Weekly Chasidic Story #1267 (s5782-29)
18 Adar II 5782/March 21, 2022)
by Media in Siberia
The city was everything
they feared - the thermometer read way below zero. The synagogue's bathroom facilities
consisted of a frozen bucket in the courtyard.
Connection: The main event
took place in the week after Purim. Also, the rabbi was also a shochet, and a
major section in this week's Torah reading is about which animals and birds are
eligible for kosher slaughter.
Story in PDF
format for more convenient printing
by Media in Siberia
In a night that most often showcases the
profound growth and success of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, the 5782 (Oct. 27-31.
2021) International Kinus Hashluchim (albeit less populated than usual, owing
to COVID) paused to draw strength from the many difficulties emissaries meet and
overcome in the course of their work. At times, the hardships begin even before
a young couple has landed in the community they will call home.
Rabbi Schneor-Zalman Zaklos was 24 years old, newly married to his wife, Miriam.
They both dreamed of becoming Chabad emissaries anywhere in the world, with one
exception. "When I was dating my wife she told me: 'I am ready to go
with you anywhere, except Russia.'"
Nevertheless, when friends suggested
strongly that they meet with Rabbi Berel Lazar, chief rabbi and head Chabad emissary
of Russia, they did so. "I told him there's actually a big city, Novisibirsk,
the capital of Siberia [and 3rd largest city in the FSU]," Lazar recalled,
"and his first reaction was, it's not for him, it's absolutely not for his
"Siberia? Why would anyone want to go to Siberia?"
Israel-born Zaklos added, envisioning a frozen wasteland dotted with ice huts.
urged them to at least visit the city, before declining the offer. They agreed
to do so, and flew there to spend Purim with its local Jewish community. Novisibirsk
was everything they feared - the thermometer read way below zero. The synagogue
was a broken shell, with bathroom facilities consisting of a frozen bucket in
the courtyard. They arranged a Purim program to the best of their ability and
prepared to leave.
The two-week visit reinforced the young couple's reluctance.
"There's no real synagogue, no congregation, no Jewish community than a handful
of older Jews," they told each other. "It's not for us."
days before their planned return to Israel, Zalman went to the city's tiny shul
to return a prayer book. The Rabbi was horrified when he opened the door. Vandals
had destroyed it, trashing the furniture, tearing up the Torah scrolls, littering
the floor with ripped holy books and tallitot (prayer shawls), and spraying anti-semitic
graffiti on the walls threatening more.
Furious, Zaklos called Lazar in
Moscow for advice. "I'm calling the media," the Chief Rabbi replied.
"We have to call attention to it. It shouldn't happen again."
and radio crews swiftly arrived at the scene. Before long Zaklos found himself
facing TV cameras and microphones. "The first question I was asked was if
I am the rabbi of Novosibirsk," he recalled. "I said, 'Yes.' What choice
did I have?"
When he was asked how long he had lived in Novosibirsk
and what brought him there, he responded, "I've only been here a short time,
in order to be the rabbi for the Jews here in Novosibirsk."
addressed the municipality directly: "You must truly do everything in your
power that something shameful like this should never happen again. And the only
way to ensure this is by finally having a place where it will be possible to build
a large synagogue."
That evening, the Rabbi's face and his new title
were splashed on TV screens across the former Soviet Union. "I guess we're
staying," he told his wife.
Even as the story went viral in Russia,
the couple returned to Israel - and to a barrage of congratulations from friends
and family on their new position as Chabad emissaries and leaders of the Jewish
community of Novosibirsk.
"Zaklos realized that when he said, 'I'm
here in order to be the rabbi', this wasn't just
by chance," added
Lazar. "This is what the Rebbe was telling him, that this is your place."
obstacles were many: Siberian isolation, anti-semitic sentiment, and most of all,
their own fear. Yet it was precisely these setbacks that propelled the Zakloses
to set about kindling Jewish life in the frozen city.
Only a year after
they moved to Siberia, they succeeded to open a fully accredited school for students
in grades K-11. This was their first major project, because Zalman reasoned that
parents who might not want Jewish education themselves would wish it for their
children. He hoped to gradually draw the parents' interest to Jewish thought and
"People thought we were crazy," Zalman says. "They
told us we'd get one, maybe two students." Instead, the school opened with
126 students. Tuition is free, thanks to funding from the Ohr Avner Fund and its
Israeli philanthropist, Lev Leviev.
In addition to high quality education,
students get free meals, transportation and medical care. Nearly half the students
come from single parent, impoverished homes, and many suffer from chronic illness,
so the support services are critical.
On Sept. 1, 2000, a brand new secondary
school opened on land donated by the city, along with new facilities for the grammar
school. The joyous occasion was marred by a bomb threat. After the chief of the
bomb squad checked out the building, he told the rabbi, "This is a beautiful
school. I never told this to anyone else, but my wife and I are both Jewish, and
we want to enroll our kids here."
In addition to his rabbinic duties,
Zalman supervises the operation of the synagogue, the schools, a summer camp,
medical services, food distribution to the needy, community-wide celebrations
of Jewish holidays that draw up to 1,000, a soup kitchen, and an emergency fund.
He must also raise significant funds from the local community to support these
Within five years after the Zakloses moved to Novosibirsk, a
significant Jewish community was in place. Starting from the handful of Jews who
asked him to come to the city, he had attracted some 2,000 families who had been
told they were Jewish, but never understood what it meant. Zalman estimates there
are probably 25,000 Jews in the area.
In 2013, 25 years after they first
arrived, the construction of a gleaming 35,000 square meter Jewish center was
completed, including a new $2.5 million synagogue, a far cry from the dilapidated
structure they had been met with.
Despite their pride in what they have
accomplished, the Zakloses admit they are still overcoming the challenges of living
in Siberia. Neither knew a word of Russian when they arrived, and it took many
years till they acquired an adequate fluency. On the other hand, they had little
trouble keeping kosher because Zalman is a shochet [ritual slaughterer] who can
kill his own chickens, and fish and produce are abundant in Siberia.
of course, still looked forward to when there would be a kosher bakery where she
could buy cakes and bread.
Finally, in 2015, they opened the "Jerusalem
Café," the first and only kosher restaurant in this area of central
The Zakloses' story is not unique. The Rebbe taught that God does
not place an obstacle before someone if they cannot overcome it; the difficulty
is itself a sign to dig deeper, persevere and transform the circumstances into
Source: Compiled by Yerachmiel
Tilles from //anash.org (2021) and from an article, "Roots in Siberia"
by Ellen Harris, in the Cleveland Jewish News (2004 - as posted on //lchaimweekly.org,
#827). Photo: //fjc-fsu.org
Connections: The main
event took place in the week after Purim. Also, the rabbi was also a shochet,
and a major section in this week's Torah reading is about which animals and birds
are eligible for kosher slaughter.
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them
live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
To receive the Story by
e-mail every Wednesday--sign
of the Full Moon"
the Full Moon" vol 2 - holiday stories)
now available for purchase
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
1 of Yerachmiel Tilles's 3-volume set, "Saturday
Night, Full Moon",
also available for purchase on
back to Top back
to this year's Story Index Stories
home page Stories Archives