked him "Why are you crying?" he answered, "Who am I leaving you with? I'm crying about leaving you alone."
Although Rabbi Levi Yitzchak lived a difficult life, the Communists and Soviets did not win.
Today we are blessed to live in a country where we can each celebrate and practice Judaism freely, openly and proudly. Torah education is accessible to everyone. We are not asked for that level of sacrifice that was needed one or two generations ago just to be Jewish. It is so easy to keep Kosher, so enjoyable to keep Shabbat, and so meaningful to study Torah and engage in Jewish education. Let's do it!
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Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.