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Influence in Siberia

Mrs. Devorah Leah Klinger was a descendent of the renowned Schneerson family, and as a relative, she had a close relationship with the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. Quite often she would visit, and bring her children and grandchildren along. One of her grandsons, Shemi Rokeach, relates this story:

In the 1980’s I traveled with my family to Israel for my brother’s bar mitzva. Before we went, we visited the Rebbetzin. I don’t know why, but of all my brothers and sisters she favored me. During our visit she said to me, “Shemi, you know that my husband has many shluchim (emissaries) but I want to make you my shliach. When you go to Israel, do me a favor. Go to Kfar Chabad and take pictures of what is going on there. The houses, the institutions, the streets, and when you come back bring me the pictures. I want to see what is happening there.”

Of course I was happy to fulfill this mission, and during our visit I asked my cousin, Rabbi Nachum Schneerson (who is the head of the Tchebin yeshivah now) to send me to Kfar Chabad with his driver.

On our way to Kfar Chabad the driver pointed at a picture of the Rebbe that was hanging in his car and he asked me whether I knew who it was. I said: Of course, it’s our uncle, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The driver was so excited to hear that we were related to the Rebbe that he nearly got us into an accident!

“The Rebbe saved my life!” he exclaimed and he stopped the car on the side of the road in order to tell the story and to calm down.

“I was born in Russia,” he said with a heavy Russian accent. “When I grew up I joined a group of Zionists who tried to get out of Russia. I was arrested by the KGB and was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in Siberia.

“In Siberia, they had us chop down trees and drag them to the camp. The day after I arrived, one of the prisoners, a huge Russian gentile, came over to me and said: From now on, you will also do my work!

“He thought I was a timid Jew who would obey his commands, but I refused. He began beating me and I gave him back as good as I got, even better. We kept at it until blood ran and we were taken to the hospital.

“In Siberia there was no lack of manpower and the doctors didn’t exert themselves to save us. Then a doctor came over to me and asked: Are you Jewish? Do you believe in Torah and G-d?

“I thought the doctor was a KGB agent who wanted to entrap me and I refused to answer him. The doctor began treating me devotedly and he saved my life. Every time he came to see me, he asked whether I believed in G-d and kept mitzvot and I denied any connection to religion.

“When I finally recovered, the commander of the camp told me that I was going to be transferred from forest work to office work in the hospital. I met the doctor nearly every day and he continued to inquire about my beliefs. After a year in the hospital, they suddenly told me that they had received an order to release me and I was free to return home.

“I joyfully walked to the train station. As I stood there at the station waiting for the train, I saw the doctor coming in his car. He hurried over to me and asked: Nu, are you going to Israel now?

“If I wasn’t sure until then that he was a KGB agent, at that point I was convinced that he was trying to incriminate me. I denied it, of course, and declared that I was a loyal communist and I wouldn’t want to leave Mother Russia.

“The doctor persisted and said: I know you are a Jew and you want to go to Jerusalem.

“I continued to deny it and said I was going to Moscow, where I planned to live. At a certain point he took me over to a corner and said: ‘Listen well. You are a Jew and that is why I helped you until now. You should know that I put a lot of effort into healing you and I used my connections so they would change your hard labor to office work in the hospital. It is thanks to me that you are free today and not in another eleven years.

“‘You surely want to know who I am and why I was so eager to help you.’ He took a picture of a Jewish rabbi with a white beard out of his pocket. ‘This man sent me and some other people like me to various places throughout Russia. When we see a Jew in distress, we are there to help him. I want the best for you, which is why I say, do not remain in Russia. Do all you can to get out of here and when you get to Israel, find out who this man in the picture is and you should know that he saved your life!’

“I went to my home in Moscow and submitted another request to emigrate. A year later I received a visa and I went to Israel. Of course, as soon as I got there I asked to see pictures of various rabbis and I immediately identified the man in the picture. It is the Lubavitcher Rebbe!

“Now you know why I was so excited when you said that you are related to the Rebbe, the man who saved my life!”


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