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Special Edition # 2 of 2

Pesach: "We Were Slaves..." A True Story

This true but dramatized story demonstrates that even the Gentiles realize the importance and the impact of The Seder Night on Jewish youth.

Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5695 (1935) in the State Run School in the City of Luban, Russia.

"Students!" called the Russian teacher in a loud voice, "I have the following important announcement to make. Tomorrow we start an extended school day schedule. Studies will conclude at eleven o'clock at night!"

An oppressive silence filled the classroom. Only the sounds of quiet rustling could be heard beneath the benches. No one had the nerve to express an opinion on the matter. It was well known what the consequence of that would be, during the reign of the Russian Communists, under the rule of the ruthless Stalin.

The Jewish students exchanged understanding glances. "Of course...tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh Nissan...". They understood very well the reasoning behind this very strange decision.

This was one more way that the Communists chose to wage war against the Jewish faith...

Starting from the time when Stalin rose to power in 1929, the spiritual state of Russian Jewry had continuously deteriorated. The Communists waged a campaign to uproot any trace of the Jewish faith, no matter what the price.

When they saw that their campaign was not very successful with the adults and the elderly, who continued to practice their faith with tremendous self-sacrifice, the Communists decided to turn their attention to the young children.

"We will turn the Jewish youth into great Communists! A new generation will arise that will be ignorant of the archaic customs of their fathers! If we can get the youth - there will be no Jewish continuity," they thought with content.

Some Jews who had distanced themselves from their heritage and joined the Communist Party, told the authorities the big secret: The Seder night. This is when the "brainwashing" occurs. The proceedings at the Seder have a very powerful and influential effect on the souls of the youth. Parents sit and tell their children about the Exodus from Egypt, and imbue their children with the foundations of the Jewish religion.

Therefore, by no means can we allow the youth to participate in this ceremony, or in any of the preparations for it.

A strategy to ensure this was quickly devised. "The children will be required to stay in school until eleven o'clock at night. By the time they return home, they will be too tired to participate in the Seder. This will definitely put a stop to this nonsensical brainwashing," plotted the authorities.

This plan was immediately implemented. All students were required to remain in school until this extremely late hour. Obviously, towards the late afternoon the students could no longer apply their full attention to their studies. The teachers would try to come up with other ways of occupying the children, such as singing revolutionary songs, and telling stories about what a better place the world was going to be when all countries would see the true light and embrace Communism.

At eleven o'clock the students would return home, physically and emotionally exhausted, and would immediately fall into a deep sleep.


The Seder Night

In a narrow and musty room at a festively set table sat Rav Moshe Feinstein. His appearance was one of glory and Holiness. At his side sat his Rebbitzen, Sima. They gazed at the table with pleasure, how much effort had they both put in to procure a few Kosher matzos - an item forbidden by the Russian authorities...

The shutters of the home were tightly closed. They could not allow the Russians to become aware of what was going on in their home. Secret police were patrolling the streets, the danger was great...

"We were once slaves...and we still are slaves," said Rav Moshe to his Rebbitzen, "but with Hashem's help, we must strengthen ourselves..." He started to say the Haggadah, and from time to time would softly sing the melodies of the Seder night.

Around the table stood chairs for their children, but they remained forlorn and empty...

Where were they? Why weren't they sitting around the table?

Yes... at this late hour they were still in school, by the command of the authorities.

The Feinstein children, and all other Jewish children, would not be allowed to celebrate the Seder with their families.


The clock chimed eleven times.

Rav Moshe and his wife had already completed reading the Haggadah. They looked toward the door with anticipation... " In a few minutes they'll come," they thought.

At eleven thirty the children entered the home, drowsy and exhausted. They could barely keep their heads up.

"What can anyone request from them at an hour like this?" asked Rav Moshe in pain.

"My dear Kinderlach," he said to them in a soft voice, "Come, sit on my knees."

"Oy, Tatte," the children sleepily called out, "Tonight is the Seder. We've been looking forward to this for so long! But..." Their eyes slowly drooped down...

"Come, say after me," their father tried to keep them up for just a few moments longer.

"Rabban Gamliel Omer, Kol Shelo Omar Shelosha Devarim Hallalu Lo Yatzah Yedei Chovosoh. V'Eilu Hein - Pesach, Matzoh, U'Morror! (Rabban Gamliel said, anyone who does not say these three things on Pesach, has not fulfilled his obligation. And these are them - Pesach, Matzoh, and Morror.)"

The children awoke for the moment and repeated after their father, word for word.

The Rebbitzen gave each of them a little wine, a K'Zayis of Matzoh, fed them, and sent them off to bed." It is a Leil Shimurim (a night of protection) tonight," she whispered into their ears, "May Hashem protect you, my precious ones!"

"My dear children," she thought in pain, "Even our Holidays they are stealing from you."

It is difficult! It is very difficult to raise children in this type of atmosphere... We must leave this place as soon as possible...

"L'Shana HaBoh B'Yerushalayim," sang Rav Moshe, "Today we are slaves, next year we will be free..."

"Amen," called out the Rebbitzen as she wiped away a hidden tear from her eye.


Translated from the book "V'HaIsh Moshe" by Aaron Berry, printed in Bnei Brak in 1989.

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