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The official blog of Chabad of Crimea

DRY BONES: Cliff-hanger

I think this is just so descriptive of our life here!

13th Letter from Crimea


Spring, 2006/5766

Dear Everyone,

So many of my friends keep asking me for my letters. I know I’ve been terribly remiss. It’s been a combination of many factors. For one thing, there is just so much work, and so few hours to do it all. Things pile up, sleep is pushed to the side, and when can I possibly find the time to write? For another thing, in spite of our “trials and tribulations,” I’ve always tried to keep my letters upbeat. Usually I can look back at what has happened, and laugh. I keep on waiting, sometimes more patiently, sometimes less, for the time when I can look back and laugh, and write you one of those funny letters, but it just hasn’t come yet. I know it will, but it just ain’t happened yet.

This past Thursday night, someone scrawled swastikas and “Death to the Jews” on our gate. Tonight, following a football game, there was a street war between the skinheads, rappers, and other groups. We were warned about it ahead of time. I sent all the girls to stay in the apartment of Baila, the school’s mashgicha. The boys locked themselves into the house. There are bars on the windows – for whatever they’re worth in a serious situation, chas v’sholom. We haven’t had any guards for the last two months, because we don’t have the money with which to pay them, so there was nobody guarding the house. My son Dovid spoke to someone from “security” (the 3 letter guys) and pre-arranged that chas v’sholom, if they would hear anyone climbing over the wall, they would call him immediately, and he would get a SWAT team over right away. It was a very tense night, but Boruch Hashem, it passed without incident.

Not so last January, when a group of 17 of us, mainly children and young adults, (I was the only older person,) were walking home from shul at 8:00 one Friday evening. Born and bred in suburban America, Boruch Hashem, I was never personally faced with anti-Semitism before. Yes, this is one of the many problems facing us – the resurgence of prejudice and hostility towards Jews in the Former Soviet Union. We were walking along the dimly lit street -- it used to make me feel like I was walking on the set of an old movie -- when suddenly two groups of 17-20 year olds, (a total of nearly 30,) who were waiting in ambush for us on both sides of the intersection, called out "One, two, three! There they are -- get them!" Most of the older boys had already passed, and they cowardly mainly attacked the girls. They zig-zagged crazily towards us. One ringleader ran in my direction, narrowly missing me as I dumbly stepped aside, thinking that he was running from his peers, not at us! But missing me, he targeted frail 11 year old Beila Zhvakalyuk, smashing his fist hard into her face and knocking her to the ground in a pool of blood. He immediately punched Svieta Abramovych, a 20 year old teacher (who was learning for geirus at the time) in the head, knocking her over as well. Then he punched Ettel Dolgaya in the jaw, and ran away. Others attacked 2 young men, Lonya and Sasha.* The entire attack probably lasted only a few minutes, but was shattering. Beila and Svieta (now Sarah Rivkah) are both still suffering the effects of their concussions, and little Beila's nose was broken and required surgery. Worse yet, her mother changed her mind, and won't let her learn in the school! Obviously the attack caused traumatic repercussions amongst those present and other students of Bais Menachem, the only Jewish Day School in Crimea, as well as in the wider Jewish community. One precious child, (who was not present at the time of the attack,) has been taken out of the Jewish School as a result, since her family is afraid of her growing up Jewish now. Beila, the most harshly attacked, immediately said "my mother is a psychologist and will let me keep coming for Shabbos." In the hospital, the first thing she told her parents (only her mother is Jewish) was "those guys spoiled my Shabbos!" (Unfortunately, her mother hasn’t lived up to Baila’s expectations, and she is no longer permitted to come for Shabbos, camp, or school.)

Within days of the attack, 20 of the individuals involved had been apprehended, and most had admitted to participation in the attack. They eventually located everyone who had been involved. However, almost all of them were released back onto the streets after only a nominal appearance at the police station. They are now claiming that they only found 4 suspects, (as most of them successfully bribed their way out,) and have put off the trial to yet a 4th date.**

As a result of the attack, we had to very steeply reinforce our protection. Besides security in the synagogue, school, and at our home, three guards are needed to accompany the group of people who keep Shabbos, while walking from our home to the shul and back several times on Shabbos. But as I mentioned above, we no longer can afford the guards. We now would need to pay $1,000 a month for guards, and probably the same or more for a security system. This is on top of an already exceedingly strained "budget" (otherwise read as major deficit.) [We had to discontinue the guards due to lack of funds, but desperately need to start again with anti-semitism building up, as evidenced by the recent attack in Kiev, and at least 20 publicized incidences in the Former Soviet Union this year.]

The attack was a follow-up to other recent attacks by these skinheads or "parodies on skinheads" as the police tend to call them, in an attempt to keep this low profile. In August, I walked into shul, after lighting candles at home, and people were saying something about the boys being downstairs, and bloody. I thought they were talking about my sons, Schneur Zalman and Shmuelie, and that they had fallen or something -- not something to get majorly bent out of shape about. However, the two American rabbinical students, Avi and Shmuelie, who had come to run the summer camp, had been severely beaten up and left unconscious in a small park in the center of town, while on their way to shul. When Avi and Shmuelie were attacked, the incident had begun when a group of 10-15 youths walking behind them asked if they were Jewish, then calling out anti-semitic slurs while kicking them in the faces, kicking their heads with their steel toed boots, and punching them. Avi did manage to give one of the attackers a broken arm in the process, but nothing like what they did to them. (The father of the injured boy later had the chutzpah to say that G-d will punish us for filing a complaint against him!)When Avi tried to help Shmuelie, they all jumped on him, and Avi's face was beaten up -- lacerated, and swollen, with a huge black eye, bruises, and a concussion. The two of them were left unconscious in the bushes, across from a cafe. When they came to, a waitress offerred them some napkins to clean off some of the blood. That was the beginning and end of the help they could expect from the bystanders! Unfazed, the two of them found their way to shul, entering singing "I'm a Jew and I'm Proud," which made a tremendous impression on all those present! (Okay, actually at first they thought they were nuts, but then it did make a kiddush Hashem.)

Last Yom Kippur, my then 11 year old son Shmuelie, and his friends Don Yaakov and Levi Yitzchok were also attacked and their yarmulkas were stolen. On Friday night of Sukkos, my husband was strongly shoved against the wall in an underpass by one of the youths involved in that incident. It happened that that night, walking next to my husband was a huge Jewish bouncer, who had come to shul for the first time. The two of them grabbed the teen who had pushed him and brought him up to the street to a policeman. Being that it was Yomtov, and with a houseful of guests waiting, they weren't able to go to the police station at the time, so my husband suggested that the attacker be assigned to community service, something they'd never heard of before. But even that was never acted upon. This same young man is the one who organized the attack last January.

On a more positive note –

A number of the students in Bais Menachem have become fairly fluent in English. Therefore I looked, and found, Boruch Hashem, a sponsor for some of them to take part in Bais Chana’s Teen Camp and the women’s program. The results of the trip were very positive. The girls did quite well in the Bais Chana Programs, in spite of the fact that English is not their first language. One girl has become much stronger in her desire to learn in Machon Chana next year. Hopefully, we will be able to convince her mother to allow her to go. Another had decided prior to the program to go to a non-religious program in Israel this year, but she has stayed and is living with us again. The third girl in the camp program had already applied to learn in the machon in Zhitomir, but has been strengthened in her Yiddishkeit, and wants to return to spend her holidays with us. One older girl took part in the women’s program. She was dismayed at first that, unlike the younger girls’ camp program, she was in for serious morning till night learning. However, after a day or two, she grew to enjoy the classes, and the program has had a very good effect on her. Before she went, she was leaning strongly towards going to a very watered-down program in Israel this year. Now she told me that she realizes that “although the texts they use may be the same, they are not teaching real Judaism.” She has increased her observance of kashrus, Shabbos, and tznius, despite the extreme pressure in her home from her parents, who were thoroughly indoctrinated with communist ideology.

Bais Menachem is hanging in there. Precariously, but we will survive!

As you probably remember, in September of 1999 we founded the only Jewish Day School in Crimea, The Bais Menachem Jewish School of Simferopol. The school began with two grades, and the hope was that each year would see an expansion of two more grades until it would eventually encompass all grades from preschool through high school. But the unexpected positive reaction to the school’s phenomenal level of success, as well as to a most amazing summer camping experience, put the continued existence of the school in jeopardy, as the school suddenly jumped from two grades to eleven, and the monthly budget soared from $1,500 to nearly $15,000, in one year! In addition, we have students dorming in our home and a nearby apartment. With new students constantly signing up, Boruch Hashem, it required the school to unanticipatedly move into its own building, with all that is entailed.

In Bais Menachem, our students receive an excellent secular education, in uncrowded classes, together with Jewish tradition, encouraging a pride in our rich heritage. Once again this past year, all of our students who entered national competitions in mathematics, geography, the sciences and Jewish tradition took highest honors! There are now eleven grades, (meanwhile students graduate after 11th grade here,) with hopes of opening a preschool soon if we quickly receive the necessary funding (approximately $10,000.***) Our students are unable to pay tuition, and therefore are all attending on scholarship, with several making a token donation of the equivalent of $7 or less per month. Students daily enjoy delicious breakfasts, lunches, and snacks from the school's kosher kitchen. 11 specialists check their medical needs and give them immunizations.

Ukrainian Law binds the licensing of a school to the building where classes are held in order to ensure proper classrooms, according to code, and conducive to study. At one point the owner of the building which we had been renting, put the building up for sale, and we were in serious jeopardy of losing our license. Thanks to a generous friend of Chabad of Crimea, Mr. M. Tabacinic, who donated over $250,000, we were able to purchase the building.

The budget for the school is currently $182,500, including the dormitory facilities. Originally, we had been promised a grant of $80,000, but during the school year a stipulation was made that was inconsistent with the ideals and direction of Jewish education, thus we were forced to decline, and the funding was rescinded, leaving us without a sponsor. This left us with a crippling debt of $53,000 to close up last year’s books. Additionally, we urgently need $168,000 for necessary repairs, renovations, and furnishings. The roof is now leaking very badly, causing untold damage. If we can switch over the heating system to gas, at a cost of about $100,000,**** we can save at least $2,000***** per month, year round, on heating. The heating season will be starting very soon, and with the amount of money we owe the city for last year's heat, they will not provide us with heat, potentially forcing the school to close down chas v'sholom. The electrical system is antiquated as well and needs replacing. The Licensing Board has given us only short extension to have the bare minimum of repairs and renovations completed.

These funds are vitally needed. We need a minimum of $89,000 immediate cash flow to keep the school open. Where it will come from is anybody’s guess. G-d willing, by my next letter we should be able to pass on the good news. Meanwhile, if any of you have a clue as to where we might find it, we would appreciate your passing the information to us.

Bais Menachem’s principal, Elka, is constantly asking me why we can’t just find 1,000 people to give $18 per month, (or 500 people to donate $36 per month, etc.) which would cover the school and the guards. A handful of people do make regular monthly donations in varied amounts. If more people would only follow their example, we could achieve our goal.

Itchie is forced to spend most of his time abroad, seeking funding, while I “man the fort,” sometimes nearly literally, at home. It would be nice to be able to resume some kind of a normal life again, with the both of us on one continent!

I'm going to have to call it quits for now. I really must get back to work!

Be well!

Leah Lipszyc and Company

*Sasha was also learning at the time for geirus, and was m'gayer this year just before Pesach. He is now Shmuel, and is learning in yeshivah.

** In the end everyone was let off scott free, with the four getting a little "slap on the wrist." They cannot learn in university (like they were anyway) and can't get good jobs. Which leaves them out on the streets!

*** Unfortunately, we're still waiting, and the cost will now be at least $25,000 because of the rising inflation.

**** We have now found a much cheaper electrical system that should cost under $20,000 -- if we can get the funds for it right away. The other system was gas, which would cost more because we'd have to bring in a gas line from another street, but would have cost much less to run.

***** Now $5,000 per month!

12th Letter from Crimea


To My Dear Friends Abroad,

Remember me? I guess I have really been a “naughty girl” – I haven’t written a letter for over two years! Not that I haven’t written letters -- I write quite a number every day in e-mail form. But I haven’t written a LETTER -- like one of these. My excuse is that I have been so extremely darned busy, that there just wasn’t time for it! It used to be that we got very busy for one holiday or program, and then there was a short break till the next. But now things have gotten so eventful that one thing just runs into the next into the next into the next... Pesach, which is a major deal here and takes time to wind down from runs into Lag B’Omer -- which runs into the end of the school year -- which runs into Shavuous -- and meanwhile since well before Pesach we’ve been hard at work on summer camps -- with a trip to Israel for a conference of shluchim from the Former Soviet Union set exactly between the two camps -- which runs into preparations for expanding the school -- then the Yomim Tovim, -- and back to school again -- then youth clubs to set up -- the Kollel learning Institute -- meals to be served daily in the school, shul, and dorm -- people who need clothing and food and other essentials – farbrengens and classes and Shabbatons -- and soon it will be Chanukah and winter camp and Purim and then back to summer camp and Pesach again! Meanwhile I’ve succeeded in making one of the world’s longest run-on sentences, which my high school English teacher would be appalled at, but it was intentional, to give you a mini idea of what’s going on here; and he isn’t around anyway!

Meanwhile, life goes on as usual. The electricity goes on and off at will – the will of the sadist who sits in his warm office pushing buttons all day to turn the electricity on and off in the various sections of town; except his own, of course. The area where “They” live (near the center of the town, where the new shul will be, G-d willing,) always has gas, electricity, and running water. I am wary as I print these words, because yesterday morning at 7:10 a.m. “They” turned off the electricity till about 9:30 a.m. “They” play games with us. They’ll turn off the electricity at the same time every day so you think you know when it will be on and when it will be off, and when you’re pretty sure you know just what to expect, they change it on you. So now at 6:30 a.m. I am frantically typing, and “saving” after every couple of sentences; because one of the most maddening things is when you’ve typed an entire document, and then the electricity goes off on you and you lose the whole thing! [Save.] I also prepared by turning the heat up to high so that maybe the house will stay warm for a little bit longer when the electricity (probably, maybe) goes off. The other maddening thing is this #*&%[email protected]#!* computer -- which somehow lost its control panel, and continues somehow to do half a job without it -- keeps on omitting letters, so I have to keep going back to correct it. We learn to be pretty efficient with our time, so I’ve brought a flashlight out here and nail polish, and when the lights go out I can nail polish the computer. No, I haven’t gone totally bananas -- The Russian letters on the keyboard keep coming off. So I finally cleaned the keys, wrote the letters on again -- for the umpteenth time -- with “permanent” marker – and plan to cover them with clear polish when I can’t type anyway! [Save.]

Whew! False alarm! Another infuriating thing about this awful computer is that a window keeps popping up saying that I’ve done something illegal (like drug dealing? Nah – that’s only out in the street in front of the house!) and the program is going to be closed down. At least since I had the foresight to save the letter ahead of time, I can open it again. In fact I can open it lots of times, maybe even hundreds of times, because the dumb computer makes copies of documents every time you open them. In My Documents they look like: Leah’sLetter, ~$Leah’sLetter, ~WRLLeah’sLetter, etcetera!

Okay. I’m running into the house to wake the kids, and maybe this will still be on the screen when I get back -- I”YH! [Save.]

Made it! As I was saying -- life goes on as usual. Without water a lot of the time! We unfortunately share our water system with seven neighbors. One of them makes illegal vodka, and uses an awful lot of water -- for the vile stuff itself, cleaning and sterilizing (right!) the bottles, etcetera -- leaving the rest of us with just a trickle of water. One of the neighbors tampered with the water pipes, digging up the street, to get himself more water, and leaving us with even less. There is never any pressure, and often no water at all. We thought to put in a pump, (it would have “stolen” the water back from the neighbors -- which they accuse us of doing anyway --but it's electric, and would have made problems on Shabbos -- when we need it the most -- to wash everyone’s hands! Yes, we still have lots of guests, though we’ve toned it down somewhat. We used to have wall-to-wall guests, with tables set up in like a “U.” However, after a sizeable number of household items “walked off” with the guests we put the tables back together, to look more like a normal dining room table, and guests are “by invitation only” -- most of the time. For everyone else, we make a full meal kiddush in the shul, consisting of challah and bread, salads, pickles, fish, cholent, cake, and drinks.* To give you an idea of the mentality prevalent here, we have to put out the drink bottles without caps, or else people but them in their bags and carry them home on Shabbos! Nebach one lady was so desperate that she dumped a plate of cholent into her pocketbook! (Like without a bag or anything!)

Other than the lack of electricity, water, modern conveniences and space, and the fact that all of our neighbors are either Tartars (Moslems -- getting a little scary nowadays) or Tzygani --Gypsies, and the place is crawling with druggies who leave their syringes all over the place, life is fine on the home front.

Then there’s the school. We were told how much red tape there is to open a school. It takes a good few years to wade through the paperwork. Which was discouraging, because we really need a Jewish school here. So at the very end of the summer last year, we got the idea to rent part of a building from a private school and call our school a part of theirs. It worked, and B”H on September 1st we opened with twelve adorable, bright children in the first two grades. This year we opened for grades 1 – 9 and already have over 50 children B”H. Our main problem (other than lack of funds) is getting a building. We were in the process of getting one for free from the government. However, Satan must have felt it was going too smoothly for us! The week the papers were to be signed, the director of the “progressive” group here in town saw us in the mayor’s office, and started his dirty work. Unfortunately he is a known and established crook. He monthly receives a double tractor-trailer truck of humanitarian aid from a Christian organization and sells almost all of it to the market! He then distributes a miniscule part of it, and stuffs his pocket with the proceeds from the goods. It’s not the first time he’s done it. He heads a fund here for orphans. He convinced us to donate food to it, but we found out later the orphans never got that food. If you remember, the first year we were here, we were the official distributors of humanitarian aid for the United States government. He kindly offered us to sell it and split the profits. An offer which we immediately turned down, earning ourselves an Enemy with a capital "E." He then proceeded to make himself the representative of a major Jewish organization which distributes humanitarian aid. He restarted his business of selling the aid, distributing a small part of it, and pocketing the profits. After awhile, his workers reported what he was doing to their superiors abroad, he was deposed, and they took over the reins from him -- completely. All this time he sat on the board of the Orthodox community. Somehow, while he sat on that board, he simultaneously opened a “progressive” community and began his business of selling Christian humanitarian aid. So he thought, why should we get a building? Only he should (he had already illegally grabbed one existing old shul.) So the plans to give us a building were put indefinitely on ice. And we still don’t have a building. Meanwhile the other organization seems to feel that opening a school isn’t such a bad idea, and they are also planning on buying a building to open a school. Which is really sad. Because Simferopol does not have enough Jewish children (committed to Jewish education) that warrants the opening of more than one Jewish school; especially when there already exists a topnotch certified school with which the children, parents, and teachers are very pleased. It would be more productive for them to put their money and efforts into something that is not already being done, and which is in their own field. So right now we are putting a lot of effort into trying to procure a building for the school, meanwhile paying a high rent on a building that can only be rented for another month!

To give a complete report in one letter on everything we’ve done for the past two years just isn’t possible, but I’d like to share a small part of it.

Pesach preparations begin way before Purim. First of all, we have to order many Pesach needs from the states, both for the 10 public sedarim, and for distribution to the many people who carefully observe the holiday. We bring in two bochurim to help with the numerous Megillah readings and celebrations, and then immediately begin preparations for Pesach. The two boys travel from town to town, organizing the local sedarim; contacting local Jews, and finding a restaurant or hotel or other hall which can accommodate all the people, and which is willing to allow us to kasher it and keep it solely for our use durng the holiday. They take care of the advertising, finding cooks, and the many other details involved. This year, when the 26 additional bochurim arrived during the week before Pesach, they held a seminar to prepare them for their job, and the many details and problems that might occur. This lightened our load a little, as in previous years we would find ourselves on all three telephones simultaneously answering questions from the bochurim in various cities. This year the boys also made 5 model matzah bakeries in various towns before Pesach. Children of all ages got hands on experience in making matzah, learned about the holiday, and went home with their own matzah which they’d baked, a paper matzah bakery hat printed in Russian, and warm memories of the experience. They also ran a Pesach mini-camp, which consisted of exciting programs including a trip to Yalta with a boat ride, on the Sundays before, during, and after Pesach, as well as their own Children’s Seder. The pairs of bochurim go out to "their" cities, help clean and kasher the large institutional kitchens -- not at all an easy task -- buy local products at the open air markets, and then supervise and help with the cooking. Then they run the local sedarim, making them as interesting as they can, and giving thousands of people a chance to observe some of the mitzvos of the holiday, which would otherwise not be possible for them. More often than not, they follow this up by returning the following week to make the last days of the holiday in various localities, culminating in a joyous Moshiach’s Seudah, a celebration on the eighth afternoon of Pesach, just before the holiday draws to a close. Of course as every year, we still distribute a good several tons of matzah before the holiday.

During this two-year lull in my letters, new people have joined us to help with all the work. First Rabbi Dovid Yaakov (lovingly called “DJ”) Lewis came last year to run the school. After his marriage to Nachi in the spring, they moved here, and she is also teaching in the school.** Rabbi Yaakov Avraham Gusyatinsky, a Simferpol alumnus who had ben living in Israel, also returned with his wife Zehava, who is teaching in the school. Yaakov Avraham himself has been running the Kollel learning institute for men. Following an amazing summer in camp, four bochurim also decided to join us. Elie Estrin, Eli Pink, Benny Lew and Shmuli Brown are running the Tzivos Hashem clubs, and helping in the school, with Elie being the dorm counselor.

Which brings us to our other really big seasonal project -- camp of course. This year for the first time, after 5 successful years of day camp, we ran a girls’ sleepover camp in July. For the boys, the August camp was their second such experience. After much searching, we found a suitable campsite. Most Jewish camps find hotels or sanatoriums to rent for their camps, but we were fortunate enough to locate a real American-style campground. It had a big bright dining hall (it was called a mess hall in my day,) a private waterfront with a dock and paddleboats, and individual bunkhouses. We put in a volleyball net and basketball hoops, and they converted a spare room into a shul for us. We installed indoor bathrooms, and were ready to roll! The drawbacks to the campsite were that 1- it was located in the steppe – which I learned the hard way -- is wide-open, scorchingly hot plains. 2- the running water was on again, off again -- mainly off again -- as the owners felt they should deliver it to us – contrary to what they’d promised. Our 40 imported counselors soon had the place decorated and the kids got right into the camp spirit. I’ll let one of the counselors tell you a little bit about camp, in his own words:

Last year's success was great. This year, my question was, can it get better? Well, it sure did! From the first, the feeling of excitement was more than mutual -- it permeated the camp. My original bunk consisted of some of the greatest kids I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and this year proved no different.

One day we showed up wearing "Krazy Kipas" -- multi-colored skullcaps with all sorts of wacky hand-painted designs. One said, "This side up", one had a tic-tac-toe board, etc. Suddenly, yarmulka wearing became the “in” thing, and part of the fun!

Shabbos we rocked the house with a lot of banging, clapping, and dancing. Lack of voices may have had something to do with that! By now, the kids were fired up, and, even without my persistent encouragement, they really took off.

Shabbos we felt a taste of real mesiras nefesh, as the father of one camper came to visit for his son's birthday. Although he had minimal Jewish knowledge, one snippet of information he did know was the tenet: do not drive on Shabbos. As such, he walked FIVE HOURS to camp to be with his son! You can only imagine the self-sacrifice such a man might have undergone in the Communist times, had he only known more! We honored him with hagba when we read the Torah, and the head counselor, Yossi pointed out his heroic effort in front of the entire camp at the third Shabbos meal. In the spontaneous dancing that followed, I saw true joy on his face, a beaming smile utterly impossible to express on paper.

We took the kids on a trip to another camp, to meet more Jewish kids. Upon our arrival, there were complaints. But these complaints were music to my ears! "When are we going back to OUR camp? OURS is great!" I never heard a single complaint about our campground after that visit!

There was a trip to Sevastopol for bowling, and one Tuesday we went banana boating in Yevpatoria. Then again to Yevpatoria to the Dolphinarium. Last year we had also gone, and like this year, Misha sat on my lap. However, last year when the keyboardist started playing Hava Nagila and the kids sang along, Misha looked at me with panic-stricken eyes. "Elie, NYET!" he pleaded, and clamped my mouth shut with his two little hands. The Jewish fear ingrained by 75 years of communism was still alive within him. This year, when the musician played Hava Nagila, Misha joyfully sang and clapped along! I felt such immense happiness and pride seeing how this child has grown so in his Jewish pride. We treated the kids to ATV rides and the only place where we didn’t drive was in the flowerbeds!

Sunday was Bris Day. Nine more boys have joined our ranks and are so proud of their new Jewish names. More than 2/3 of the campers have now had brisim! As Yoel Tchurkin's bris was going on, we broke out color war with a bang. Of course, the kids had no idea what color war is, so we had to start from scratch, explaining the rules and the ideas behind it and soon the two teams were lined up: Goila (Diaspora) and the winning team of Geula (Redemption.) I was on Goila, and I was placed in charge of the song. Lev and I simultaneously thought of the same song to translate, and it later proved to give a real boost to everyone’s feelings about camp. (See end of this letter for the song.) Sergei and I spent three hours writing it. Due to the lack of a xerox machine, we copied it onto posters in huge letters. The song took up four 4-foot pages. The problem was that it was very windy, so four staff members had to hold each of the posters! Eventually, we narrowed it down to two. When we introduced it to the kids, we were met with surprising negativity. They complained that the grammar wasn't good enough! I gave them a brief lecture on the benefits of poetic license, Srulie gave them an inspiring speech about singing from the heart, and, believe it or not, they did –- and won points for the best song! An important factor in singing with Russian kids is to drown out the many tone-deaf ones. This was the case with Sasha-in-da-house, a little kid with a big pair of lungs. Somehow we managed to convince him to keep his singing a little less heartfelt for the duration of Color War. Having Sergei do a soliloquy during the play interlude set a truly unique feeling. As soon as he finished reading his words the team belted out a rousing round of "Paka Gan Yisroel!" Their arms waving goodbye, one could see every one of the children completely immersed in the words. Many of them told me they had to consciously hold themselves back from crying. Yossi told me that although he did not understand the words, the message from their hearts came across loud and clear. What an amazing group of kids!!!

Banquet meant prize-giving, and the question was: Out of a solid bunk, who was the best camper? We had to deselect Misha, as we’d already presented him with a pair of good sneakers midway through camp for his contributions and because he couldn't play soccer in flip-flops, and he can't afford to buy regular shoes. Yoel was out because he is the Rabbi's son. Between Nikita and Nikita, I chose --- guess who? Nikita of course! Well, Nikita L. that is. Nikita K. got another prize for the most learning accomplished in camp.

That night, as the moon waned and the campfire on the beach died down, the kids stayed up all night just to breathe a few last breaths of Gan Yisroel air -- just to stick around their beloved counselors a few minutes more -- and, most importantly, to keep the Judaic fire burning inside still a bit longer.

As we got off the bus some parents quickly removed the tzitzis and yarmulkas from their sons, as if to say "goodbye, G-d!" Many of the boys tenaciously held on. Unfortunately some of the parents do not yet understand the beauty of Judaism that their children had just experienced. But now there is hope. The Jewish Day School of Simferopol has multiplied in size five times this year, now boasting nearly 60 children, including Yonasan, Michoel Levi Yitzchok, and Tzemach who live in other Crimean cities and dorm here in order to continue their Jewish studies. Misha, Nikita, and of course Yoel also learn here. So, until Moshiach is revealed to the world and Hashem takes us out of this bitter exile, these children are working to fulfill the prophecy of "returning the parents through the children." And what incredible children they are!!!

Here’s a rough translation of our song, T.T.T.O. Avraham Fried’s Kanei L'Simcha:


Time has passed
We must say Goodbye
To every counselor and teacher
And our home Gan Yisroel.

Your warm atmosphere
Is to us very dear
When I think that I must go
It's hard to hold back the tears.

Oh Gan Yisroel
How much does it hurt!
If I leave from here,
I think my heart will stop!

But, Gan Yisroel!
Now I have come to recognize
My soul definitely knows
That you are not an ordinary camp!


Goodbye Gan Yisroel!
Now we're going home!
But wherever I go,
I will always be with you!

Whoa! I didn’t realize quite how long those excerpts would be! I originally wanted to include other counselors’ feelings also, but I guess that will have to be all for now. Basically I think you get the idea that both kids and counselors had an awesome time and a lot was accomplished! And that we are accomplishing a lot in all of our many projects. (If I may humbly say so myself.) If you’d like to write me, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] -- I love to get your mail.

Be well.

Love, Leah Lipszyc & Company

P.S. Just to give you an idea of how we’ve grown I am also sending you a copy of our budget.***

* Nowadays we all eat in shul, and the Friday night menu has expanded to include challah, fish, salads, pickles or olives, homemade mayonnaise, chicken or turkey, at least two side dishes and soda, all followed by pareve ice cream & cake. Shabbos afternoon the chicken and sides are exchanged for a delicious fleishig cholent with kneidlach or kishka, kugel or knishes, and eggs 'n onions or a variation thereof.

** Unfortunately, due to poor health, they had to return home.

*** The old budget is long gone, so I'll post a new one soon in its place.


11th Letter from Crimea


Chabad of the Crimea
Mironova 24
Simferopol, Crimea 333001 Ukraine
Tel/fax: 380–652–240–231
e-mail [email protected]

To my dear friends --

This always seems to happen. The summer and the holidays fly by, so packed with camp and work and projects, and suddenly it’s time that I must sit down and write a letter again, and I can't believe that so much time has flown by since the previous one, and that I haven't written already!

Camp was wonderful! Thank goodness, with a lot of hard work, and by offering a discount for early registration, (off the regular huge price of under $10 per kid per season!) most of the kids were signed up earlier than in previous years. (Usually they have this bad habit of waiting until the last few days to sign up.)

I am going to "cheat" a bit now, and tell you about my first day in camp by quoting from a letter I wrote to someone at that time. (Most days ran in a similar vein.) “It is now midnight, and my name is rubber ball, not Leah. Today was the first day of camp. I have been running back and forth, back and forth, with two drivers, simultaneously taking care of the girls’ and boys’ camps and being the mashgiach in the kitchen. (The kitchen is in the girls’ camp, and we shlep the food over to the boys’ camp, and then bring back all the empty containers.) There is a combined staff of 27 people, who all need me. Two boy translators showed up late, (one in the girls’ camp,) the girls’ tour guide changed her mind about working for us, two girl translators cancelled on us, (one without informing us,) the counselor from Kharkov whom I expected tomorrow is going to Moscow instead, there was no water in the camp kitchen, and the electricity went out twice for two hours each time (and the stoves are electric.) The boys forgot to take money to the pool to pay for swimming, and one of the translators seems to be too shy to translate, but in spite of everything, it was really a great first day! The kids are all happy. (Except for the girl whose shoe broke; though I imagine she’s happy already too. After seeing the broken shoe and her clothing, which looked like it was from my mother’s time, we sent her home with a new pair of shoes and a bag full of clothing.) The cook is happy too, because the kids all ate the food! I have a guest who had been a counselor in another camp who is leaving from my house at 2:00 a.m. (if she shows up on time – she is out playing billiards with her campers.) Two more of our counselors are due in from Israel at around that time, so there’s one very unhappy driver who is up all night waiting at the airport again (he had to do this last week also.) Wow! I can’t believe that the bochurim are only here a week. I still have to put one more bed in each apartment, find two replacement translators, and try to deal with some people who are really “teaching” me how to be calm and diplomatic. Of course, Itchie is not here – he is in America, trying to raise the funds to pay for all this! Basically, the counselors are all great, and have all put a tremendous amount of work into preparing for camp. In between everything else, I spend time trying to type things into the computer without falling asleep over it, which unfortunately is what I was doing till a few minutes ago.”

Besides all the great Jewish things our campers learned, our counselors learned a lot also. I think that after the experience of a summer here, they will always remember to appreciate what they have! For example, eight families on our block share one water line. One of them is the gypsy family that lives across from us. (Most of them are gypsies and Tartars.) They make illegal vodka, and use the water nonstop...which leaves the rest of us without water. I have learned to live with it (unhappily,)* and do laundry on those occasions when there is water. However, when there are ten counselors who also need the washing machine, it's another story -- especially before and after the "nine days,” when everybody needs it at once! For some inexplicable reason, although there is no water in the house at the times the neighbors are making vodka, there is water at the pump in the yard. So the counselors shlepped buckets of water back and forth to fill up the washing machine for each cycle! (In case maybe they were lacking in sufficient exercise.) The boys had a really beautiful apartment right in the middle of the town. It only had one drawback -- the water again -- the only time there was hot water in the apartment was on Shabbos and Sunday, so they had to boil their water in order to bathe -- except Fridays, when they all needed to shower at the same time, so they visited the bathhouse! One of the bochurim had to officiate at a woman's funeral while he was here, only to discover that the woman in charge of the morgue was dead drunk, and therefore the body was not ready -- which made it necessary for the translator to dress the dead woman. And then there was the time that the girl and boy counselors went touring separately in Yalta. They purposely left at separate times, and with different itineraries so as not to meet. The boys’ car broke down, and they ended up being towed all the way back to Simferopol (a good hour and a half) by being pulled behind the girls' van, the vehicles being tied together by a rope!

Now I am going to "cheat" again and quote from another letter which I wrote in the third week of camp:

“ 'Twas the day after Tisha B’Av and ...

1- While doing routine everyday things like escorting my kids to two camps, delivering breakfast to the boys’ camp, and making sure both camps had money for swimming and the park, I had to relieve one of the translators of her duties, since she thought they included smoking with the campers in the bathroom.
2- After too many products were being “used up,” I had to look in the bulging bags of our “trusted” workers who were stealing products. This was especially difficult to understand since after camp is finished, I usually give them most of the leftover unused products anyway. [Note: the cook was subsequently fired and I now have a lovely Jewish cook (poo, poo, poo!) whose daughter is learning in yeshiva.]
3- I had picked up money to make a payment on the (hopefully) new shul, when the bank manager threw some cold water on the idea. He wasn’t sure if all was well and kosher in Denmark; so I had to put the money back into the account (since I was afraid to keep such a sum in the house) and run around the block and up four floors to speak to a lawyer, finishing just before closing time. Tomorrow I need to draw up additional papers with a notary before we make the payment.
4- I came home. There were exhausted teenage boys lying all over the house. They looked like they wanted to be fed.
5- Eli and Yoel were the only guys still up and running, so Eli gave the shiur for me and not-quite-ten-year-old Yoel translated.
6- I gave Daniel (a boy who learns in yeshiva and only eats kosher) his dinner to take home, packed a doggy bag for (local counselor) Yaakov, sent home some leftovers from camp with (camp helper) Mendy, and gave Raya (a lovely woman who is inflicted with Parkinsons’ disease) the siddur she requested so she can read it late at night when she is in too much pain to sleep.
7- I was finally about to serve supper when the phone rang. “Get Leah quick!" came the frantic request. Two of the girl counselors had been alone in the apartment, when they heard a sudden loud pounding on the door. Someone was trying to break down the door. They had already had problems with potential intruders on Shabbos. In record time the bochurim flagged down a car from the street to go help them, and I called the police. The bochurim arrived first, on time to see a very irate neighbor attempting to climb in through the third story window. The neighbors outside were all screaming “nyet, nyet!” and the bochurim thought the girls had been attacked already, and they were too late! They sped up the stairs, but on the way they were nearly abducted into the apartment of the downstairs neighbors. They were “simply” complaining that the girls had let the water from their bathroom leak into theirs via the ceiling, and they had called the police to complain about that and the fact that the girls kept late hours! They wanted to show the bochurim the damage. They were furious that the girls hadn’t opened the door when they knew that they were at home, therefore they had attempted to enter by way of the tree! Then the police arrived – four brawny guys decked out in bulletproof vests with pistols and a submachine gun! Boruch Hashem nobody was hurt! They immediately started demanding passports from the foreigners –and in the rush, one of the boys had forgotten his. Meanwhile I was on the phone with them the entire time. The police were arguing with the counselors, who didn’t understand more than a few words of Russian between them. I asked to speak to the police in order to explain to them what was going on. After almost five minutes, one of them finally agreed to take the phone. I started explaining, but he wasn’t in a mood to listen, and started shouting at me instead, his words bursting forth as if from his machine gun. I asked him to please speak a little slower so I could understand, so he said (in Russian) “I – will – speak – slowly – okay?” Then he continued in the same rapid-fire manner as before, which the bochurim thought was hysterical, so they started to laugh, which didn’t make the policemen very happy campers! Over the phone I could hear the neighbors complaining, the baby from downstairs wailing, the girls demanding that everyone get out of their apartment, the police demanding passports and an explanation, and the bochurim trying in their limited Russian to explain things. I put the counselors on hold while I called Shoshana, one of our translators. By a miracle (I had been trying unsuccessfully to reach her for the last few hours regarding another matter,) I reached her on the first attempt, and she was able to straighten things out somewhat with the police, and get the apartment emptied out of all extraneous people. The neighbors are still demanding that if we don’t pay their estimation of the damages by ten o’clock tonight they will call the police again. And the police say that if there is one more call about our apartment they will have us evicted and they will take the landlady to the tax police. Apparently she is behind in paying them their few grivni.
8- Our group of local Jewish teenagers showed up again, but after a rundown of what they’d missed, (but don’t worry, you’ll be there next time something exiting happens…) they were off.
9- I finally served the by-then-cold-supper to the bochurim and my kids.
10- The bochurim left, I went out to the office to work, and waited till the girls were semi-finished with their laundry, at which point they took pity on me and left “early” – since by then I could no longer keep my eyes open.
11- G-d willing today will be better. Amen!
Of course the next day was better -- it almost had to be, right?”

At the end of camp the campers each told what she remembered or liked the most. One said that she'd been in other Jewish camps before, but none of them compared to ours. Others told about the mitzvos they learned about in camp and were trying to keep at home. One girl, Esther, said she'd never be able to forget the Shabbos when she'd met her counselor in the street. The counselor had wished her "a guten Shabbos," and asked her where she was going. She replied that she was going to a wedding -- she didn't know the people who were getting married, but her mother had told her to go there to collect the coins that are traditionally thrown here at weddings. Her counselor reminded her that it was Shabbos, but she asked how could she disobey her mother? The counselor told her that keeping Shabbos is the right thing to do, and that if she would go home and keep Shabbos, she'd give her 5 grivni afterwards (which would make her mother happy as well.) So Esther went home and kept Shabbos and made 5 grivni on the deal!

The counselors did so many nice extra things for their campers. One thing that really impressed me was the following -- a counselor was concerned that her campers should be able to listen to Jewish music, so she spent several days running around town to find blank cassettes. Then she stayed up all night making a special 90 minute tape of Jewish music for each of her campers, in spite of the fact that she had already gone several nights without sleep!
Now, an excerpt from one last letter from the week following camp: “Today we made five brisim. Three boys were from the camp, and the other two were brothers -- "Gorskii Yevrei" ("Mountain Jews" or "Tati.") You learn something new everyday! They look like Sephardim. All five want to go to yeshiva, and also several of the girls from camp. The girls ended the season with a Shabbaton, and their singing was so beautiful it could move you to tears! Do you know the song "The Little Bird Is Calling"? The girls translated it into Russian and sang it. It was so beautiful! After Shabbos they couldn't stop crying for the next two hours, they were so upset that camp was over and their counselors were leaving. The kids and parents all said it was the best camp ever -- they've never seen another camp as good, and they’d been to Sochnut, YUSSR, Beitar, etc. They said that every year that their kids come to us their eyes get bigger and their smiles wider. One mother, whose daughter we are sending to yeshiva in England said "Thank you for removing my daughter from the gray dreariness that is our existence -- at least one person in our family will be able to be a real Jew." Another, who couldn't afford to pay for camp, because she is unemployed, and they literally live on bread and water, came over to me, practically falling over herself to thank me and offering to do anything she could to help. A teenager from another city, who dropped in on us several times, and joined the teenagers some evenings, said "her" camp (YUSSR) wasn't anything like this, she never saw anything like it, and can she please be a translator for us next time. Anyway, Boruch Hashem it was a very satisfying camp season, but we must proceed from here! Some of the counselors are going on to make programs in other cities in the Crimea this week, and they say that they very much want to make a winter camp! I desperately need to find some girls or bochurim who will come here on a year-round basis and make programs for these kids.”

* * * * * * *
Immediately after camp, we closed on our new building, which after extensive restoration will, G-d willing, become the Synagogue and Jewish Center of Simferopol.
I will just add a little more now, about the holidays. Eli is a bochur who spent Purim and Pesach here, and then came back to work in camp. Before camp he wrote to the Rebbe about activities in Simferopol. He put the letter randomly into a page of the Igros Kodesh, upon which was written the following answer. "Since the new shul most likely will not be ready by Tishrei, a place should be rented nearby, since the place where people daven for the yomim tovim is where they will daven all year." While the theater we'd been renting till then is in the general vicinity of the new building, it was an absolute icebox in the winter, and we'd have to look for another place anyway. After searching for several weeks and coming up against a blank wall, we were amazed to find a cooking school with an auditorium right down the block from the new building, and rented it for the yomim tovim. The first night of Rosh Hashana there were over 200 people -- standing room only, Boruch Hashem. And guess what? The old men from the old synagogue, who hadn't come for two years, all showed up! The rest of the time, there were less people, since yomtov fell out on working days this year, but there was very nice turnout. Over sixty people walked home with us and ate here the first night! (We had to put up additional tables in the corridor,) and we had full house for all the other meals as well. Three bochurim from Morristown came to help us for the holidays, and two of them went to Yevpatoria where there were 50 people attending services, and where it was also very nice.

Aside from the one in Yevpatoria, we built two sukkahs here in Simferopol – one at the house, and one on the new property. The first night, the guard there didn’t show up, so by the morning the fabric of the walls was all gone of course. Then the guards misunderstood and thought they should leave, so by the afternoon the wooden frame was also gone! Itchie arranged to meet the guards at the new property at 5:00. A neighbor, reeking of vodka, stumbled over and told him the following: "Raaaaabbi, you should have been here – at exactly 4:00 this huuuuge wind just came along and blew down the hut. Then it blew all the wood [minus the light schach from the roof of course] right into the Salghir River, and it all floated downstream! It was such an amazing sight!” Of course we had to rebuild the sukkah the next day, and we were able to celebrate there with a very nice Simchas Bais Hashoeva. About 75 people came, and enjoyed the Israeli style food and live band. The bochurim made a second party for teens in the sukkah the following night. Meanwhile the entire town heard us (being that the band was playing outside with amplifiers,) and heard about the great celebration. As a result, some local women from another organization asked me to speak at the inaugural meeting of their ladies’ club. Simchas Torah was even greater than usual, and not only were the regulars and the "golden oldies" there, but a whole crew from the Joint crowd came also and everyone had a blast.
Immediately after the holidays, the old men from the old shul approached us, saying that they want to make peace with us. Their leader has finally officially resigned**, they are publicly (in two newspapers) apologizing for their untrue statement that “Moshe Rabbeinu was married to a shiksa and therefore, why should we have to marry Jews.” They are disbanding their board**, and joining together with us to form one strong unified Jewish community. Just like the Rebbe’s answer, that “the place where people daven for the yomim tovim is where they will daven all year!”

Hopefully we will have lots more good news to share with you all in the near future! Till then, I will sign off -- hope to see you all soon in Yerushalayim!


Leah Lipszyc & Company

*In 2005, the water situation finally got so bad, that we put in an electric pump to increase our supply. Of course it has to be turned off on Shabbos, when we need it the most, but at least most of the week we have water.

**Unfortunately several years later, we found out that this was a farce, and he secretly kept up his own “religious” organization.

10th Letter from Crimea


Tammuz 18, 5758
July 12, 1998

To my dear friends,

I want to begin by telling you about an amazing personal incident that happened to me not long ago. As you may know, after Pesach I went to America to receive medical attention. The previous time I had been in America, in February, I had suddenly and unexplicably become very weak -- so weak, that sometimes if I walked even a very short distance, I had to stop to renew my strength. Returning to Simferopol, I had to face cleaning for Pesach and helping to organize the six public sedarim, which I could not have done without the household help that I had B"H, due to my weakened state. (Usually if I'm a little weak, I pop a few vitamin pills, and I'm fine, but this time, that simple solution did not work.) Next, in the middle of a class, I suddenly had extreme chest pain, which lasted 15 minutes, and this repeated itself while I was saying the morning blessings at home on the first day of Pesach. Finally, several hours before the "last days" of Pesach, I felt my heart racing, took my pulse, and found it to be 140! A doctor friend of ours in the states told Itchie to give me half a cup of wine, and get me into bed, which is where I stayed for the remainder of the holiday, and the next week.

My pulse lowered to 120, then 100, which was still way over my usual 60, and I was suffering frequent chest pain. By then I was hardly able to walk -- I was shuffling like an old lady. This all seemed very strange to me, since till then I had been in pretty good condition. I had all of our mezuzos checked, and they were fine. One had to be moved to the other side of the door, since at the time we had put it up, that had been the front door of our house; however since we had built a corridor connecting the house and the old office in February, it was no longer the main entrance, and the mezuzah should have been moved to the other side. However, this still did not correct my problems.

Since we don't put too much faith in local medical facilities, I had to travel to America together with Itchie to seek treatment. B"H my cousin, who is a very good doctor, connected with an excellent hospital, was able to see me the day after I arrived. After checking me and performing a number of tests, he said that he felt that I was in quite good health, but because of my fast pulse, he suggested that I see a top cardiologist. B"H we had connections to a Bikur Cholim, (a Jewish medical referal organization that also helps to obtain medical attention for those who don't have insurance,) that we used to work with years ago, when we lived in Alabama. They made the arrangements for us, and (since we have no medical insurance in the States,) they took care of the fees for the doctors and most of the tests. Well, I had a check-up with a big Fifth Avenue cardiologist, he did more tests, and he also found me to be in great shape, except for the fast heartbeat!

Considering all of the symptoms, and the fact that I am not prone to hypochondria, I felt that this was very strange. I was quite nervous about the prospect of returning to the Crimea, and then having an emergency, Heaven forbid, and not having anywhere to turn to for medical help. I thought "Rebbe, I want to return to Simferopol to continue your shlichus, so please give me some kind of a sign as to what the problem is!" That was on a Thursday. The same evening we went to visit our oldest daughter Elkie and her family. They had just bought a new house, which I had already seen, so originally, only Itchie was supposed to go to look at it. However, since we were planning on being in Montreal for Shabbos, and were short on time, instead of driving back and forth, I also went with them. The house was now in the middle of renovations. In the dining room, where there had been a mural and lovely wall treatments, they had ripped open one wall, and two old windows were now exposed. I asked Elkie why they would do such a thing, and she told me the following. Her contractor had told her about the "ethical will" of Rabbi Yehudah HaChossid, in which it states that windows and doors should never be entirely sealed up, since it could be harmful. If sheidim* had come in through them, they needed to be able to go out through them also. (Sheidim is usually translated as "demons." They are phenomena that can't be experienced with the five senses, yet they interface with the material world. It's pointed out in the Talmud that sheidim are around us all the time.) A friend of my daughter's who was standing there told me "It's true -- I have a young niece who was always falling and hurting herself badly. Her family discovered a plastered-over window in their home. As soon as it was opened, she stopped hurting herself. The opening remaining only has to be as big as a nail hole." Itchie said, yes, he remembered having heard about this before. Well, I did some quick thinking, and realized that I started having my symptoms at exactly the same time that we built the new office. It had been a basically unused garage. It was so poorly constructed that you could put your hand through the paper that was part of the walls. The kids were afraid to go in it, because they insisted they saw weird animals running around there, but I never saw anything. When the builders took down two of the walls to rebuild them, I had suggested removing the garage door, and building a new wall there also. However they told me that if I did that, my taxes would go up -- since it would now become a living area -- but if I left the door as it was, and just built a new wall on the inside, sealing up the door, it would be fine. So that is what we did! That Shabbos we spent in Montreal, at the home of our second daughter Bashie and her family. Friday morning, shortly after we arrived, I told her the strange story. Her husband Yossie is a locksmith. "Mommy," Bashie said, "Yossie is frequently called by people who are doing renovations. When they want to close up a window or door, they always ask him to install a peephole there, so it won't be entirely closed up!" Friday morning I tried contacting our office in Simferopol with the strange request that they quickly drill a hole in the wall. However, they said that (due to the time difference) it was almost Shabbos, and the earliest they could get the proper drill would be on Monday. Well, Monday our driver in Simferopol was finally able to drill the hole in the wall in our hole-in-the-wall. Tuesday I started feeling better, and by Wednesday all of the symptoms had disappeared, and I was back to my old self! Baruch Hashem, all's well that ends well, and this episode did.

* * * * * * *
I ended up missing Lag B'Omer altogether, as I flew back to the Crimea then, and it was lost in the difference between time zones. But Sholom Ber, who had stayed with the younger children while I was in New York, and Moishie, one of our Pesach bochurim, (who stayed in Crimea from before Purim till just before Shavuous,) made a nice bonfire, picnic, and program for the teenagers.

Just before Shavuous, and in preparation for the holiday, we had one of those minor miracles that (very) occasionally happen here. It is always a problem of where we will get dairy products for the holiday of the giving of the Torah, when most people eat blintzes topped with sour cream. In a country where almost nothing kosher is available, we discovered a small supply of kosher, cholov Yisroel, chocolate covered ice cream bars from Vienna! And what a price -- 35 kopeks each -- under 18 cents! The only way we can account for these unusually low prices - (last year Snapple was available for a short time at the same price, and once at Purim we got Israeli candies that usually cost 85 cents for 8 cents; good Vered chocolate was selling for 40 cents a bar, and Shoprite products can be bought in Kiev and even occasionally here) -- is that they are sent here as humanitarian aid. Whomever these items are sent to sells them instead of distributing them, and makes a tidy "profit." Anyway, it was very timely for us, and we were able to advertise that the "Ten Commandments" would be read in shul followed by an ice cream party for everyone, just as we had done in America, thus we had a very nice turnout for the holiday.

The most exciting news, of course, is that we are in the process of buying a building for a shul. It would still take us years to get back any existing old buildings that belonged to the Jewish community. The large Choral Synagogue in the center of town was burned down during the communist regime, and stores stand there now. The other buildings are mainly very small shteiblach. They and even the former yeshiva (now a "Physical Culture Institute") are located in "not the greatest" neighborhood. The yeshiva and another Jewish school building are now owned by the mafia, which makes getting them back a problem. The one "synagogue" (state radio station) that still stands, we have an extremely tenuouuus claim to, since it was a Karaite synagogue. So we looked for something close to the center of the town, where it would be convenient for most people.

We found a building on the corner of Archivniy Spusk and Na'birizhnaya (Archives Lane and The Embankment.) It is a corner building facing our picturesque little willow-lined river, near the "Center" (downtown.) It has a great foundation, and walls, and a nice sized yard, but needs a ton of reconstruction and remodelling to make it usable. We hope to include in the building a soup kitchen, library, classrooms, and mikvah as well as the sanctuary. Of course, the major obstacle* is money, because once we have that, we can proceed full speed ahead. We hope that we can depend on you, our good friends in the states, to help us overcome this one minor hurdle! It was interesting, Eli, the boys camp's head counsellor, who was also here for Pesach, recently wrote a report to the Rebbe about his activities here. Included in the answer from the Rebbe was "since it is obvious that the new shul will not be ready for use by Rosh Hashana, you should rent a building nearby, since it is known that the place where people daven for the holidays is where they tend to daven the remainder of the year." (The place that we are currently renting is very near the new site.) All of our time now is being spent on preparing for camp. Boruch Hashem we have great counsellors coming in from New York, England, and Israel. We felt that it was worth the extra expense to bring in "foreigners" to run the boys' camp as well as the girls' camp this year, so that the program would be run according to the same high standard. They have all been working really hard to prepare for a great summer, and we truly appreciate their efforts.
I guess that that's about it for now! I hope you all have a wonderful summer. Be well!


Leah and Co.

*[We would later have much bigger hurdles to surmount.]

9th Letter from Crimea


Iyar 2, 5758
April 28, 1998

Dear Everyone,

Hi! Hope you are all well and enjoying this period of post-Pesach calm.

First of all, I would like to update you on the sequel to “Miracle of Mironova,” our harrowing experience with thieves and would-be murderers on Simchas Torah, in the fall of 1996. One evening, while Itchie was in America (of course!) and I was preparing to give a class, one of the women came into the house looking for me. “There’s a man here to see you,” she said. “But he doesn’t look like someone we should let in.” I went out to the courtyard and looked into the same intense hazel eyes that had last stared at me over the muzzle of a Berretta. “You know me,” said the man. “I was here before.” “A year and three months ago?” I hesitatingly asked. “Yes,” was his terse reply. This man was our old friend, the “chief thief.” I have to admit that I was nervous and started thinking about how to get back inside with the door safely locked behind me. You probably remember that we had had a long serious discussion with him about the Sheva Mitzvos Bnai Noach, and about how he could turn around from that point on and change his life. At the time he had asked, “Do you mean that if I came back to you in a week without my mask on and asked you to help me to change my life, you would?” Itchie had answered him affirmatively. Well, he now proceeded to tell me that during the week after the robbery, he’d done a lot of thinking and he’d decided to leave Simferopol for Dniepropetrovsk, where he’d met “a holy lady” (he’s not Jewish) who had helped reform him. He’d now come back to us, as per her directive, to apologize for what he’d done to us. (Not to return anything, mind you. Just to apologize.) He was sorry he’d scared us, he said, and of course, never would he have shot a child! (Tell that to the child who he held a gun on!) However, the main thing is that we’d been sure at the time that there must have been a reason — some hashgocha protis — Divine Providence — for the experience. And there it was! He had taken our words to heart, and for now, at least, there is one less crook walking the streets of Simferopol.

Purim was a blast! We brought in two bochurim from Eretz Yisroel, who stayed until after Pesach. They read the Megillah in several cities — there were a total of six Megillah readings in three Crimean cities this year. Six hundred people heard the story of Purim, and got Shalach Manos (food gifts) which they exchanged, as per Jewish law, with their friends. In Simferopol alone, 150 people attended the gala Purim dinner where they were entertained by musicians, and treated to an amusing and lively Purim shpiel, written and performed by our great new teen group. (Note: Last Shabbos afternoon, the talented authoress of the Purim shpiel was hit by a car, and has been hospitalized. She will soon be undergoing a third operation as a result of the accident. Please join us in saying Tehillim for Lieba Masha bas Zhenya, that she should have a complete and speedy recovery.) It was a very successful program, which many felt to have been our most enjoyable event to date. Many of the young people became quite “turned on” to Yiddishkeit through it.*

Not having been able to experience Torah-true Judaism for 75 years, it is very easy for the missionaries and cults to dupe the unfortunate people in the former Soviet Union. They are trying to make inroads in the Crimea, so we decided to undertake a very ambitious project — to celebrate Pesach authentically in five major cities, involving as many people as possible. We were able to accomplish this is a large part due to the magnanimity of the Rohr family, and several other individuals. The accomplishments were many.

Before Pesach even began, Eli and Moishie, the two bochurim who had come before Purim, organized a Model Matzah Bakery. This was no small feat to organize in Crimea, where Murphy’s Law reigns supreme. They did a superb job, showing the participants step-by-step exactly what is involved in baking hand-made Shmurah matzos. We also showed a video in Russian about Chabad, and all of the participants made their own small matzos. This event took place in the Kino-Teatre Simferopol (Simferopol Movie Theater) which is the new temporary home of our shul, our minyan having outgrown our home. The minimal light which is provided to us comes from the flickering “silver screen.” It is freezing cold inside, even as summer approaches, as the cold seems to be permanently stored in the thick concrete walls. I’ll bet Simferopol boasts the only movie house with a mechitzah in the aisle! (The theater’s workers “fixed” it for us so all of the panels are attached. When we asked how they would be able to move it away after Shabbos, they said, “who needs to move it? People can watch the film with the partition standing there!”

Fifteen hundred people attended our sedarim! There were as many as 350 people per seder. The sedarim were held on both the first and second nights of Pesach. This was well above our original projection of 200 people per seder. Unfortunately, in Kerch alone, nearly 500 people couldn’t be accommodated, since the hall could barely fit 180 people at a time, and well over 800 people had called to make reservations! Groups of two to four students from yeshivos in Tsfat and Kfar Chabad, as well as from another group from America, which helped us, went to each community (Kerch, Feodosia, Yevpatoria, Sevastopol, and of course Simferopol.) In each city we rented a hall, cleaned and kashered the kitchen, hired a cook, helpers, and translators, and got an apartment for the bochurim (rabbinical students.) We supplied everything that was necessary, including those imported items, such as grape juice and matzah. We also had beautiful newly printed Russian–Hebrew Haggados, again thanks to the generosity of the Rohr family. Many people were enlisted to volunteer as well, to ensure that the sedarim would run smoothly.
While we were working on this, we were also trying to patch and paint part of the house, and add some desperately needed extra storage space, which helped to add to the excitement. It became extremely hectic coordinating this, especially as the countdown got closer and closer to Yom Tov, and both phones were constantly ringing off the hook with queries from the bochurim, ranging from “The cook left. How do we cook fish?” to “It’s an hour before Yom Tov and the supply truck hasn’t arrived yet. What do we do?” to “The people here bought some fish, and every three seconds they say it’s a different kind. Each time we inform them that one kind isn’t kosher, they say it’s another kind!” The crew in Simferopol were working in what was touted as “the best professional kitchen in the city.” In desperation they called us up when their “professional stove” literally took five hours to bring a pot of water to a boil. Out we went running to buy a new stove. All of this was happening while my own helpers and I were trying to prepare for our in-depth (until 4:00 AM) seder for forty people at our home. Trucks were expected to be coming with desperately needed supplies from Zhitomir, Kiev, Kherson, and Donetsk, and of course none arrived when they were supposed to have come. Around 100 people were coming and going, selling their chometz and picking up large parcels of kosher for Pesach food with which to celebrate the holiday.

In my spare time I was running back and forth to our clothing “warehouse” in order to help outfit people for Yom Tov. (“Warehouse” is not really an accurate term to describe the place where we store new and good used clothing for people. Our childrenChanie and Sholom Ber, who spent some time in Simferopol before we moved here, found this storage place for us. It is located on a totally rutted, muddy lane at the outskirts of the city. Surrounded by a rickety wooden picket fence, our storage place is three rooms in the home of an obese and lonely alte babushka. In order to enter we must skirt our way around assorted baby goats, geese, chickens, and debris. A slightly sickening aroma, a medley of past foods put up, goat cheese, and rotting compost pervades the place.)

Boruch Hashem, everything was finally settled, and as the well-known saying goes, we did “all sit down at the seder at the same time.” At our home, we not only prepared the sedarim, but all nine Yom Tov meals to capacity. Even during the intermediary days of the holiday we had “full house” for breakfast, lunch, and supper, since we had the bochurim as well as a nice group of teenagers from three towns who were observing Pesach for the first time, and were not able to do it in their own homes. Our old office and an extra apartment became dormitories for them throughout Pesach. During Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days of Pesach) we treated the teens to kyegyelban (Russian version of bowling.) The port city of Sevastopol boasts a bowling alley. This consists of an entire four entire lanes, complete with human pin setters. Unlike the cold unfeeling computerized American system, an occasional cry of pain can be heard when a careless bowler does not “spare” the hand or foot of a pinsetter. Of special note: On the second day of Pesach, Ari and Lenny, two of the American volunteers, walked 30 kilometers in Kerch to speak to a Sunday school class about Pesach! For the last two days of the holiday the bochurim were again involved in leading services and programs in various communities, and we had several very lively “Moshiach’s Seudah” programs.

Of course, we once again provided four tons of matzah for the Jews of the Crimea as in previous years, and at one point, our entire house, corridor, and office were wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling matzah! But as people came to pick up their matzah, we were again able to see the light of day, and the freshly painted (and newly scratched) walls.

I really must go now — there's so much to do! Be well and remember us!

Love, Leah & Co.

Chabad of the Crimea
Mironova 24
Simferopol, Crimea 95001 Ukraine
Tel/fax: 380–652–510–773
e mail [email protected]
*[Boruch Hashem, Lieba Masha recovered fully from her accident. She went on to learn in Machon Alta in Tsfat, followed by Machon Chana in Brooklyn, where she transferred when her mother and grandmother moved to America. She married Yisroel Noach Kaminetsky, and they are now emmissaries of the Rebbe in Khabarovsk (Siberia) in Russia.]

8th Letter from Crimea


November, 1997

Dear Everyone,

Well, I guess I’ve procrastinated about as much as I decently can already, and I have to start writing! I remember when we lived in the South, people told us we’d have to slow down because of the heat. We didn’t slow down then, but I think I am now — I don’t know if it’s something in the air here, or just my old age creeping up on me!

Now, where did we leave off? Camp was really great this year! Unfortunately everyone does things by “Jewish time” here, and until a week before camp we only had about 20 or 30 kids registered. I was embarrassed to let the counselors know how few kids had registered! But, thank G-d, by the time camp began, it was closer to a hundred. We had really excellent staff — four of last year’s counselors returned, which was an enormous boon to the camp. The spirit was great. We rented a huge gymnasium where the boys’ camp met, and the girls camp was in the same school that we rented last year. The kids really enjoyed themselves while learning about Judaism, and a number of kids returned after camp for our pre-holiday program and Simchas Bais Hashoeva (Sukkos party).

Before camp, when Itchie was in America the Beautiful, I decided to be a good Girl Scout, and “be prepared.” I wasn’t going to wait until the week before Rosh Hashana and then find out whether or not there would be a shoichet (and meat or chickens) for the holidays. I had Itchie buy enough chickens for the summer and through the Yomim Tovim. Also turkey, hot dogs, and chopped meat. This was going to be a real treat! Of course, he brought our regular cheeses with him as well. It cost a lot extra for the overweight, of course, but everything seemed to be going well — no delays or missed planes — until he got to Kiev, that is, (where we had a truck ready to drive him and everything he was bringing for camp and the holidays to Simferopol). The only hitch was that air France had different plans -- they had decided that someone else’s baggage was more important than ours, and took all of our boxes off the plane in Paris!! But they were very kind and rushed it all to customs in Simferopol four days later, where it didn’t get the very best reception since it was already slightly past its prime. The only thing we could salvage from the entire order, which together with the overweight had cost us $1,500, was a few packages of American cheese!

Well, at least we still had plenty of time until Rosh Hashana. After camp, Itchie and I had to be in Israel for his father’s a"h yahrtzeit. We ordered chickens from a large plant in Israel, and even instructed them to have a letter ready from the health department doctor attesting to the uncontaminated state of the chickens, as is required by Ukrainian law. This was to be ready and waiting for us so that we could pick it up on the way to the airport. However, as they say: “A mentsch tracht un Der Aibershter lacht!” Of course, the promised letter was not waiting for us. Although I was frustrated at the time, Boruch Hashem Itchie had the foresight to insist that we would only take the two cases of donated chickens, not the rest of our order, and try our “luck.” Even though the chickens were completely frozen, the customs officials confiscated them, together with several large bags of chicken soup mix, our cheese, and even the cans of tuna. I made one unbelievable scene in the airport, but nothing we could do or say helped. Still no meat for Yom Tov, and the time was getting shorter!

Ah! But there were still the bochurim who were coming from Israel to help us for Yom Tov! We sent two very precisely worded faxes to them, explaining exactly what we needed them to bring. We got someone to donate six cases of chicken. We told them exactly where to get the medical letter. Etcetera.

We followed up with phone calls. One went something like this:
Itchie: “Can you bring a Torah?”
Russian bochur: “Shto?” (A what?)
Itchie: “A Sefer Torah.”
R.B.: “A Seder what?”
Itchie: “A Torah, you know, what’s in the Aron Kodesh.”
R.B.: “What’s that?”
Itchie: “You know, a Torah, Biblia, Five Books of Moses? You know, it’s in the special cabinet in shul called the Aron Kodesh? It’s what we read the Parsha from every Shabbos!”
R.B.: “Oh, a Torah!”
Itchie: “Yes, that’s what I said, a Torah!”
R.B.: “Well, what do you want from me, I’m only in Yeshivah six months.”

I have to tell you that this bochur turned out to be a very fine and intelligent young man, but following a conversation like that, you don’t really think we had much of a chance of getting the Torah, the chickens or anything else, do you? Of course, they didn’t call the butcher to freeze the chickens, or get the letter, or the lulavim and esrogim, or the other things we asked for.

In the back of the freezer I found one bag of stringy diced meat from a soup chicken, one bag of schmaltz, and one bag of leftover chicken soup. These were all left from Pesach, nearly a half a year earlier! From these I managed to concoct fleishig casseroles for Rosh Hashana. Boruch Hashem, after Rosh Hashana a shoichet came to Donetsk, and by the day before Yom Kippur we were able to get chickens. When Itchie was a bochur, the Rebbe told him to learn shechita. He did, but never practiced it, as he can’t take the sight of blood. But I told him that I think this is why the Rebbe wanted him to learn! (He disagrees and feels that since in previous generations there had always been shoichtim in his family, the Rebbe wanted someone to uphold the tradition.)

We rented the auditorium of a nearby school for the holidays, since on Shabbos it has been getting very cramped in the house -- kinda like a can of sardines! The bochurim traveled around to other communities in the Crimea, and conducted very successful holiday services in Yevpetoria and Kerch. The latter is a port city whose main industry has been its fish canneries. It was one of the earliest places to have a Jewish community following the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. They are in the process of getting back their synagogue, and we had already made a Shabbaton there in the summer, following which they voted that their Jewish community organization should be a religious one. The head of the community asked us to send the bochurim there for Simchas Torah. We agreed, and started making plans. Then he came and told us how he’d hired a band for the three evenings of the holiday and Shabbos. It took a lot of explaining to convince him that since it is forbidden to play instrumental music on those days, the program would be much more successful without the band. We even promised that if the people didn’t have a really great time, we’d make them a free concert after the holidays! He very nervously complied, but called us excitedly after Simchas Torah to tell us that we were right. Over a hundred people had come, and they’d had the time of their lives!

If any of you have been trying unsuccessfully to call us recently, let me explain to you what the problem has been. Several weeks ago, both of our telephones went dead. We have a standing argument with the telephone company over the quality of our phone lines. They insist the problems are because we have a computer and a fax machine hooked up to the system. So when we called about the lines being dead, their immediate response was, “It’s because of your computer and fax.” Having had the foresight to forewarn their blaming the problem on us, Itchie explained that he had already disconnected them and the lines still didn’t work. So they finally agreed to check. They came back with the shocking news that someone had cut the line and stolen 50 meters of telephone wire, and we would have to pay for the wire and the labor! When we asked why we were responsible to pay, they replied that it is because we have a private line! Most people here still have party lines, basically sharing one phone line with several neighbors. They gave us a private line (sort of,) but now they tell us that since it’s a private line, the entire responsibility of upkeep, from the station until our house, is ours!! So we had to pay. Two days later, the wire was cut again. They were embarrassed and this time they fixed it without charging. But then they explained the scam that’s going on. Some people are driving around in their cars, checking which lines have long distance availability. When they find such a line, they cut it, connect it to a phone in their car, make a bunch of calls which are then charged to the owner of that line, and then cut off the phone line and drive away! So now they said they expect us to pay for all the long distance calls that they know we didn’t make — it’s very logical, they say — someone has to pay, and it’s on our bill, so who else should pay? “After all, it’s you they stole from, not somebody else!” Really quite logical, right?! But they do want to be helpful so they’ve given us the telephone numbers in Tel Aviv and Ashkelon, so we can play detective and try to catch the thieves, who are calling orphanages there! Meanwhile, in honor of the four day national holiday honoring “the remembrance of the birth of Communism,” they cut both of our lines again! (When Itchie asked why would they want to celebrate the birth of Communism which is now dead, they gave him this look of incredulity, as they answered, “What? Give up a national holiday?!”) You comedians in the good ol’ USA, take note — you don’t hold a candle to plain ole Russian logic.

I almost never drink coffee or tea -- just never cared for them. So frequently when Itchie asks me to make him a cup of coffee, I forget. What can I do; I guess I’m just not such a great wife! Well, this week, I think I finally made it up to him. One of the men in the shul wanted to make sauerkraut for us. Who am I to say “No” to someone who wants to do all that chopping? I cleaned and checked the cabbages first, which was also a lot of work. But I didn’t realize until too late that he’d added about a half a cup of dried red pepper flakes, and tiny broken pieces of bay leaves, which Itchie can’t stand! Later that night, I hand-picked through almost thirty pounds of grated cabbage to remove the pepper and spice. Finding a needle in a haystack would have been easier! I told Itchie I don’t think anyone else would be crazy enough to have done that, and I think I’ve finally made up for all the coffees I’ve forgotten!

Itchie likes the following anecdote which also occurred just this week, which he feels proves how attentive he is to me: Because of the incident with the gunmen last year on Simchas Torah, we now have a policeman (militzionaire) who does guard duty in our yard every night*. A few days ago he asked our secretary if the rabbi has a secret code with his wife in case of emergencies, because he’s noticed that whenever I yell “Itchie” he comes running!

In the meantime, the work goes on, growing by leaps and bounds (especially the expenses.) We are now at a point that we just can’t keep up with the work, and are frantically looking for another adventurous couple who would agree to move to our "wonderful resort area." There are two cities that have been begging us to get them rabbis. Yevpetoria is a quaint, 2000 year old town with a Jewish population of about 2500. In keeping with the “law” (a very loose term) of the land, they were able to get back one of the old synagogues. We’ve made a number of successful programs in Yevpetoria. Kerch, which I mentioned earlier in this letter, has about 3,500 Jews. They have started the process of requesting the return of one of the shuls. In Kerch we have also made several successful programs, each very well attended. The head of the Kerch Jewish community made a special nine-hour train trip to speak to us and request us to supply them with a rabbi so that they can begin weekly services. He explained that he does not want to wait until they get back the building. Instead they would like to meanwhile buy a small building and begin prayers and educational services immediately. We are therefore looking for a young couple who would like to come now. (Yesterday would be even better!) They would temporarily live in Simferopol, teaching during the week and rotating weekends between Kerch and Yevpetoria, where they would conduct services on Shabbos and classes on Sundays. Later they'd have first option of which city they would prefer, and we'll need to get another couple for the second city. So, Boruch Hashem, despite all the obstacles and the endless gauntlet we seem to be running, and in between all our exciting adventures, we do mange to get our work done too.

Well, I have to sign off now. Itchie’s leaving to the States for a six-week fund-raising trip. I have to start preparing for the Chanukah programs, and in my “spare time” daydream of what other excitement the angels on high are planning for us.

Do svedanya!
Leah & Co.

*[This stopped when we ran out of funds to pay for guards.]

7th Letter from Crimea

24 Mironova
Simferopol, Crimea 95001 UKRAINE
Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5757
June 6, 1997

Dear Everyone,

It’s hard to believe that six months have gone by since my last letter. Oh well, time flies when you’re having fun! I mentioned in my second letter that I thought that I would eventually run out of interesting happenings to relate, but that G-d still seems to be supplying us with new material. After my last letter, I was convinced “surely we can’t top that one.” “Not so,” said The One Above, 'there is no limit to what the Omnipotent can do!' So here are the details of our latest escapades. (But please don’t pray for us to top this one, I don’t know how much more excitement we can take.)

After Simchas Torah, the Rosh Hakahal (the official head of the Jewish Community) became ill and in October he passed away. He was a very respected man (he earned it) and it was a terrible loss to the community. He was the one who asked Chabad to send a shliach to this community, and the one to thank (!?!) for our family being relocated to Crimea. He and my husband (zg”z) had an unusual relationship. They had a real deep love and respect for each other, but because of their different environmental upbringing they would argue if and how to do each project that Itchie wanted to do. (Itchie -- a product of American upbringing -- believes that “everything is possible.” Reb Shimon a”h - a product of a communistic environment - believed “here, nothing is possible!”) In order for us to continue expanding our outreach programs without causing unnecessary over-reactions from the Rosh Hakahal, Itchie set up a separate official Chabad organization. Those activities which didn’t wreak havoc with Reb Shimon’s nervous system, were done under the auspices of the Jewish Community Religious Organization and those activities which were too “flamboyant” and “American” were done under the auspices of Chabad Lubavitch of the Crimea.

Separate from the Jewish Community Religious Organization, there exists a Jewish Cultural Organization. The head of this organization always recognized that it existed as a separate organ only by the grace of Reb Shimon. Thus there was a good relationship between all organizations. Shortly after our family moved here, an aggressive person named Anatoly showed up saying that the head of the cultural organization, (who suddenly and without prior warning left to Israel,) gave him the official organization stamp and asked him to take over as president. The members of the “provlenia,” (board,) were upset but were too afraid to challenge his authority and thus a general unease in the community began to settle in. Anatoly knew that Reb Shimon was the only one powerful enough to have him unseated and was therefore very careful not to step on his toes. A number of those on the provlenia approached Itchie, telling him numerous horror stories of Anatoly's unscrupulous nature, asking Itchie to help unseat him. Itchie’s response was that it was within their power to vote him out, and if they would do that legally, he would openly support their choice. Actually, we already knew that this man was not honest. Several months earlier, it became known that via the offices of Lishkas Ezras Achim in Crown Heights, the U.S. government designated us as distributors for their humanitarian aid program in the Crimea. We would be getting 400 tons of rice, oil and bulghur wheat to give out to underprivileged people, schools, camps and hospitals. It was at that time that this newly “chosen” president of the cultural organization approached us with an offer that he was sure we could not turn down. He "suggested" that we should give him the 400 tons and he would sell it and share the money with us. "Half will go in my pocket, and half will go in your pocket," were his words. Itchie thanked him for his kind offer, but explained that we can’t be partners in such activities since they are illegal. He then tried convincing Itchie that this is the way things are done here. That’s all too true! However, Itchie made it very clear to him that we won’t be party to it. This didn’t set too well with him and he stormed off in anger. (Only a year later did we learn that right after that meeting, he began telling people that we were only here for a short period of time.)

When Reb Shimon became ill, there was immediately talk about who would replace him as Rosh Hakahal. When a particular name came up as a candidate, Itchie took this person on the side and privately explained that for halachic (Torah law) reasons, as rabbi he would have to stand against his nomination. In order not to have to embarrass him in public, it would be better if he would decline the position on his own. He gave Itchie his word that he would decline. Suddenly, he did an about face, and let it be known that he would accept the position. (We later found out that it was our friend Anatoly who was instigating this and the subsequent happenings.) When Reb Shimon a”h passed away, the provlenia of the synagogue supported the nomination of this person, which Itchie told them clearly, he could not allow. When they said they had no one else, my husband said if they didn’t have anyone else, then he could put forth a candidate. Itchie, still not wanting to publicly embarrass him, gave a less offending reason explaining why he felt our candidate would be a better choice. The fool (what else can I possibly call him,) didn’t even have enough common sense to realize that my husband was trying hard not to embarrass him. At a public meeting, he himself got up and announced the real reason why Itchie was against his nomination. (Even Itchie was shocked at his stupidity!) At this point Itchie had no choice but to announce that it was against Jewish Law to elect this man as president of a religious organization and if the membership nevertheless elects him, then he will be forced to resign as rabbi of the synagogue. Statements were made at that public meeting that were open desecrations of G-d’s name. Among other things, a woman stood up and said that Moshe Rabbeinu was married to a non-Jew, so there is no reason why they should marry Jews either. (Moshe's wife Tziporah was a gieres, a convert to Judaism, and therefore Jewish!) My husband immediately decried and refuted them. When the vote was taken, by a raise of hands, people who had come to the synagogue for the first time, especially for the election, physically forced down the hands of many of our supporters. Despite that, our candidate won by three votes. At this point, in the great Russian tradition of democracy, the president of the cultural organization demanded a recount and disqualified many of our supporters from voting, while the riffraff he brought in off the street, who had never before set foot in the shul, were allowed! It nearly turned into a real live barroom brawl, if not for Itchie calling a halt to his angry supporters. He told them there is no reason to fight, because he is now resigning as the rabbi of this synagogue and announcing the opening of a Chabad synagogue in our home. This was on a Thursday, and that Shabbos we had the first minyan at our house. Baruch Hashem it has grown so beautifully that it now overflows the house into the yard, and we must immediately find new larger quarters!

We thought that was the end of the subject. Itchie was quite satisfied to let things run as they were. And even though they were spreading lies about him, he chose not to make any response unless directly asked. As usual, in November Itchie went to the U.S. for the shluchim convention and to do some fundraising. When it was time for him to return, Yaakov, president of Chabad of Crimea had to send him an invitation so that he could get a visa. This invitation had to be signed by the Crimean Minister of Religion. He refused to do this, saying that he received a letter from the synagogue with claims against Itchie. Yaakov explained to the minister that these claims were false, and that in any case the rabbi should be allowed into the country to at least be able to defend himself. The minister refused. When Itchie was informed of this latest development, he wasn’t fazed. He just asked Chabad in Kiev to send him an invitation and got his visa that way. When Itchie showed up in Simferopol, without even a one day delay, our opponents were shocked. They couldn’t fathom how, in a country so steeped in bureaucracy, this foreigner was able to totally ignore them and continue with Chabad programs. Our visas were still valid until June of 1997 but this was unacceptable to these people. Therefore, the president of the Jewish cultural organization, and the new “Rosh Hakahal” of the old shul signed a letter to Ovir (the governmental agency that issues visas) that because of their claims against the rabbi, our visas should be cancelled, and stamped “persona non gratis” and our entire family should unceremoniously be deported. In March, with all the pomp of an open society, Ovir requested that we bring in our family’s passports so that they could check them. Without any inkling that there was anything wrong, we complied, only to be informed that the visas were being cancelled and the family would have to leave the country within 10 days. When asked on what charges, they wouldn’t tell us. We seemed to have come up against a stone wall, with no one willing to give us a hearing. This also meant that Itchie was forced to cancel his trip to America to raise funds for Pesach and summer camp, and that we didn’t even know if we would be in the country for Pesach! An added irony was that just two weeks earlier, after 7 months of haggling with tamozhne (customs,) they had finally released our container from America. However, despite our claim that it was our own personal belongings, they insisted on marking it as humanitarian aid. Now if we were to be thrown out of the country, we wouldn’t even be able to take our personal belongings with us! Itchie, therefore, called the American embassy to intercede on our behalf to at least give us an extension and
a hearing so that we could legally defend ourselves. Our deportation date was extended to April 12th. We also called the Chief Rabbi of the Ukraine, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, who called the Ukrainian Minister of Religion and warned him that if our visas were not reinstated this would become an international scandal. Meanwhile, Chabad in Washington already had senators making inquiries of the Ukrainian Embassy, as to what was going on. The Chabad office in Philadelphia had gotten the President’s Commission on Jewish Issues involved. At the same time the head of the Bulgarian community, which was one of the groups that were beneficiaries of our disbursements of humanitarian aid also brought the International Red Cross into the fray. To nicely top matters off, The Hilfsfonds, based in Germany and Belgium, (another humanitarian aid organization that delivers over 10 million deutchmarks worth of aid a year just to the Ukraine,) had their representative in the Crimea meet with the Prime Minister specifically about this issue. He told him that if we were deported they would never again send humanitarian aid to Ukraine! In response to this unexpected international outcry, and realizing that they really could not justify the cancellation of the visas, everyone involved, from Kiev to Simferopol, reacted as all responsible politicians do. They were falling all over themselves to show how helpful they really wanted to be, and how innocent they were. So they pointed all the blame at the Minister of Religion in Simferopol. He of course had to find a reason for his request to Ovir to have our visas cancelled, so he claimed we broke a law. [The law we supposedly broke, was that we were leading religious services without express permission from him. It didn’t help that Itchie was logically able to show that the minister himself signed the papers for our entering and leaving the country for four years, without having these so called formal papers, or that he had signed our incorporation papers which allow us to run a synagogue!] But in this case there was no room for logic, so we came to an understanding so that he could save face, and we would get extended visas for longer then we had before. So all is well that ends well. The fact that this whole problem was taking place in the month of Adar II, which is an auspicious time for the Jewish people, gave us the faith that in the end everything would work out. Sure enough, on the last day of the month we got the word that we would receive extended visas – though we actually got them right before Pesach, the festival of our freedom!

Purim we had several Megilla readings, in both Simferopol and Yevpetoria. We gave out hundreds of Shalach Monos packages in both cities, and made a festive Purim meal for well over a hundred people - despite all of the ongoing problems.

Chana, a young woman who attends our shul, gave birth to a baby boy at this time, so immediately following Purim we made a double bris: the first bris done for an eight day old baby in Crimea since before the Second World War, together with that of a 6 month old baby, who joined him. We gave them clothing for the babies for the whole first year at that time, since we didn’t know if we’d still be here to give the clothing at a later date.
We did not allow our visa problems to stop the work, and we continued to prepare for the upcoming Pesach holiday. We supplied 4 tons of matzoh for the Jews of the Crimea, and were still short. We also helped 50 families prepare their homes for keeping a completely kosher for Pesach kitchen for the first time in their lives. Thanks to organizations such as Lishkas Ezras Achim, we were able to supply these people with their Pesach needs. Of course, nothing can run straight here, and somehow the paper goods and food we had had sent to us, at great cost, from America ended up in Pesach camp in Dniepropetrovsk instead of in Simferopol! We nevertheless supplied the needs for a community seder which hosted about a hundred and fifty, (for which we brought in rabbinical students from Israel,) and simultaneously ran an in-depth seder for nearly 50 people in our own home. This seder lasted until 2:30 a.m., and everyone stayed until the very end. We also had about 40 people for each of the other holiday meals. For “Moshiach’s Seudah,” (the last night of Pesach,) we unfortunately, had to actually turn away people who showed up, because there wasn’t even standing room remaining. Each meal we hosted different people, to allow as many people as possible a chance to come.

After Pesach, I ran out to take pictures of some people’s kitchens, to show how carefully they had kept the laws of Pesach – I myself was shocked at how bare their kitchens were – with only a few pieces of fruit or a moldy cabbage besides what we were able to give them. When I returned, I got right to work, working with the kids on packing away the Pesach dishes. Suddenly, I saw a light flashing in the open window. Someone was looking into the house with a large, strong flashlight, from over the wall surrounding our yard. I was instantly on the floor & yelled to the family “Duck! Quickly get into the kids’ room (the only inside room, without windows,) … they’re back! (I assumed that this was someone trying to break in again.) The man yelled – “open the gate, this is the police.” Itchie called back to him – “we’re calling the police station to make sure.” Sholom Ber called and said there was an emergency at 24 Mironova. The person who answered couldn’t hear well and kept asking “shto? shto?” (what? what?) Sholom Ber thought it wasn’t the police station, and hung up the receiver. Two minutes later, Itchie said “Leah, it’s not one guy – they’re swarming all over the place.” “Don’t open, no matter what!” I told him. Suddenly, one held up a police badge at the window. When Sholom Ber had hung up the receiver so quickly, they thought someone was getting killed, and they broke all records, getting here in literally 2 minutes instead of the usual 2 hours! When they found out we were all alive, thank G-d, they were out the door! We prevailed upon them to check that the intruder was no longer outside, and they exited as fast as they had come. We all slept in the boys tiny room in the middle of the house that night. Two changes followed the next day, an old tablecloth became a curtain, and we now have a policeman on duty here every night, and Sundays, or when necessary.

For Lag B’Omer, we took a bus load of people to a campground by the Black Sea, where we spent a day of fun and games, complete with a picnic and a bonfire all in the Lag B’Omer tradition.

We now have e-mail again, so if you want to write our e-mail address is: [[email protected]] tel./fax number: 011- 380-652-240-231

Keep In Touch! Till next time,

Leah Lipszyc & Company

6th Letter from Crimea: MIRACLE ON MIRONOVA


Chabad of the Crimea
Mironova 24
Simferopol, Crimea 95001 Ukraine
Tel/fax: 380–652–510–773
E-mail [email protected]

Message: Sorry for the temporary interruption of my wife's popular letters about our life in Crimea. The overwhelming amount of work, against a backdrop of extremely trying circumstances, has made it impossible to write. Add to that, the frustration of having started to write several times, only to have had the computer stolen while working on something, and one's imagination still can't fathom the obstacles involved. The attached essay is meant to resume once more her string of letters. Due to the (hopefully) unique circumstances of the incident related below, the format and style is a bit different, yet we hope you will enjoy it as much as her other letters.

Rabbi Yitzchok Meyer Lipszyc

Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5757
November 12, 1996

Miracle on Mironova

Our sukkah this year was built between the wall around our house and the street. “Street” being a misnomer for an alley that is more potholes than road. The sukkah itself was constructed from long thin strips of raw wood covered by a lively multi-colored striped fabric, topped by whatever branches and foliage we could scavenge. The entrance was framed with pinecones and trim from the boys' Russian bunk bed, which had breathed its last that week. The floor, as typical of Simferopol at that time of year, was mud, as it had been raining almost without letup. Because the sukkah was outside our actual courtyard, we hired Sasha, our secretary's husband, to guard it throughout the nine nights of the holiday, so that nothing inside the sukkah would "walk away." In another Soviet city, some young people had erected a prefab sukkah one year. The first morning of Sukkos, they awoke to the sight of the bare skeleton of their sukkah, minus its blue and gold canvas walls. The following day they saw two women proudly walking down the street wearing their new "yomtov dresses" of the same material. So we figured a guard would be a good preventive measure. We knew we would be entertaining guests every night until around 1:00 AM, and the singing and talking might disturb our neighbors, who live in dire poverty. Therefore we met with Roza, the biggest complainer beforehand. She seems to be the block informer or liaison to the infamous 3 letter organization. We explained what would be occurring, and gave her food to distribute as gifts to everyone on the block. So we thought we had everything covered.

Yomtov was quite uplifting, with 40 guests, the maximum that can be half normally squeezed into our dining room, at each meal. We imported some bochurim (rabbinical students), thanks to the help of Merkos Gutnik in Israel, which greatly enhanced the general holiday spirit and especially enlivened our Simchas Bais HaShoeva (the daily celebrations during the Sukkos holiday.)

The men sang and danced in the sukkah, while the women sang and danced with tambourines, whirling under the stars in the courtyard. We even made a second mini-version of our sukkah which was mounted on a "pretzyept" or trailer. Our sukkah-mobile was emblazoned on three sides with boldly painted lulavim and esrogim, proclaiming the holiday to one and all. We took it to Yalta, Yevpatoria, and Sevastopol, topping off the holiday season with an extra joyous Simchas Torah in our shul in Simferopol. Additionally, Dovid and the bochurim traveled to Yevpatoria where they celebrated Simchas Torah with that community in their newly acquired shul.

Before hakafos (dancing with the Torah) on the eve of Simchas Torah, as per his yearly custom, Itchie made kiddush in shul on vodka, immediately downing more than half the cup, as required by Jewish law. At first I was concerned because the only cups available were nine ounces, but I was somewhat relieved when someone pointed out to me that the "vodka" had frozen, indicating that there was more than a decent percentage of water in the local brew. (Perhaps, it’s since "water" in Russian is "voda" — very similar to "vodka" — so nu, what's a little letter more or less between friends?) After a really spirited hakafos, we all went home to enjoy our festive yomtov meal amidst lively singing and dancing. I’d barely slept for several nights, having been up cooking for the holiday, therefore after the conclusion of the meal I was just too tired to get up and walk our departing guests to the gate, as I usually did. I wearily put my head down on the table to rest a few minutes, while Ida proceeded to wash the dishes. Ida, a garrulous "babushka," lives around the corner in a hovel resembling a small, cold walk-in closet. She usually does our dishes after Shabbos, and in my exhaustion I forgot to mention to her that this Saturday night was different, because it was also yomtov. Itchie, also knocked out, between lack of sleep and having made kiddush on the ersatz vodka, fell asleep instantly and deeply in our room.

Half an hour passed, when suddenly at 1:15 AM I woke to what sounded like one of the boys crying, coming from the courtyard. I jumped up and still half asleep, instead of checking if the boys were in their beds, I ran to the door to see why they would be outside when they should have been safely asleep. The moment I opened the door, three guns were pointed at me. Three young men, still pulling stocking-like caps made out of sweater sleeves over their heads, all toting guns and knives, rushed me into the house, telling me "Keep quiet, this is just a robbery!" (Since it was “just” a robbery, I listened. I actually didn’t have much choice!) One shoved Sasha into the dining room and down onto the floor between the tables, on his stomach, with his hands clasped behind his head. They pushed me into a chair, where I was to remain for the next four awful hours of our ordeal. At least one of them was constantly with us, pointing a gun and playing with a knife in his other hand. I later found out that Sasha had been going between the office and the sukkah every ten minutes or so. Each time he carefully locked the heavy metal gate which we had just strengthened after a previous robbery. When he came to the gate shortly after our guests left, he found it unlocked. He thought it strange, but checked the sukkah, locked the gate again, and returned to the office. The next time it happened again. He went to investigate and saw that the sukkah was dark. He thought someone had stolen the light bulb, a not uncommon occurrence in this part of the world. As he was about to check the sukkah though, he felt a gun in his back and a knife at his throat, and he was forced back towards the house. The quickly muffled scream that woke me had been his.

The three gunmen, with a no-nonsense attitude, immediately and methodically began searching and ransacking the entire house for our "treasure." If it wasn't such a serious situation, this scene might have been laughable. By American standards, which we haven't yet totally forgotten, we live in almost as much poverty as our neighbors. We have two tiny bedrooms with only two broken daybeds and a child's cot on which to sleep. My husband and some of the boys had been sleeping either on blankets on the floor or on the benches in the dining room, though now, thankfully, the four youngest were asleep on one bed in their tiny bedroom. As I mentioned earlier, Dovid, our oldest son living at home was in Yevpatoria for the holiday, helping the bochurim. Our food supply is still quite limited as there aren't any kosher certified products available here. (For some unfathomable reason, Pathmark and Winn Dixie haven't yet deemed it a priority to open one of their superstores in our neighborhood — nor for that matter, in the entire former USSR.) Since kosher chickens are hard to come by, I generally use two chickens to feed 45 people, though I have also done it with one, and sometimes only soup mix makes our Shabbos "fleishig" when we run out of chickens. Sheets adorned some of the tables, while holes were evident in the remaining tablecloths, where Shabbos candles had melted through the synthetic lace. Our "bookshelves" are old wooden orange crates. The paint is scraped off the walls in places, and the ancient wallpaper is peeling in the tiny hall. Our bathroom is a partially built bare concrete shell which lacks such "niceties" as tiles, electricity, and hot water. In the midst of all this, these crazed youths were demanding at least $100,000! My mouth felt as thick as paste, and my knees were literally knocking together in fright, as they repeatedly insisted that they had reliable information that we had a million American dollars in cash hidden in the house, and they wanted the money quickly.

On the one hand, I was scared to death. They could easily kill us all. What I didn't know until afterwards is that here, when they come in masked, that is exactly what they do, and what these masked men fully intended to do. They refused to let me get up to check if the boys and my husband were all right. One of them seemed to take especial delight in opening the safety catch of his gun and making as if he was about to shoot. He told me that these were police Berrettas, and showed me the bullets. They refused to believe that my Russian was limited and that I didn't always understand them. Sasha, who does speak English, couldn't see them, and was afraid to say a word, thinking they might shoot him. Ida was in the kitchen, obliviously washing the dishes. I guess they considered her a harmless old thing. From time to time she would come in and inquire of me where she should put something. They informed us that they were professional thieves and not Mafia, though we should know that two Mafia groups are also watching us. They had been observing us for several months. They said they "knew" we are rich Americans because they knew what I had been buying! Amazed, I asked what on earth was it that I had bought that indicated to them that we were wealthy. To the best of my knowledge, the most expensive recent purchase had been a heating pad I’d bought for the equivalent of eleven dollars when I was flat on my back. No! They knew that we bought twelve bottles of Coca Cola every Friday, and that proved that we were rich! Mind you Coca Cola is currently the only kosher beverage in the country, and it was shared between all of our many guests! No amount of talking could convince them otherwise, especially when we had been "caught with the goods." (Itchie wants to try to sell this scene to Coca Cola, for an advertising gimmick.) Ida, of course, chose this moment to come in to ask me what she should do with the last half cup of soup and one kneidle left in the bottom of the 16 quart pot. At that point, I tried to refrain from answering her, but she was not to be deterred. She repeatedly kept asking, until I finally told her to do whatever she wanted with it. She promptly declared that she would give it to her dog. Great! Now it was definitely established that we are so wealthy, that even our workers' animals get to eat chicken soup!

On the one hand, I knew that I had to have bitachon (trust in G-d.) Here it was Simchas Torah and I knew I had to be b'simcha (happy.) G-d wouldn't really let us all get killed on Simchas Torah, would He? And why were we living here in Simferopol anyway? We are shluchim of the Rebbe. We came here simply and for no other reason than to help other Jews find their way back to the heritage which they'd been denied under Communism. I looked across the room at the small popsicle stick and glitter framed picture of the Rebbe that one of my boys had made in camp, and proudly hung on the window. "Rebbe," I thought. "I know you're here with us. I know you still help people in difficult situations. I think this kind of fits the criteria. Please intercede for us now. And please do it quickly, before one of these guys ‘snaps' and shoots."

One of them, the gang leader, decided to spend most of the time with us, while the others continued to turn the house upside down in their frenzied search. He started to tell me about his hard life, how his parents hated him, and how he had been “forced” by circumstances to "earn" his livelihood in this manner. I asked him if he knew why we were here, explaining that we were not wealthy American businessmen as he thought, but were only here to help other people. We try to help them spiritually, but also materially, to the best of our limited ability. We haven't even been able to take a salary for ourselves. (After giving tzedakah before yomtov I was left with 20 kopecks — about 10 cents. Itchie actually had forty dollars to his name.) I explained that we are only here because the Lubavitcher Rebbe had sent us. I pointed to the Rebbe's picture on the wall above me. "Shut up," he shouted, and as many times as I tried to get him to look at the Rebbe's picture, he repeatedly averted his eyes from it. I tried to tell him about the Seven Noahide Laws, which all non-Jews are commanded to observe, figuring that there had to be some reason for this encounter. I told him he could easily put away his gun, leave, and become a better person. I also told him that Moshiach was coming soon. "Oh no! He's never coming!" he practically screamed. "We're here from Satan! The Satanic forces will overrun the world!" This was a really unusual statement for him to have made. He seemed extremely uncomfortable in a Jewish setting, almost as if he felt a holiness permeating the house, and his eyes were constantly looking downwards, as if he couldn't bear to look at the pictures of the Rebbe in the room. (It was especially bizarre, because the night before, Sasha, a non-Jew who is a very sensitive-to-spirituality type of person, said to me "I hope you won't think I'm crazy, but I sense that your house is being watched by Satanic forces." I had basically pooh-poohed his fears, and told him that we have kosher mezuzos, and that G-d is watching over us and protecting our home in the merit of the Rebbe, but it was weird, nonetheless.)

Finally they let Sasha get up off the floor and sit on a chair. Until this point my husband was blissfully sleeping through everything. Then we heard some kind of disagreement between him and one of the gunmen. Suddenly, we heard a loud cracking sound. Sasha and I looked at each other in fright. We were both sure that they'd hit Itchie over the head with the butt of a gun. They still kept assuring me that my husband and children were fine, and would continue to be so, if only I would cooperate and give them the money quickly.

They brought in my jewelry box and started examining each piece, inquiring if any were real gold or stones. It was basically costume jewelry with some gold earrings and a gold and pearl charm that had belonged to my grandmother. Also in the box were twenty-one single dollar bills which we had received from the Rebbe on various occasions. Also in the jewelry box was the Sefer Raziel HaMalach, a kabbalistic book which is considered to have protective qualities for its immediate surroundings. As soon as the leader picked up the Rebbe's dollars, he dropped them, almost as if he had burnt himself on them. This happened again as the second thief tried to pick up these specially blessed dollars. When the third thief tried to take them, the chief shouted at him “No! Don’t touch those! There’s something the matter with them!” The leader then asked about each piece of jewelry, though when I told him which were real, he said, "No! I don't want your jewelry, or your mother's and grandmother's jewelry," and he proceeded to throw them one by one to the floor. Although when they first came in, I'd sat with my right hand over my left hand, so they wouldn't notice my diamond ring (which Itchie gave me in the yichud room after the chupah at our wedding), I now figured I could barter it for our lives. "How about my ring?" I asked. "We don't have any money, but my ring is worth a lot." "How much?" he asked. "It's a near perfect stone, and was worth more than $1000 twenty-six years ago," I answered. "No, we don't want your jewelry. Anyway, it can easily be identified," said he. "But, you can remove the stones from the ring," I desperately tried convincing him. Here I was literally begging someone to take my ring that for so many years I'd carefully turned around on my finger to hide every time I went out. "No," he insisted. "We don't want your ring. We want the money. You'd better start to cooperate — before it's too late." He picked up the Sefer Raziel HaMalach and stared intently at the picture of the tzaddik Baba Sali on the cover. He did this several times.

Finally, to my immense relief, Itchie was brought into the dining room. He had awakened to find a masked man in our room searching through the dresser. His initial thought was that someone was pulling a prank. However, he quickly changed his mind when he saw the gun. The gunman quickly motioned to him, putting his finger to his lips in the universal sign for silence. Itchie started to get up, but the man motioned for him to remain lying prone on the bed. He too explained to Itchie that they were looking for the million dollars that everyone knew we had stashed away. Itchie told him, with a smile, that if everyone seems to know this, then surely it will happen, but they had came too soon, for it hadn't been delivered yet. The gonif explained that this is serious, and if we don't give them the money they will kill us. Itchie tried explaining that killing us won't change the fact that we don't have money. "Don't you understand that if I could save our lives by giving you money, I would gladly do so? We just don't have any." He asked where we keep our money and Itchie showed him. When the masked man saw that it was only $40 he refused to believe that was all the money we had. After a while, Itchie said he was going to get up. The bandit pointed the gun at him and told him not to. Itchie said that it was much too quiet in the house, and he wanted to make sure his family was all right. The masked man assured Itchie that the family is well. Itchie explained that for some “unexplicable” reason his word is not good enough and he was going in to see for himself. The robber then told Itchie to wait a minute. He went out of the room and returned moments later, to escort Itchie into the dining room. Passing through the boys’ room, Itchie silently thanked G‑d that the children were still asleep, and prayed that they would remain so throughout the ordeal, in order to reduce the possibility of panic. Once in the dining room, we were each relieved to see the other alive. Itchie told me that he was glad to see that I was handling myself so well. Sasha was still obviously extremely nervous, and Ida, having finally finished the dishes, was very matter-of-factly trying to convince them that we didn’t even have the $10 to pay her for washing the dishes that month.

We continued trying to convince them that they were barking up the wrong tree. Time was passing, and daylight would soon be approaching. The three were becoming increasingly nervous, and desperate to find the money. They began knocking on walls, and then threw down a valuable painting, looking for a hidden safe. I couldn’t stifle a small scream. The painting belonged an artist friend, Anton, who had hung the painting in our house “in order for it to absorb the spiritual energy in the home.” They then turned off or smashed the remaining lights in the courtyard so that when they were out there, their shadows wouldn’t be seen under the gate. They took Sasha out to the office where they found our brand new state-of-the-art computer. Barely out of its boxes, I hadn’t even had a chance to see it, what with all the preparations for yomtov. They were quite taken aback, they told us, because they had just stolen our last computer. [During the summer, when Itchie was in America, strange things started happening, as if someone was trying to intimidate me. Late at night I would hear footsteps in our private courtyard. Other times the “fortitshka” (small window) in my bedroom and then in the kitchen were opened and things were knocked over (even though I was 100% sure I’d closed them the night before). Still another time the trellis in the garden was cut, and the tomato stakes were pulled out. All basically harmless pranks, but enough to make me nervous. Finally, one day I unexpectedly came home in the middle of the day to find the office door pried open and our computer, video camera, fax machine, and VCR all stolen. I immediately drove to Kherson (the nearest Chabad Center — four hours away) to borrow money in order to put up heavy metal doors and good double locks. A lot of good it did now. At gunpoint, we opened the locks!]

Meanwhile, our “friendly” burglars were getting uptight. The chief thief sent Mr. Trigger Happy to awaken one of the children, in order to take him hostage until we would come up with the money. We had Sasha go with him, so that the child wouldn’t panic when woken up by someone with a mask. Itchie meanwhile explained to the chief why he shouldn’t take our child. “Look” said Itchie. “Don’t you wonder why both my wife and I are sitting here, seemingly calm, without panicking, despite the fact that three thugs with guns are threatening the lives of our family? You say that you’re professional thieves. Is this the normal response that you get from your victims? Let me explain why we can afford to be so calm. You see, we are believing Jews. We’re in this situation, not because you decided to rob us, but because G‑d wants us to be in this situation. If G‑d has decided that, Heaven forbid, I am going to die tonight, than even if you don’t pull the trigger, I’ll die tonight. On the other hand, if G‑d has decided that we’re going to live through the night, than even if you put the gun right next to my head and pull the trigger, I’m going to live. However, I am not privy to that information, and don’t know what G‑d has decided. So both my wife and I have said the prayers a Jew must say before dying. So now, we can sit serenely and observe how G‑d runs the rest of this scenario. As far as I’m concerned, you personally are an unimportant actor in this scene. On the other hand, precisely because we are sitting so calmly and quietly, you can go about your business of tearing up the house, to your heart’s content, until you are sure that in fact there is no money. However, you are now about to introduce another factor. If you try to take my son as a hostage, the Torah demands of me, as a father, to do anything to stop you. I, therefore, will stand up to fight you. You, in turn, will try to shoot to kill me. With all the noise and panic that will ensue, you will have to flee without continuing the search, and you will have accomplished nothing!” While Itchie was explaining this, he sounded like he was giving a class on a theoretical response to an event that might happen to someone else, at another time. Meanwhile, the other thief had returned with Sasha and Chaim Yosef (our ten year old). I motioned to Chaim Yosef to come sit in my lap. The second thief wanted to stop him, but the chief told him to let him go to his mother. The second thief said, “I’ll point the gun at the child’s head and you’ll see how fast the parents will show us where the money is.” Itchie just looked the chief in the eye, and the chief said, “No!” He saw that the other fellow was getting real frustrated and fidgety, so he sent him to look in another room and said he would handle us.

At this point Itchie started telling the chief about the Seven Laws of Noach, stressing that there is an all seeing G‑d presiding over the world, Who said not to kill and not to steal. “It seems a good time for you to start implementing some of these laws.” At this point the leader said that he used to believe in G‑d but that he had had a hard life with no money and therefore he had turned to a life of crime. So Itchie said (with a friendly smile), “If this is any indication of your success in criminal activities, I recommend you turn back to G‑d. You’ll be better off!” “Do you mean to tell me,” asked the leader of Itchie, “that if I come back to you in two weeks without my mask, and tell you that I am the guy who did this, you will forgive and help me?” “I already told you,” responded Itchie, “as far as I’m concerned, you are a totally irrelevant player in tonight’s proceedings. If I have any problem with what is happening here, I have to work it out with G‑d. You have your own problems with G‑d, namely why you are involved in something that He teaches us not to do. If you are asking me to help you patch up your relationship with G‑d, then if you will promise to keep the Seven Laws of Noah* from now on, then I agree to act as your advocate with Him.”

Daylight was fast approaching. We knew we didn’t have much more time. We could see that the leader was finally beginning to have his doubts that maybe we really didn’t have any money, and that he had been given false information. Suddenly he said, “You know what? I, myself, would just leave and not take anything. But, as you can see, my partners are frustrated, and if I try telling them that, they would even turn against me. So give me something for the other two guys. Give me your diamond ring, and I’m also taking the computer and your daughter’s camcorder, but you have to give me your word as a rabbi that you won’t go to the police and you won’t move for the next half hour, so that we can escape.” Itchie promised not to take any steps to catch them for the past happenings. However, he also told them that we are going to take steps to ensure our safety in the future. But, Itchie said, he wanted a favor in return. That they should let the other groups that are casing our house know that it’s a waste of time. It was 5:10 AM when they left, and we sat until 5:40 as they “requested,” when we went to close the door to shut out the cold draft. Ida went home. Sasha and I began to clear through the debris, which looked like a tornado had torn through the place. And Itchie sat down to learn, in preparation for shul, as the roosters next door announced the dawning of a glorious Simchas Torah day.

Leah Lipszyc & Company

*The Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: Sheva mitzvos B'nei Noach), often referred to as the Noahide Laws, are a list of seven moral imperatives which were given by G-d to Noah as a binding set of laws for all mankind. According to Judaism any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as a Righteous Gentile and is assured of a place in the world to come. Adherents are often called B'nei Noah (Children of Noah) or Noahides. The basic Seven Laws of Noah are as follows:
1 Prohibition against idolatry
2 Prohibition against blasphemy
3 Prohibition against murder
4 Prohibition against theft
5 Prohibition against sexual immorality
6 Prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal
7 Establish courts of justice

(There is a sequel to this story, which will I”YH be mentioned later.)

5th Letter from Crimea


Chabad of the Crimea
Mironova 24
Simferopol, Crimea 95001 Ukraine
Tel/fax: 380–652–510–773
e-mail [email protected]

Iyar 9, 5756

Dear Everyone,

Zdrastya! When my first letter was received with such enthusiasm and requests to keep these letters coming, I was afraid that I would eventually run out of interesting adventures to relate. I thought for sure that last Pesach had to be the worst. Not to worry, this Pesach preparations and problems at least matched, if not surpassed, last year's "fun". Thankfully, when I sat down to write this letter I realized that G-d was kind to me and gave me amnesia so that I wouldn't relive it. Nevertheless, I’ve racked my brains, and I'll try to share some of it with you.

The Torah tells us that G-d prepares the cure before the problem. So while I was cleaning the books for Pesach, I came across a picture of the Rebbe burning chometz. None of us had ever seen this picture before and we don't know how it got into one of our books. I took it to be a sign, that despite my annual worry that I wouldn't be ready in time, everything would fall into place. Little did I know how important that assurance would be for me to keep my sanity (if indeed I am still sane).

Itchie had left to the states the day after Purim. The plan had been for him to be there for just two weeks. Thank G-d there was a simcha in the family, so I agreed that he should stay until Monday, March 25th, the 5th of Nissan. This meant that he would arrive in Simferopol the 7th of Nissan, exactly one week before Pesach. A lot of planning had to go into coordinating everyone's return to Simferopol. Our children are spread over six countries. Elkie's family, Hudie, and Chanie are in the USA. Bashie's family is in Canada. Faigie is studying in France, Sholom Ber in England, and Mendy in Israel. Our five youngest are currently here with us in Crimea. We were also bringing two rabbinical students to run the public sedarim. My husband, Chanie, and the two bochurim, Dov Greenberg and Moshe Muchnik (son of Chassidic artist Michoel Muchnik) were leaving Monday from New York, due to arrive in Paris Tuesday morning. There they were to meet Faigie and continue on to Kiev. In Kiev, they were to be met by Sholom Ber and a special truck that we had hired to pick up: 1) Pesach products in Zhitomir, sent by Ezras Menachem of France; 2) Four tons of matzoh in Kiev, that should have been shipped the week of Purim, but weren't; 3) Pesach supplies from Ezras Achim in New York; and 4) Our 20 large U-Haul boxes of Pesach supplies. At that point, the crew of six was to be dropped off at the train station, where they had three pre-paid kupays (sleeper compartments) for the 20-hour train ride to Simferopol. I had to be in Kherson anyway (a seven hour trip by train), so I was to join them on the train when it stopped there. The truck with all our supplies would travel on to Simferopol, where hopefully we would all reunite as one big happy family on Wednesday morning, a mere week before Pesach.

As the saying goes, "Man plans and G-d laughs." The flight from New York was two hours late. For some inexplicable reason the supervisor made the brilliant decision that, although fifteen passengers on that flight were continuing on to Kiev he was not going to hold the connecting flight for them. So they all missed it by 3 minutes — I kid you not! This meant they had to put all fifteen passengers up in a hotel, and supply them with three meals each (eight of the passengers had to be supplied kosher meals) for two days until the next Air France flight to Kiev. I wonder if that supervisor still has his job? In any case, someone did realize the financial folly of such a plan, and they were put on a different carrier instead the following day. But what about all our well-laid plans? Well, for Faigie this mess-up turned out great! In Paris there are two airports and the travel agent who issued her ticket neglected to mention which airport she was to depart from. So, of course Faigie went to the wrong one and also missed her flight. It took them all day until they found each other, but the next day they were able to travel together. The train tickets were paid for already, which was a total loss. (In this neck of the woods, inter-city train and bus tickets are only good for that one trip. If you miss the bus or train for any reason, they shrug their shoulders and say with a smile, "So sorry. You have problem.") Only Sholom Ber was able to make the train. The truck driver had to stay an extra day anyway because there was still a mix-up with the matzoh. The shipment of Pesach supplies from New York had somehow ended up in Odessa, and didn't arrive in Kiev until three hours after the crew left for Simferopol the next day.

Not knowing that Sholom Ber had traveled on the original train, I stayed over in Kherson an extra day so that I would still join everyone for that leg of the journey. Too late, I found out that the next day's train from Kiev did not stop in Kherson, so I had to travel alone after wasting an extra two days from Pesach preparations! And what a trip it was! There were no more regular tickets, so I paid a pravadnik (train conductor) to sleep in her compartment. She told me to wait so she could get her husband out. Then she ushered me into her place and locked the door. I lay down on the bed, when suddenly I heard snoring coming from the curtained berth above mine! What had she done, I thought, hidden her husband in the upper berth and locked the door? I started banging on the door, but she told me to shut up till the supervisor finished checking all the cars! Believe me it was a very uncomfortable situation. Boruch Hashem, it turned out to be another woman conductor “upstairs!”

We all arrived in Simferopol Friday afternoon (erev Shabbos Hagadol), where our next set of problems was ready to greet us. First of all, our truck had been sealed up by tamozhna (customs) in Kiev and was being held by tamozhna in Simferopol until we would arrive to allow them to examine its contents. It would take hours, and if we didn't finish before Shabbos, it meant waiting until Monday. The perishables (frozen chicken, etc.) would perish and the supplies needed for Shabbos would not be supplied. So off Itchie went with our driver to work things out with the tamozhnik! He ended up coming home with the truck semi-cleared through customs a bare ten minutes before Shabbos. The freight truck couldn't fit into our narrow street, so all the kids, guests, and neighbors had to quickly run to the corner, grab boxes, and bring them to the sklad (storage) room and garage! I imagine we lost some in the process. Meanwhile, the night before, one of our mekuravim had suddenly and tragically lost his 2 1/2 year old son. (It was later discovered that the child's death was caused by the incompetence of the medical staff. They were giving him treatment for the wrong illness!) His mother was waiting for us at the train station, to rush us over to do a tahara and funeral in the few remaining hours before Shabbos. Since my husband and children are Kohanim, this meant a fast course and initiation for Dov and Moshie into the last rites. We can't thank these two bochurim enough. They did a super job throughout their stay, despite every possible hurdle. So off we went, straight from the vagzal (train station) to deal with the people at the morgue, who never having witnessed a taharah before, thought we were crazy, and then to the cemetery to bury Elisha. Boruch Hashem, we all made it back home just before Shabbos, without further mishap. Special thanks go to my younger children, Dovid, Chaim, and Yoel, that we did in fact have anything to eat that Shabbos. They were really great!

Right after Shabbos we sent our driver to Donetsk to pick up wine, meat, and oil for Pesach. Imagine our shock when he returned from a two-day trip with only the oil and grape juice. It turned out that there was a misunderstanding in communications between the two secretaries and our order for 225 kilos of meat was completely cancelled, which would leave us without any meat, not only for Pesach, but for the next six months. We were also informed that due to a new Ukrainian law, which levied a heavy tax on imported wine, the donor organization sent grape juice instead. But we got plenty of oil because they sent 30 five-liter bottles instead of 30 liters! After some negotiations, another shliach agreed to sell us 50 kilos of meat, which barely lasted us through Pesach. So now we had to send our driver to pick up the meat and the Pesach supplies that we were supposed to have picked up in Kiev. Unfortunately, those supplies were now somewhere between Kiev and Odessa. From Odessa they had been sent to Kiev for distribution. From Kiev they sent it back to Odessa, where we were supposed to pick it up. (If this sounds like a grade B slapstick comedy, don't knock it. It's the closest thing to entertainment we've got. In any case, that's the way things work here.) The supplies ended up getting to Odessa too late for Pesach! In fact we never got them.

Before Purim we told our secretary to look for a cook for Pesach. When she still hadn't found one, I asked her how she would like to cook for 250 people? Two days before Pesach, when she realized that I was serious and she might have to cook, she brought her mother, who agreed to take the job. It was actually a blessing that she didn't find a cook earlier, because we didn't yet have a kitchen to work in either. (It was first being built.) Any normal cook would have already quit, except that ours hadn’t been hired yet! Finally, on Tuesday afternoon the kitchen was ready, the cook hired and we were ready to go shopping. Wednesday, erev Pesach, at 2:00 PM, the cook actually started to cook in the shul's "new" miniscule kitchen. Of course, as I mentioned in one of my previous letters, the plumbers here have an interesting philosophy. If they install a sink, you know that when you least expect it and least need the extra work, it's going to begin leaking. This can leave one big mess. Their solution? They don't connect the pipes to the sink. This means that it leaks immediately. This saves you from unexpected surprises, and you are always ready with an empty bucket for underneath the leaky sink. It also keeps one of the younger kids busy with emptying the bucket every twenty minutes. (When they complain, we tell them that it's training so if they want, they can eventually be water boys in the major leagues.)

While all this is going on in the shul, the same scene is being played out at our own house. But we have two leaking sinks, plus a bathroom which is full of leaks, whose sources we have still not discovered. (Maybe Miriam's well, and it's really a blessing?) We also bought an electric oven, but every time we use it, the fuse blows. If we turn off all the lights, don't use any other electric appliances, and use it only on the lowest setting, then we can get 15 minutes of use out of it before it blows. This has helped me create some interesting new dishes. Sorry, I can't share these new recipes with you, because you could never duplicate these conditions. For the last days of Pesach, not to be outdone in excitement, as I was preparing for Yom Tov, my gas stove developed a leak. We managed to get a repairman, in itself a miracle, but he said he couldn't fix it, and in fact he made it worse. I immediately set out with our driver to buy a new stove (it was 4:30 PM), and the repairman hooked it up to the gas balown, but it didn't work right. The lowest setting made our last year's Lag B'Omer bonfire look like a matchstick and turned the pots a sooty black. Not to despair! Our repairman slowed up the gas leak on the first stove. This made it possible for me to cook by switching the food from stove to stove before my house would chas v'shalom blow up or the food burn. Some more interesting recipes! With all the smoke and soot, you couldn't tell that we had just painted in honor of yomtov.

Despite everything, we did celebrate Pesach on time. We had two simultaneously run sedarim. The public seder, which was held in the shul, had approximately 250 people the first night, a bit less the second night. They were led by Moshe and Dov. The private sedarim, held in our home, were geared for closer mekuravim who wanted to stay for a longer, more in-depth seder. We had about 40 people each night. All other Shabbos and yomtov meals were in our house with an average of 40 people per meal. Moshiach's Seudah was held in the shul with 100 participants. We had to purchase four tons of matzah for pre-orders. Had we received it when we were supposed to, we probably would have needed five tons. We also supplied all Pesach needs for those who promised to keep a completely chometz-free home environment for the duration of yomtov. Boruch Hashem, 30 people kept Pesach for the first time in their lives.

On Sunday and Tuesday, I give shiurim. I tell a story about the Rebbe, we do HaYom Yom, and learn Ivrit, practical halacha, and another topic — currently we're learning about techiyas ha-meisim. Sunday, Itchie gives a shiur on tefillah. Monday is his class on Chumash with Rashi. Wednesday he teaches Gemara. Thursday is his Tanya shiur, and Shabbos afternoon we learn a sicha at shalosh seudos. On Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, he started a kind of chassidishe minyan. Itchie and several others go to shul at 6:00 a.m., where they learn a sicha until 6:30, and then Itchie leads them in davening — saying each word aloud, slowly. Shacharis and the Tehillim of the day takes just over an hour. Since they don't yet have an actual minyan and it takes them very close to the recommended time of davening as mentioned in Tanya, we call it a chassidishe minyan. (On Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbosim there is a regular minyan.) We are both also involved with teaching individuals, and preparing people for geirus, under the guidance of the chief rabbinate of Ukraine, as well as other private shiurim.

In the past, when we had the Shabbos meals in the shul, we used to have just over 100 people. However, since we have moved into our own "Chabad House," there is only room for about 40, which we have by reservation only, until we can get the needed funds for renovations and expansion. Hopefully, this will happen soon so that we can even surpass the amount of people we used to accommodate.

We are now preparing for our first community-wide brissim. We are bringing a mohel from Eretz Yisroel to do about ten bris milos, during the week of Lag B'Omer. Each person who has a bris will be given a beautifully decorated yarmulka with his new Hebrew name on it, and of course it will be followed by a festive seudah. We are also planning to make a day camp, as we did last year. We are expecting a round figure cost of about $35,000. At this moment we don't have any idea from where we are going to get this money, but certainly it will be there. There are a number of programs in the works. I”YH, we will do something for Lag B'Omer and for Shavuos. We also need to bring two teachers for the chinuch of our own children and at least three other children who are learning together with them, and we are constantly being asked to open a Jewish school.

Anyway, I guess that's about it for now. We really hope that, after a year of attempts, we will soon have a telephone, making it possible to get e-mail. (Meanwhile we have to run to shul to use the phone!) Until then, we can still be reached at:

цкраина, крым
симферополь 95001
Миронова 24

For those of you who may think, "It looks like Greek to me," our address can also be written as:
Ukraine, Crimea,
Simferopol 95001
Mironova 24

(Then the post office people will look at it and think, "It looks like Greek to me!")

Butdye zdarovia! (Zay gezunt!)
Leah Lipszyc & Company

A Bit of Catching Up

I haven’t written anything for a while, and really still don’t have the time, but will try to write now anyway, and do some catching up.

I was already in New York for the Convention of Shluchos on Tu B’Shvat, so unfortunately I missed the celebration here. Before I left, I decorated the school, made goody bags for everyone, and prepared the Shabbos menu for the shul accordingly, so that everyone got to taste the Sheva Minim – the seven special types of produce associated with Eretz Yisroel. Everyone especially enjoyed the cookies baked with barley flakes, wheat flour, raisins, dates, olive oil, and colored chocolate chips.

Purim was celebrated with great joy, both in the shul and in the school, with a full day program at the school for the entire community. I can’t post too many pictures now, as I’m currently working on two half computers. My desktop is loaded with viruses, and until it’s fixed, is not connected to the internet. The majority of the pictures are in that computer. I’m working on my laptop, which isn’t accepting CDs, and the (new) USB port doesn’t work (nor does the sound, but that’s a separate issue.) So until we get the computer act together somehow, there are only a few pics that I already have in my gmail.

Anyway – we started by reading Megillas Esther in school, followed by the distribution of mishloach manos packages and an explanation of the mitzvos of Purim, which everyone then participated in. I would especially like to thank the generous people in America and in England who donated the candies, which we used for mishloach manos. Children and grown-ups alike were delighted with them. Every year it's a challenge to come up with a costume for my husband, which hides his beard, so he won't immediately be identified. This year, he was a great scarecrow, as you can see above. We invited the teenagers from Sochnut to participate in the Purim program, and they presented an interesting Purim shpiel. This was followed by the costume contest, and a carnival full of exciting games and contests, and topped off by a delicious Purim seudah, prepared by Baila and company.

From Purim, we rolled right into pre-Pesach preparations. Of course, just about anything could beat last year! Last year was the Pesach to beat all Pesachs! That’s when TWO fridges broke, TWO self-cleaning American ovens broke, TWO kitchen cabinets disintegrated (all after lengthy cleaning, of course,) and TWO helpers were each out sick for TWO days. In the middle of all this (I believe I was running out to find new kitchen cabinets,) Yoel called me from Borispol airport in Kiev to tell me that he was having problems in customs. Stupidly, I responded that this is the least of my problems. Hashem let me know! All of our Pesach supplies, packed up in 14 large U-Haul boxes, and with two large bottles of wine per box, were supposed to be divided up between four of my boys. Three were coming on Sunday, with Yoel following on Wednesday. When the first three arrived at the airport in New York, (and this had actually been pre-arranged for once,) Aerosvit’s computers were down, and they couldn’t find the arrangements. So they suggested that all 14 boxes should go with Yoel on Wednesday, at a discounted fare. When Yoel and his boxes arrived in Borispol, it was like someone waving a red kerchief in the faces of the customs officials. Hey! Here comes a live one! I won’t go into all the gory details, but the customs, police, and successors to the KGB all got involved, and we did not get any of our Pesach supplies! Nor did Yoel get his clothing, as once they start confiscating, everything is included in one package deal! He had to pick up everything on the way back to New York, pay customs for storing it(!!!) pay for it to go back, and then again to bring it back here again this year!!! Itchie brought the most essential supplies with him, in several boxes. Our shmurah matzah was almost all confiscated, so we had to order locally. They sent us three year old matzah from Eretz Yisroel that was actually green with mold, so we had almost no matzah to eat and had to ration whatever there was! During Chol HaMoed they expressed their astonishment, as they had ostensibly told the workers to send us new matzah and for the last days we got several kilos of good matzah. To top everything off, we had four people with special diets to accommodate. I generally don’t mind this at all, but this on top of everything was – not easy. Two baalei teshuvah had taken on very stringent minhagim; only on the last day of Pesach did they finally agree that since R’ Zalman Shimon Dworkin a”h had told me I could grind my own pepper before Pesach, they would use it. One guest ate only what his father had seen in the Rebbe’s house on Pesach – minus all the foods he didn’t like – which left almost nothing. His food was cooked in a separate pot, which was kept on a windowsill, and caused problems by being blown onto the floor, leaving him without a pot! (If you didn’t follow that one, please don’t try!) We also happily had with us my newly married son and his (in the beginning of her pregnancy and very nauseous) vegetarian kallah.

So, as I was saying, even this year’s events were easier (in a certain sense) than last year’s. Certainly once Pesach actually began. Except that there was no real Chol HaMoed, but that’s a problem we shared in common with everyone, everywhere.

Several months earlier, my husband’s doctor had suggested he have a stress test done. He was flying all over the world at the time, trying to raise funds, and the doctor then told him the next time he’d be in New York, he should have an angiogram, and he should set aside two days to be in the hospital. Itchie figured this was no problem, and prepared to travel the following day to raise the funds needed for Pesach and the school. I asked him if he was sure he could travel immediately, and proceeded to do a search for angiogram on the internet. And proceeded to make him lose sleep. I can’t stand not knowing what’s going to happen to me, but my spouse is the opposite. I felt terrible. And I couldn’t even go with him, because this was happening almost erev Pesach! Well, when they did the angiogram, they found that one of his arteries was 100% blocked, but miraculously, his heart had created it’s own bypass! They ended up putting in stents in several arteries, and Boruch Hashem he was able to be home for Pesach, but the fund raising was off indefinitely. In desperation, I sent out a letter to friends, asking for help, and Boruch Hashem several very nice donations came in, which at least took off a little of the pressure from us (though it’s back again now :-) )
Now to backtrack a bit. In the 1960's arsonists burnt down the Central Choralnaya Sinagoga of Simferopol, a large and majestic building that had once graced the center of the city with its presence, on a piece of land, which until today is considered prime property. Shortly afterwards, a new building was built on it’s site, housing businesses, thus effectively doing away with any chance that the Jewish community could hope to reclaim what was theirs by right. For forty years, the city of Simferopol would live with the shame of this reprehensible act. Its extent can be seen by the fact that Simferopol is the only major city in the entire CIS whose Jewish population did not get back a beautiful synagogue after Perestroika. Unbelievably, in 2007, the Jewish community still has no synagogue building to point to with pride and say "this is where we worship." Eight years ago, we bought a piece of property facing the river, in the center of town, with the vision of rebuilding an active central synagogue, with a facade similar to the previous Choralnaya Sinagoga, to breathe new life into the glorious legacy of a once vibrant Jewish community. When the land was bought, a number of city elders lauded this initiative, and some of them (including the then Minister of the Building Department,) were actually the ones who referred to this move as undoing the shame of the city! Then, even though we had checked that the building on the site was structurally sound, the Minister said that he had done his own investigation, and the building was not sound, and we would need to demolish it. Nobody informed us that this would effectively take away our ownership of the property! Now that things are growing in Simferopol, our land has become prime property, and various groups have been vying to get their hands on it. The city council had already voted several times to deny us the right to build the synagogue. We contacted numerous people to help us, but nothing seemed to be having an effect. At the previous vote, police physically barred my husband and the president of our kehillah from entering the municipal building! And then said that they voted against us because the Rabbi was not present!!! A final vote was scheduled for Adar – a fortuitous month for such things – and on the birthday of the Rebbetzin. At the last moment, we were told orally that the meeting was being postponed. But we also heard that it was not being postponed, and they were indeed meeting on that date. Since we had once been deceived like that regarding a hearing in the case of the skinheads who had attacked us, you can imagine we were a bit leery. Well, it turned out that while they did indeed meet, our matter was not on the itinerary for that day. The vote was put off till the 10th of Nisan, just hours before the Rebbe’s birthday. The day before, I suddenly felt an amazing surge of confidence. I was certain that this time we would win. I went around the house singing Didan Notzach (the victory is ours) while cleaning for Pesach, and made a celebratory meal that night. The following morning, we met a prominent balebus in court. He would be speaking in our favor at the meeting. We entered the hall where the vote would be held, and felt everyone’s eyes upon us. Mr. Finklestein got up to speak, and then the secret vote was held. The results were displayed immediately on an electronic screen: 48 for, 5 against – Didan Notzach! Just last week, we were speaking with Mr. Finklestein, and he said to me “you don’t know – you had a miracle.” I said “Yes, I know.” He said “No, you don’t know! On the morning of the vote, the deputies had already decided that they were unanimously against us. The mayor told me that I’d have to be very convincing, and it didn’t look possible to win. I didn’t know what to say. That fact that we won was truly a miracle!”
So we went into Pesach on a real high, Boruch Hashem, with two miracles! For Pesach, our son Dovid, who graduated culinary school in Yerushalayim last year, came home and helped out in the school with the seder. We also had with us our two youngest sons, Schneur Zalman and Shmuelie, two of our “adopted daughters,” Ruchama, who had been living with us for the past three years and is now learning in Machon Chana in New York, and Sarah Rivkah, who taught in the school for two years and is now learning in Machon Alta in Tzfat, and Shmuel, another “regular,” home from yeshivah in Kiev. Two very fine bochurim who are learning in Australia, Mendy Eber and Moshie Rothstein also came, helping tremendously in general and especially with running the sedarim. Boruch Hashem nearly 200 people participated in the sedarim, and many attended the Moshiach’s seudah on the last day of Pesach as well.
Now Pesach has come to an end, and almost everyone has left. I’m back to my usual schedule of teaching in the school, giving classes several times a week for senior citizens at Chesed, classes in shul, etc. Today after school I spoke to a group of elderly women. We spoke about sefirah and what it means, and I gave them charts to keep track of the days. They all wrote down the “prayer” to say, and said they’ll say it every day. After the class, one of the women called me over to speak to her. She had asked me last time to borrow a Chumash so she could read it, several passages per day. She proudly told me: “You know, when I was younger, I didn’t know any of this. But now that I’m older, I’m starting to learn. I want you to know that on Pesach I got together my friends, even the non-Jewish ones. I put matzah on the table for everyone to eat. And I told them: ‘Quiet! Listen! Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod!’ I wanted everyone to know there is only One G-d! Maybe we didn’t do the four cups right, but for the first time, I wanted to do this!” I’m sure that Hashem was certainly happy with her growth, and I felt a special warmth as we firmly embraced each other.

4th Letter from Crimea


Chabad of Crimea
Mironova 24
Simferopol, Crimea 95001 Ukraine
Tel/fax: 380–652–510–773
e-mail [email protected]

Adar 15, 5756
March 6, 1996

Dear Everyone amush,

Zdrastya! (That’s the shortened version of "hello." Soon you'll know Russian too!) How's everything out there? Actually, after ten months here, I got my first breath of freedom, when I visited Eretz Yisroel last month. It took a few days to get over the wonder that there are really still stores in the rest of the world, sunlight, grass, running water, constant electricity, modern appliances, etc., besides of course the kedusha of the land of Israel. I also got to read and hear the news from the better part of the year, so I'm not totally in the dark anymore (probably only 90%).

When Itchie went to American last time (it sounds almost like Columbus!) I had to begin teaching. Classes are from 5:00–7:00, and the electricity goes out every day at 5:00. (It goes off four times daily — shacharis, mincha, maariv, and tikkun chatzos!) So, while I prepare bowls of chips to nosh on during the class, I also have to prepare kerosene lamps and candles. We had to open the window to breathe, until I discovered a portable rechargeable lamp in the market. Then I really pushed myself, and added a class Shabbos afternoon as well, learning a sicha on the parsha. We've already completed the entire course on kashrus. A number of families are now basically keeping kosher, but most need funds to kasher their kitchens. One family was about to make aliya, and had packed or sold everything already. The only thing left in their kvartira (apartment) was the table. I asked the older daughter how they were managing, and if I could help them? She shyly mentioned that they didn't have any food, and the thought of eating treife turned her stomach! (We just got a letter from her, and her younger sister is now, boruch Hashem, learning in a Lubavitch girls school in Yerushalayim.) We've learned about Moshiach, all kinds of blessings, prayer, and we have already covered a lot of the laws of Shabbos. Many people walk to us now on Shabbos, even from quite far away. One young man, who has been coming for only about a month, asked after havdalah if he could smoke now — he'd refrained from smoking for the entire Shabbos. Another newcomer proudly told us that this last week was the first full Shabbos he'd kept. Whatever we learn about, they put right into action (or inaction, as the case may be.) Next on the agenda is a class on Taharas Hamishpacha. We now have several classes daily.

A few months ago, someone told us that there was an artist who wanted to meet us. He told us that although the artist is not Jewish, all of his paintings are on Jewish themes. When he came the first time, I didn't realize it was him, because I could see clearly that he was Jewish. After speaking to him, Itchie urged him to investigate his family's roots. It turns out that his parents escaped from Babi Yar, and decided not to let their children know that they were Jewish, to "spare them." He was originally a teacher of martial arts. After an accident which occurred on Shabbos, his Indian surgeon, who is married to a Jewish woman, told him about the concept of not working on Shabbos. At that point already, he ceased to work on Shabbos. He turned to art, and eventually to Jewish art. His paintings dwell on the theme of how through all these long years of exile and suffering, it is the Torah and mitzvos that keep Jews going, and it is this that will eventually bring us to the era of Moshiach. It's amazing that he didn't know he was Jewish until after he met us! Now he and his brother walk here every Shabbos, and stay for the shiur and to seek answers for their questions about Yiddishkeit. He now draws upon Itchie's teaching him chassidus to create his new and prolific, museum quality masterpieces. The relationship between Itchie and this artist is amazing. When he has an idea of something he wants to paint, he asks Itchie to explain the concept according to chassidus, and to give him the appropriate Hebrew words to put on the painting. (Despite Itchie's resistance, he was actually putting Itchie's initials, together with his own, on those paintings — claiming that Itchie is as much a creator of those paintings as he.) Just to give you one example: Anton drew the Urim V'Tumim (the breastplate that the High Priest wore in the Bais HaMikdash), and gems spreading out all over the canvas. He told Itchie that the spread-out gems represent the eternity of the Jews. When he asked for words to describe the painting, Itchie said, "Yaakov lo mais." Itchie explained it only as the Talmud says: "Just as his children are alive, so too is Yaakov still alive." Itchie said nothing about Gimmel Tammuz, and didn't explain about the Rebbe's connection to this concept. (In fact, Itchie had not yet mentioned Gimmel Tammuz to anyone here.) When Anton finished the painting, he brought it to hang in our house, "to draw chassidic energy." The painting had grown into something totally different than before. There were now many more details in the painting, including an image of the Rebbe's face on one of the gems. Itchie felt chills up and down his spine and asked what his reason was for putting the Rebbe into this particular painting? “It is not a picture of the Rebbe;” came the reply “It is the Rebbe’s reflection on the face of the gemstone. I look around me and I don't see the Rebbe here, but I see his reflection in the gem so I know he is standing by my side, even if I can't see him.”

"Who is a Jew?" is truly a problem here. People are Jewish who thought they weren't — people like Anton and like Igor, who said he has "a little bit of Jewish blood" because his mother's babushka was Jewish. And people are not Jewish who grew up thinking they were — like the girl who went off to learn in a Jewish school only to discover that because her mother's mother wasn't Jewish, she wasn't either. She is now in the process of learning for conversion to Judaism. There are so many people who changed their identities during the war to save their lives, yet now have no documents to show that they are Jewish, and have to go through conversion in order to be recognized as Jews. And there are so many people who have no idea at all what religion their parents were, since Communism effectively eradicated religious observance. Unfortunately, many of them couldn’t care less, and don’t realize how important it is to know just who they are. Tolik and Galya and their three children all want to convert. Through reading the Bible and Prophets they came to the conclusion that the Redemption is beginning now, and they want to be a part of it. You can see Galya's neshama shining on her face. She just recently discovered that her mother's father and most likely mother also were Jewish. They’d lived in Poland, and one night during an especially pogrom filled year, he’d packed his family and belongings onto a wagon, and escaped from Poland. Her father had always called her mother “Zhidovka”or “dirty Jewess!” But without any documentation, Galya must undergo conversion.

Two young people recently wrote to the Rebbe for brochos to go abroad to learn, and to help them find the money to get there. Twenty-two year old Yaakov opened the Reshimos, (recently found manuscripts of the Rebbe,) for his answer. The bold words on the page were: "And you may choose," "Giving you the power," "Four," and "It won't chas v’sholom be wasted." Itchie asked what Yaakov had been thinking about when he wrote the letter. He said that he had gone to college for four years, with only another half year remaining to finish his degree, but he really wants to go to yeshivah. He just hopes that the four years won't have been wasted! (Yaakov subsequently learned for half a year in yeshivah, returned briefly to complete his degree, and is now learning for semicha -- rabbinical ordination -- in Israel. So his 4 years were truly not wasted.) Frieda wrote the same, but also asked for direction, for while she likes chassidus, she feels that she needs mussar. As it was the 22nd day of Shevat and we only had volume 22 of the Igros (letters from the Rebbe), she decided to look for her answer there. After placing her letter to the Rebbe randomly in the Igros, she opened to that page to see what the Rebbe said. Her answer was "You should learn mussar according to chassidus, with joy!"

Well, to turn to something a little lighter, when Itchie was off discovering America, we were discovering our new / old house. It is located in an alley somewhere in the mid 1700–1800's. I kid you not. We bought it furnished, but the previous owners took for themselves most of the furnishings that they'd agreed to leave for us. I won't go into our sleeping arrangements — they aren't much, but it doesn't matter since we don't sleep all that much anyway. The heat is coal — no problem — we're switching to gas — or so we thought. There isn't enough gas in the "troobi" (pipes) for the area. OK — we're adaptable — we'll settle for electric. That will be several thousand dollars please, and several years' wait. (Remember all those lines — you wait for everything here!) Do you remember how those stories always said, "grandmother got up at the crack of dawn, made a fire, and prepared a huge breakfast..." Do you have any idea what goes into making a fire?! At first it took me several hours of trying and crying. I thought I came here to light fires in neshamos, not in a crotchety old coal stove! The pipe was too thin, the coal too poor and powdery, the paper too thick, and I had to split the wood with an ax! Blooms and Paskesz can be proud to know that we are making full use of their donations. Every empty carton is ripped to shreds to start our coal fire. Instant recycling! The burnt-out coal — several buckets daily — was a problem for the boys to shlep to the "musarnik" (garbage dumpster) until 69 year old Ida came along. She asked for our refuse to sift through, to look for small pieces of usable coal. Ida has one windowless, zero degree room, where she sleeps on the floor, in her dozen layers of clothing. Unlike many others, she travels to a public bathhouse where she waits on line for hours. She keeps herself immaculately clean, painstakingly braiding her hair into intricate styles. She will lug our empty bottles across town to trade them in, and buy "semitchkee" (sunflower seeds,) then roast and resell them to earn a few kuponi (half-pennies). She is a regular attendee at shiurim, and no longer works on Shabbos or yomtov!

What passes for the kitchen in our dom-icile ("dom" rhymes with and means "home") really isn't worth talking about. Suffice it to say that the roomlet where my stove is has no heat, but no dearth of windows, making it so cold that my cholent pot needs its own blanket to sleep under to keep it from spoiling! Our previous apartment, as you may recall, was blessed with a bathtub in the kitchen, where I could boil up water for baths. No such luck here! There is a showerless shower instead. An un-enclosed, hand-held shower is located in another unheated roomlet. (Most of the rest of the house does have heat -- when we keep the fire going.) The water dribbles out — either scalding hot or icy cold. For some reason it refuses to mix. We have to bathe with the aid of a baby bathtub. It almost tempts one to go stand on line with Ida! Meanwhile the dining room accommodates 35 for Shabbos, sardine-style, and people have to make reservations. If we will be able to renovate, we will, G-d willing, be able to accommodate more people. Actually, it doesn't matter all that much what the house is like physically — the wonderful people who fill it with us make it a home — the Chabad House that it is. Only when we walk outside the gate, are we in Ukrainian Simferopol. Here we are intimately connected to the Rebbe and Jews everywhere, preparing for the geulah sheleima — may it be very soon.

With Chassidic

Leah Lipszyc & Company

P.S. Since I originally wrote this letter, we celebrated Shmuelie's third birthday with a traditional upshernish in the shul. This was a real first here. Shmuelie had a great time up on the bima, being the center of attention as everyone took turns cutting his hair. Now people no longer have to ask him if he is a "dyevitchke" (girl) or a "malchik" (boy).

For Purim, we joined with Sochnut, which had already scheduled a concert for that night. We distributed about 900 shalach manos packages, and had a public Megillah reading following the concert. This gave us exposure to many Jews who never come to shul. The Megillah was read three times on Purim day, and somehow we squeezed over 40 people into the house for our Purim seudah. They sat listening, fascinated, for hours, as Itchie regaled them with a complete account of the Purim story. G-d willing, for Pesach we hope to run two sedarim each night — a large one in the shul and a smaller (40-ish) one in the house, for those who are most interested in Yiddishkeit.

Please do keep those letters coming. We love to hear from you!

Our address is: Ukraine, Crimea, Simferopol 95001, Mironova 24, Lipszyc

Until after Pesach, do svedanya!

3rd Letter from Crimea


Chabad of the Crimea
Mironova 24
Simferopol, Crimea 95001 Ukraine
Tel/fax: 380–652–510–773
e-mail [email protected]

Tishrei 24, 5756
October 18, 1995

Dear Everyone, a”mush,

Zdrastvitsya (hi) again! A "gut yahr" to you all. Sukkos is over, and I must say that I'm glad to be able to breathe again after the rush of the yomim tovim.

When Itchie went to America last time, we had just decided to make a day camp. Being that he, not I has always been the camper in the family, he considerately hired one of the university girls to organize it, so that I wouldn’t have to do it, and left. After a week of running around with her everywhere, showing her what to do, she called me up late one night to inform me that there was an emergency in her family and she was leaving Simferopol in two hours. That left the camp in my lap. (Itchie says I should thank G-d that something came along to take up "all my free time" so I wouldn't get bored.) I did thank G-d that Yuda Holtzberg, our bochur-in-residence, came back just then, and was able to help me make the arrangements for camp, since he is already fluent in Rusky yazik while I am considerably more adept in Anglisky. We placed ads in papers, on the radio, and on TV. By the way, prices here are the opposite of American prices, TV ads being the cheapest. Vitaly, our driver, laughed. "Everyone turns the TV off when the ads come on — you're wasting your money." We prayed that we'd have enough kids to make the camp. Two of the old men in the minyan signed up their grandchildren. After a few days we had all of four kids enrolled. I thought “Rebbe, please, we need more kids! We have a one to one camper/counselor ratio!” Suddenly, things began snowballing, with ten or so campers registering daily. Soon there were 50 campers signed up. Yuda said that I'd better stop registering kids because there wasn't going to be room for them in the camp "stolovaya" (dining room). I said, "Well, let's go to 60," figuring they'd stop coming by then. Meanwhile there was a second problem. Before organizing the camp, I had checked with other shluchim if it was alright to have the girls and boys together, and the consensus of opinion was that there was no problem under the age of bar mitzvah. However the girls in NY who would be coming as counselors called me to say that they felt that boys over nine years old should be separate. I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, and when I placed it into an Igros Kodesh at random, (a volume of printed answers to people from the Rebbe,) it opened to the following letter. "I was pleased to get your letter about how many boys and how many girls you have, and I'm sure that it will be just as good in quality as in quantity," and the Rebbe concluded with a brocha. There was our answer to both questions! We needed quality – Jewish quality (as the Rebbe had listed the girls and boys separately, and quantity. We drafted the bochurim, who had come to tutor our children, and made separate boys' division for boys 11 and older in the shul, while the rest of the camp was in the Abshiner Kultur (Jewish Cultural Organization) building, several blocks away. We registered 87 campers, most of whom had seen the ad on TV. So we ended up giving the Rebbe nachas with both quality and quantity!

In my past two letters I may have insinuated that the entire Ukraine seems to be more than 50 years behind the free world. I owe my new home an apology. There are areas in which they are in fact much more advanced, and truly excel. One of those areas is in the development of Murphy's laws. Whereas, in America Murphy's law tells us, "Whatever can go wrong will," here Murphy's law assures us that "Whatever can't go wrong, will also go wrong!" For several months I begged the parties involved, twice daily, to clear the debris from the yard where we would be making the camp, clean up, install doors and locks, buy kitchen appliances, and relocate plumbing (a job that in America would have taken all of several days.) Twice daily I was assured that everything possible was being done, and it will just be a few days until the mission will be accomplished. "The doors were already made and were ready to hang." By the week before camp, a light dusting of the windowsills was all that had been done. I ran to get stoves and a refrigerator. The stoves came without oven racks, but that really didn't matter, since the ovens don't work anyway, only the burners do. The refrigerator was delivered to the street in front of the building. I didn't really expect the old man on the motorcycle, who shlepped it behind him, to get it upstairs, did I?! It worked for one week. But not to worry, it's under warranty. They finally came to fix it erev Sukkos! The pipes were finally "installed," in full view (as is customary here – all pipes are exposed,) in the room that was to become our kitchen, and three small sinks were suspended from the wall. Each of the three drainpipes was inserted into a rusty old pipe that seemed to be laying there from the time of Czar Nikolai the First. Note: I said "inserted," not "connected." Every time the dishwater is let down the drain, the water floods out onto the floor. This is how they seem to do it here. They did the same thing in my kitchen. That was even better. Everything backed up into the bathtub, which became defunct. They glued the pipes together with cement and stuffed in shmattes. The pipe sprung two more leaks! Pleased with their masterpiece, they couldn't fathom why we didn't appreciate their most efficient manner of washing the floors, without having to fill up buckets and shlepping them from room to room. After three visits from these so-called plumbers and "spetzialisti," we disconnected the pipe and keep a bucket under the sink to collect the water, which has to be shlepped to the street to be dumped at regular intervals! The plumbers now think that they finally figured out these "crazy" Americans who seem to like to exercise by shlepping around buckets of water. Always an enterprising people, our last plumber wants to market this new "one method ultimate plumbing system." For the Crimean, “the Bucket" will be a more efficient method of overflow for washing the floor, while for the American it will be the ultimate in exercising. Just remember, when this newest craze hits America, it was your friend Leah who invented it. (You should see how much weight Itchie has lost already!)

But back to the saga of the "lager" (camp). The doors were never installed, so all of our supplies had to be kept in the office of the Abshiner Kultur, which was the only room with a door. We checked out the three local swimming pools and confirmed prices, but as it got closer and closer to camp, one by one they all broke down. We hastily substituted judo classes for the boys and acrobatics for the girls. We never did get to use the large yard. The day the counselors arrived, they asked to see it, figuring they'd help move the bricks lying around there. There was a major lack of communication. Since the people in the offices downstairs didn't appear too helpful, one counselor climbed out a low open window to the yard. Shoshana started collecting bricks and passed them in to Dini, so we could build shelves with them. The next thing I knew, the girls told me that the secretary had locked poor Shoshana out in the yard. We found a minute when the secretary wasn't watching, and were able to rescue her, or so we thought. When she climbed in, it was straight into the welcoming arms of the waiting police, who were there to arrest her for "breaking into a government warehouse"! Thank G-d Yuda was found and the "militzia" was convinced to leave. The nice Jewish cook we hired didn't show up, and we found out he was a "shikkur." So, besides everything else, I now had to shop and cook for the first week and a half of camp, until we found a replacement. (Itchie couldn't understand why I was complaining, since I was "hired" as chief cook and bottle washer, and it was about time that I got around to doing my job!) As soon as we found a new cook, our mashgiach quit. Here they have a refined method of quitting in order to avoid uncomfortable scenes, or having to embarrass you by seeing you get down on your knees to beg. Even worse, to have you get a feeling of frustration when you argue about responsibility until you're "blue in the face" without getting results. So here they've come up with a way that prevents all of the above — they just don't show up any more! A good clean break! We conscripted our 14-year old son Mendy, dubbing him the new mashgiach.

But camp was absolutely amazing! You should have heard all the kids, at line-up time, in the street in front of the building, singing loudly, in Russian, "How happy I am to be a Jew", and saying the Shema ("Sloosha Izrail.") They learned Aleph Bais, and the twelve pesukim, and about Shabbos, holidays, and kashrus. They made “tzedakah boxes," went on exciting trips to amusement parks and the Ice Caves, had a kosher barbecue and Shabbatons. The girls were given Hebrew names at the Torah and, with the help of G-d, we are now arranging for the boys to have "obrizanya" (brissim.) Several campers are now enrolled in yeshiva in Moldavia. (Itchie is being bombarded with requests to open a yeshiva, but we simply don't have enough money yet.) The day the counselors left, a group of campers went to see them off at the vagzal (train station). Can you imagine, these kids went walking through the town in yarmulkas, and wearing tzitzis on top of their shirts! They're truly proud of their Judaism! And the parents thanked us for teaching their children what being a Jew entails, since they were unable to do it themselves. (Special thanks to the Fellig family for supplying the tzitzis in memory of "Uncle Nussy.") Many of the kids come to shul every Shabbos now (with their parents in tow.) One camper recently said he didn't want to eat the chicken I had prepared for yomtov. I asked him why, didn't he like chicken? He said yes, he does. “You aren’t hungry?” I queried. “Yes I am,” he replied. “Oh,” I kidded him, “you just don’t like my cooking?” He looked at me in amazement and said “Mrs. Lipszyc, I’m going to have a glass of milk before I go to sleep – don’t you know I have to wait six hours between meat and milk?!" Ah, what nachas for the Rebbe!

But I have to tell you what life is like for most of these kids. Stas is a very bright, happy-go-lucky ten year old who always has a smile on his face and sings "Yechi" and all the other songs more lustily than anyone else. His father disappeared before he was born. He lives in one dilapidated room with his mother and two older siblings. They have no heat, water, toilet, or stove. When his father died, his mother sold her jewelry and furniture to feed them. She has severe asthma and is therefore considered an invalid, and is unable to work. Since there is no father, they get a "pension" of two and a half-dollars a month to live on! The older brother had a job as a metal worker for $25 a month until he injured his hand on the job. Then he was told to go to the street (to beg) to get money! The mother wore old torn shoes, and kept sewing up her hose until I gave her new things. She can't even afford to buy potatoes! She is my age, but could easily pass for my mother; after all she's been through. After Rosh Hashana, Stas' communist teacher told his mother that if she would continue to bring him to synagogue he couldn’t come back to school! His 17-year-old sister only completed eighth grade. She is "handicapped" because she has astigmatism and can't afford to buy eyeglasses! She goes to a Jewish school now, and they are hoping to make aliyah, "because there is no hope for a life here."

We are hoping to build a mikvah here soon. Plans are drawn up. We have the property. All we need is $40,000 to build it. (That includes building the structure to house it.) So what do we do meanwhile? It is a four-hour drive to the nearest mikvah. Our driver, like everyone else here, speeds down the road, turning around to talk, and driving up hills in the left lane to avoid potholes in the right lane. Besides this, there is the slight problem of privacy a trip to the mikvah requires. The first time we went, he got a run-down on the mikvah from the guard there. He promptly came back to Simferopol and, with all the gusto of a shliach spreading mivtzah Taharas Hamishpacha, told everyone exactly where I'd been and why. So we decided to go by train the next time. Only the train wouldn't get us there until too late. So we'd take a bus, and return by train. We couldn't get tickets, but we already had a connection to the head "natchalnik" who brought us two front seat tickets. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 11:20 AM, and was only delayed by 20 minutes. But as soon as we were out of "city limits" the bus broke down. The driver called the terminal, and they said they would soon be sending a replacement bus. We ended up standing in the sweltering heat, by the side of the road, for over two hours. Finally a contraption came along that looked like a cross between a tank and a school bus. It had a huge pipe sticking out the back that somehow was eventually attached to the front of our bus. We all got aboard again, and our bus was towed by this other vehicle. There was no fresh air, and all the exhaust from the machine came into the bus. We, of course, having gotten "first class tickets" at the front of the bus, received the first and "choicest" of the fumes. People started shedding layers of clothing and coughing. I was nauseous from the fumes. After fifteen minutes I said, "I don't think I can take any more of this.” Suddenly the bus stopped. Had we broken down again? Everyone filed off. Behind us was another bus, this one with a totally smashed windshield. "Uh oh," I thought. "He must also drive uphill in the left lane." Onto the next bus. Well, we continued on our way without incident until we were about an hour away from our destination. It was evening already. We had long since finished our meager snacks. We were in a bus station and I needed to use the "facilities." I saw a sign, but the place seemed to have been closed for repairs. "Go in the street," I was told! I returned to the bus to hear a commotion going on. The driver was saying, "What do you think I am, a taxi? You're all ‘duraki' (idiots). I'm not going any farther for only three passengers!" The other person went to complain to the station manager, who sided with the driver. We sat on the bus, trying to get him to move, but it was futile. On the other hand, we refused to get off the bus, so he couldn't leave either. Finally, another bus, jam packed from one end to the other, came by. Our driver waved him down and convinced him to change his route and take on three extra passengers. So we were squeezed into the back of the bus with the baggage and finally, at 9:30 PM, we reached our destination, mission accomplished. Thankfully, the train ride back was less eventful.

We recently met our friend, the helpful "natchalnik" at a Rosh Hashana concert, held on the Fast of Gedalya. Everyone was eating apples dipped in honey, while we and our translator were fasting. Our friend asked us to please come up to his apartment after the concert. Not wanting to seem ungrateful for his help, we accepted. Vladimir is quite a genial and insistent host, and had a very hard time understanding why we couldn't eat his wife's homemade goodies. Even though they eat pork, she's Jewish, so that surely must make everything kosher, he felt! He started to pour vodka for Itchie. The cup wasn't kosher, so Itchie told him that at friendly farbrengens, Chassidim toast each other from the bottle caps. Well, that posed no problem for Vladimir – he stood on a chair and reached up for a brand new decanter with an 8-oz. cap! Poor Itchie! This was after a fast, and the only food he had eaten beforehand was a few grapes! Four big drinks later, we finally escaped. Now the problem still remains -- how can we get to the mikvah next time?!

My Russian is improving considerably, but I have to be careful about words that are almost the same. Sta-ka-ni are beverage glasses, but sta-ka-ni are drunkards. On Yom Kippur, during the break, I was sitting in my kitchen with several other women. They asked me to look up their Hebrew birthdays, which I did. Then one of them said something that sounded like the Russian word for "writing". I figured she wanted to write down her Hebrew birthday, so I told her, "Nyet, posli pradznik" (No, after the holiday.) Everyone burst out laughing. I hadn't seen her two year old son enter the room asking to use the bathroom, a word that in Russian is similar to "writing", and there I was telling her to wait until after yomtov!

We are in the process of converting the former "chometzdika-Pesach-matzah-bakery” in the shul to a women's section. People used to bring their own flour to make matzah, and bake it while dropping crumbs from their treife sandwiches into the works. The minyan-aires, particularly the Rosh Hakahal, kept promising to move out the machinery so we could do the renovations. And then they would claim that they never said that. "Anyway, what do we need it for? We won't ever have more than a total of 50 people." We finally bought the machinery off them, and paid someone to do the absolute minimum possible, so that we could have a place to daven on time for Yom Tov. Some machinery was moved out and some moved over. A door was broken through and the floor was painted all one color — sort of. Benches were brought over from the camp. We still have most of the renovations to do, but at least there's place now. Sefarim were always kept under lock and key, and you had to beg to get a siddur or a Chumash. As a result, the women usually stood outside during "molitva" (prayers.) Now the sefarim are beautifully lined up on the shelves, though there is a very big shortage of them, and it worsens daily.

Rosh Hashana there was standing room only, 150 people, in both sections and the entrance room. There was no advertising. By next year there will probably be several times this many people. The women are inside now, constantly looking to me for the page and if they should sit or stand. They are praying from siddurim now, most of them for the first time in their lives. Elderly Devoyra davens every word in Hebrew, but the rest use the Russian translation until they learn to read Hebrew. Some women don't have glasses with which to read, and I help them say yizkor word by word. Merkos Gutnik sent bochurim from their yeshiva in Yerushalayim, and we made services for the holidays in Yalta and Sevastopol as well. Both were very successful. Yalta had around 100 attendees and Sevastopol 120. Then we received a call from Yevpetoria, a seaside town over 2,000 years old. They just got back their old shul, and invited us to come see it. It is a big beautiful complex, but in total disrepair. We noticed a door leading to an underground storage room and immediately suspected that it may have once been a mikvah. We climbed down a steep ladder to find several tiled rooms. The mikvah itself had been filled in. This community asked us to help them rebuild their community and the shul. So far there are four communities that have asked us to send them a rabbi — Yalta, Sevastopol, Yevpetoria, and Feodosia. Classes are now in the planning stage for these four places. One week Sunday morning in Yalta, evening in Sevastopol, and the following week, morning in Yevpetoria, and evening in Feodosia.

When Itchie returned from America last time, he started classes. Monday nights he teaches about our prayers; Tuesdays, Chumash; Wednesdays Talmud; and Thursdays Tanya. Sunday afternoons he gives classes on the upcoming holidays, and Shabbos afternoon he gives a class on the Torah portion of the week, followed by shalosh seudos. Before Yom Kippur I made the first challah baking class, which will now I”YH become a regular class on Jewish cookery. I also hope to make a crafts program for children, and tomorrow night I start teaching the laws of kashrus and Shabbos. Thank G-d there is now a demand for this. Whatever few books we have in Russian are constantly being lent out, though we need many more. We also distribute 300 "Yeladim," Russian Tzivos Hashem magazines for children, on a regular basis.

For Sukkos we built a large sukkah in the dvor (courtyard,) but we couldn't get s'chach to place on top. It is illegal to cut trees and, if one is caught doing it, there’s a punishment of five years in jail. On Sunday, erev Sukkos, Itchie paid someone $50 to drive around the streets and pick up fallen branches. Although we were worried for a while, in the end we had a beautiful kosher sukkah. It was packed with people throughout yomtov. On Simchas Torah, we had over a hundred people, despite it being a secular work day.

After five months of constant effort, and tons of red tape, we finally got onto the internet, and got e-mail. The very next night our computer was stolen! The kids and I were in the kitchen. The bochurim were across the yard in the shul. Itchie (who works about 20 hours a day) was cat-napping in our room. Someone walked in right under our noses, stole the computer six feet away from where Itchie was sleeping, and walked right out! Speak about chutzpah! End of e-mail!

I want to thank the people who wrote to us. Please keep the letters coming. It means a lot to us. Sometimes I look up at the sky. It's the same sky that you have. Then I look at this old world around me and wonder if it really exists. I mean, I never dreamt that anything like this existed since hundreds of years ago — but it does. So we go on with our work.

Be well! Hope to see you soon — in Yerushalayim!

Leah Lipszyc & Company

P.S. You can write us at: Mironova, 24 Simferopol, Crimea 333001 Ukraina

The post office will translate it for the mail lady. A regular letter takes two or three weeks. A package — forever, if it gets here at all. (Actually, yes, they do eventually arrive.)

P.P.S. Some of the women have been coming to help me prepare for Shabbos. It's very interesting to watch them watch me. A Russian word for magic, is "focus pocus." They watch me quickly put together a few ingredients to concoct something — something that would take them much longer due to lack of modern conveniences, and they say, "Aha — Leah — focus pocus!" Now if I could just use this "focus pocus" to transport us all into geulah!

2nd Letter from Crimea


Chabad of the Crimea

Mironova 24

Simferopol, Crimea 95001 Ukraine

Tel/fax: 380–652–510–773

e-mail [email protected]

June 29, 1995

Dear Everyone, a”mush,

Hi again, from sunny Simferopol! It actually is quite warm and sunny for about half of the day. The remainder of the time, it's like the rainy season in Alabama (for those of you who may remember, when we lived there, I had questioned the validity of referring to Alabama as being in the “sunny South.”) Therefore, the load of wash which I started on Sunday sat in the bathtub until Friday, when in desperation I finally hung the shirts on the fan, one at a time, to dry. Half of the load got done, and the rest I have to rewash today! I do hope you're all well. This is my second attempt at this letter, as the computer ate the first one, so I hope it will be content, and this one fares better. It would be nice to hear from you. As far as we can determine, letters sent to us will probably be delivered to us here eventually, though it may take a number of weeks. IY"H after Tisha B’Av our new address will be Mironova 24. After Sunday, G-d willing, we will also be on the internet. (We're just not sure which Sunday.)

In order for us to have food to eat, the first words poRusski that I learned were the names of foods. I can now write my shopping list in Russian. The main problem is that by the time I learn how to say something, it goes out of season! Take my favorite vegetable, mushrooms, for example. Every week they look different, as there are many species of wild mushrooms. One week I saw what appeared to me to be a form of mushroom. "Nyet, nyet champignons!" said Vitalik, my driver, pointing at the cute little things with reddish caps and yellow spongy undersides. But he had said the same thing the previous week about some really great mushrooms, so I bought them anyway. When I got back to the shul, I asked Reb Shimon about the "mushrooms." He warned me not to eat them, or we would get very sick. When I asked him if they were poisonous, he said, "No, but don't eat them." Vitalik offered to take them off my hands, as they are delicious. Reb Shimon replied that I should let Vitalik have them, as it would be better for him to fall asleep and not wake up, than for that to happen to me and the kids. Knowing that I usually have to take his advice with a grain or two of salt, I went to ask Bubba, our upstairs neighbor. She explained that this vegetable gets its nourishment from the air, and thus may have radiatzia from Chernobyl — but that it is truly delicious. I still didn't know what it was, and thinking that maybe it was truffles, I asked her if this was a French (Fransooski) food. "No, it grows in all countries," she answered. Well, I've never seen it in America, so if anyone knows what it is, please let us know. And yes, it is really delicious. The next week I was really in luck, I thought, as I spied some beautiful white cultivated looking mushrooms. I decided to check them Thursday night, to have a head start on cooking for Shabbos. But what did I find as I separated each cap from it stem? Yup! Zillions of worms — yech! Straight into the garbage! Together with the kilo of gorgeous cherries Itchie brought me, full of creepy critters. And by the next week there were no more mushrooms. Now I have to wait until the fall. By the way, we have other kinds of "fallout" as well. Camp organizer Natasha runs through the rain with a notebook to cover her hair. Why? There might be radiatzia in it. How can you know? Easy. Do you still have hair? And then there's the "fallout" in the market itself. First Sholom Ber got it on his arm, and then I got it on my back. Hint: Its source is the pigeons that roost in the roof beams of the market shed.

Well, when we get back from the market and find places to put everything, it's time to start to bake for Shabbos. This is lots of fun. First of all, frequently the bahlown of gas can only handle either the burners or the oven, not both together. Then, it is calibrated in gas marks, instead of degrees. I mistakenly assumed that 350 degrees must be somewhere around "5" on a scale of 1–8. But my cakes thought otherwise. I finally found out that cakes should be baked between "1" and "2"! Everything else is 400 degrees or more. I can't figure out what on earth they bake on 4–8! Sugar has to be checked thoroughly before it can be used. It's way too big to go through a sifter, so it has to be checked by hand to remove all traces of grass, hair, fibers, kasha, silk tassels, burlap bags, bugs, etc. There's nothing that can be done about the stench. Bubba says it must be kept in a stall with pigs. Someone once asked the Rebbe Rashab why we are so scrupulous about checking our sugar before Pesach. The Rebbe took a lump of sugar at random, broke it open, and revealed a grain of wheat. Living here, it is very easy to see how that occurred. There is no hot water in the house, as the water heater above the sink doesn't work, and the only way to get hot water seems to be by turning on the heating system full blast and chalishing. So in order to get warm water for the challah (or baths, or laundry), we need to boil it, which makes it quite warm in the kitchen! We also are supposed to boil all of the water we consume for 15–20 minutes because of the possibility of cholera, G-d forbid! Until we came here, I thought that went out with the Black Plague, but apparently not. After boiling the water on my trusty Russki stove, half of it has evaporated, so it would take me about two days to boil a one day's supply of water! (I did try it one time.) So meanwhile, some of our water is boiled, and the rest is just filtered, and we say a lot of Tehillim. We had just discovered cold smoked fish, usually mackerel or herring, when the fear of cholera returned and we had to stop using fresh or smoked fish. Meanwhile, I had discovered the hard way that smoked fish is sold differently here than it is in America. I proudly served everyone slices of smoked fish one Friday night, only to have the guts spill out as people began cutting it. I guess, as they say, experience is the best teacher. Back to the water again, once it has boiled, and cooled somewhat, I can begin to prepare challah — by hand, of course. In order to “cream” ingredients for cakes, I have been using a potato masher. Whenever we tried to use our appliances with converters, we either blew the converters or the appliances.

When Itchie flew back to America ("Planet Earth," the kids call it,) I was hesitant to have a big crowd for Shabbos, what with being alone, and the language barrier, etc. So the first week I didn't invite anyone. And 15 kids showed up. The next week it was 25, and now it's around 45. So how do we feed them? First I take one precious New York chicken from the freezer and make a big pot of soup with knaidlach — except we'll soon be out of matza meal, so it will be sans knaidlach. Then the boys help me by taking the meat off the bones and we make chicken patties. This is the amazing thing. Every week I add the same amount of eggs, potatoes or rice, matza meal and seasonings, and make the patties the same size, but boruch Hashem, I always get exactly enough patties to accommodate the growing crowd. Fish is handled the same way, substituting a few cans of scumbria (scoombrrria) for the chicken. Alternatively, I bake the mixture in a large pan and cut it into portions, the size of which depends on how many people have shown up for that meal. Last week we also started a shiur and Shalosh Seudos. Lag B'Omer, Itchie was still in New York. We wanted to make a bonfire and barbecue, but lacked the traditional hot dogs and burgers. Translator Anya said that sandwiches made of Swiss cheese would be great party fare. (Thank you, Mr. Shmerling.) So we made lots of sandwiches, and a few phone calls. Lag B'Omer morning the skies were tchorno — black. I faxed Itchie to get a brocha for good weather, and asked him "How many frozen Swiss cheese sandwiches can you eat?" He replied, "You know I hate cheese." Someone (with a big “S”) must have had pity on him, because as nasty as it looked, it didn't rain. The kids came, had a blast, and finished all of the sandwiches. (Whew! I don’t care for frozen Swiss cheese sandwiches either!)

With Lag B'Omer past, we had to start thinking about Shavuos. Without cheese other than the Swiss variety, or a milchig oven, the traditional blintzes and cheesecake were out of the question. Mendy, of course, suggested an ice cream party, and was put to work immediately freezing batches of milk cubes in l’chaim cups left over from Pesach. The milk cubes, together with custard and fudge base (thank you cousin Stuie) went into my trusty Vita mix, and voila! Quite acceptable ice cream! Around 150 people came to hear the Aseres HaDibros read in shul and to enjoy the ice cream, popcorn (thank you Golden Fluff,) potato chips (thank you Paskesz,) pretzels (thank you Lieber's,) cookies (thank you Kemach,) and candy (thank you Bloom's!) You should have seen the kids' faces — they were literally quivering with excitement! One older woman said, "Look at me, my hair is white, and I've never even seen any of this!" We had told the girls to bring their documents during the week prior to Shavuos, and a number of them were able to be given Jewish names on Shavuos.

Now we're organizing camp, which requires a lot of running around and organizing, which is what I've been doing all week. One errand took us to the state radio station, which is housed in a century old Karaite Synagogue. The woman who we spoke with wants to interview Itchie when he returns — this would be a "cool" thing to do, she said. Tomorrow morning, I have to find a store that sells flatware, as the plastic is all gone. This will hopefully be quicker and more successful than my fruitless search for a large pot in which to boil water. And hopefully Victor will build more shelves soon, because every available inch (excuse me, I mean centimeter) of the kitchen is now covered with the stakani (glasses) we bought last week when we finished the paper cups. I say hopefully, because so far, there is no lumber to be found anywhere in Simferopol!

Anyway, I'm going to have to end here, because it is now 3:00 AM and this letter is rambling on and on.

Be well, please keep in touch, keep us in mind, and you can even visit us if you'd like. If possible, please give us

a call before you come, though it is not an absolute necessity. Friday, I woke up early in the morning to a knock on my window. It was Anya. When I opened the door, together with her there were also 17 lovely American counselors from the camp in Levadia. The boys got to daven with a minyan, we gave them breakfast, and spent several pleasant hours chatting with them, before they left to their camp, and we started to prepare for Shabbos.

Well, do svedania na Yerusaleem! See you all soon in Yerushalayim!

Leah Lipszyc & Company

1st Letter from Crimea


Chabad of the Crimea
Mironova 24
Simferopol, Crimea 95001 Ukraine
Tel/fax: 380–652–510–773

Nissan 30, 5755
April 30, 1995

Dear Everyone, a”mush (ad meah v’esrim shana – till 120 years)

I’m sorry; this is the only way I can manage to write to everyone. I hope everyone's well, had a great Pesach, has "recuperated," and still remembers us.

I'll begin at the beginning. When we headed out to JFK three weeks ago, we had just found out that the travel agent had neglected to arrange for our slightly excessive baggage. At the airport, the airline insisted that they would not let us take any extra baggage. I was quite apprehensive that our rented van might be returning to Crown Heights together with us, and the truck full of our luggage, the very same evening. We were traveling with seven of our boys, 51 medium (read "large") U-Haul boxes, one oversize suitcase, twelve pieces of carry-on baggage, and a stroller. This was the absolute minimum into which I could pack our belongings for our move to Simferopol, the capitol of Crimea (Krym.) One box per person for clothing and personal effects, the entire Pesach works, cases of paper goods for the holiday, milchig, fleishig, and pareve kitchenware for after Pesach, and as much toilet paper and Pampers as I could stuff in. With two daughters having served as camp counselors in the FSU, we knew we had to be prepared! We were running late, but a quick stop at the Ohel was necessary to ask the Rebbe for a brocha, and a big miracle regarding the luggage.

Once at the airport, the porter started unloading our mountains of luggage. The people at the ticket desk were more than a little taken aback, to say the least. Itchie very nonchalantly handed them a letter, kindly provided by Lazer Avtzon, thanking the airline for any and all courtesies extended to us. They asked if this had been arranged ahead of time, since they had no prior knowledge of it. Itchie said he assumed it had been, he didn't know — "they'd" just given him the letter to present, and it was supposed to take care of all the overweight. I was off in a corner with the kids, all of us urgently saying Tehillim, and administering nose drops to clear stuffy noses, in the hopes that we would indeed soon board our plane. There was some running back and forth of supervisors, and passing out of "Good Cards," more Tehillim, and miracle of miracles, they only charged us for ten boxes, and no overweight, and believe me, there was plenty of that. (A week later, desperately short of money, we had someone wire funds into the account in New York, for our daughter Faigie to forward to us in Simferopol. It was a very hectic day for the banks, and it didn't get in until closing time. Faigie couldn't get out until the next morning to wire it to us. She worriedly asked, "What if another check comes in against it before I can get it out to you?" I told her I didn't think that could happen if she would be at the bank as soon as they opened. Sure enough, she called us, very upset, that a check had come in and the money was no longer available. But Boruch Hashem that check cleared, because it was the check for the airline, to cover the excess baggage! And Hashem saw to it that we got the money we needed from someone else, later in the day.)

We were cleared to leave just before the gate was due to lock, and we raced through the airport to catch the plane. After playing musical chairs with half the passengers on the plane so most of our family members could be seated in close proximity to one another, I may have dozed off, because I really don't remember too much about the flight. In Paris we headed straight for the next plane. On board, I worried aloud to Itchie, "What if the luggage isn't all transferred?" No sooner had I expressed this fear than there was an announcement over the airplane’s speaker system, apologizing for the unexpected delay, but if the passengers would look out the window to the left, they could see that the airline was making sure that everyone's luggage was being transferred to the plane. And sure enough, there was all of our baggage!

Next was the airport in Kiev. We scrambled to get all of our belongings before anyone else did. Counting and re-counting, we finally got it all together. The porter told us to go through ahead of him, and we understood that in exchange for his hefty tip, he was going to get the baggage cleared through customs quickly. After we waited for quite a long time without seeing our luggage appear, we finally sent someone back to check up on it. The porters were simply shmoozing and taking their own good time!

After about two hours we were finally "cozily" seated on our own private Intourist bus hired for the occasion. Filling up most of the bus were our 64 pieces of luggage, half a ton of matzah (literally,) and cases of oil, grape juice, and gefilte fish for another program. We squeezed into the front rows, dreams of a comfortable ride forgotten. We traveled from sometime that gray rainy afternoon until 7:00 the next morning. We were stopped no less than fifteen times by "militzia" and had to pay $60 in bribes ("fines".) While our first thought was that it’s not all that legal to travel here at night, we later understood that it was just our first experience with the unique system of lining ones pockets at the expense of others.

Entering the courtyard of the shul, we were met by Bubba and Liza -- our lovely upstairs neighbors, Reb Shimon -- the Rosh HaKahal, Rex -- Bubba's dog, Iza -- the cat who adopted the shul, and assorted others. I escaped into Bubba's dark, mildew-smelling apartment, with Shmuelie. I understood about half of her Yiddish, and felt totally lost in this place where nobody besides our family spoke English. By noon-ish we were unloaded, the Intourist bus had departed, and I finally got up the courage to check out our lodgings.

The first room you walk into is the kitchen, though it’s certainly not deserving of the name. It's about 4' by 4' with one small cabinet and two hotplates which alternately perch upon bricks on the counter, and hide in the cabinet below, depending on whether I am preparing a milchige or fleishige meal. Then is a hall with a teeny refrigerator, another cabinet, and a miniscule enamel sink with a defunct water heater hanging on the wall above it. Also located in this “spacious” hall is what passes for a bathroom. It's a boarded-off area just barely large enough to hold the toilet — your knees touch the door when sitting. We have "improved" it by adding a wire hanger toilet paper dispenser, and by getting the balabusta to add a lock to the door. Lining the corridor are boxes filled with the assorted green and flowered pots and kitchenware the bochurim had purchased. Further down the hall is a dresser for storage. Then is the living/dining/7 boys’ bedroom. Off it, another wide doorway leads to our bedroom, which features a shabby old sofa bed of sorts, otherwise known as a divan in these parts, a chair bed of the same vintage, and a freestanding closet. All around us stand our boxes of clothing. The 43 remaining boxes were packed into a building several yards away, connected to ours only by the heating duct, as the boiler is in that building. This is all situated in a concrete and mud courtyard shared by us, Bubba and Liza, Rex and Iza, the shul, and an empty apartment.

The following morning, Vitaly, our driver, took me shopping. The Central Market is sprawling outdoor affair, somewhat like a farmer's market in the states. In the center there's a raised, covered pavilion with rows of stone counters where people sell their wares. Others stand in the aisles between the counters, selling their produce from boxes and sacks on the floor. Radiating out from this are rows of tables and painted iron booths, trucks, and odd looking buildings. Here at the "rinok" I can buy eggs (sold loose, in tens), fruits, vegetables, and fish. Everything is sold by the kilo, and weighed either on a balance scale with weights, or from those old fashioned, hand-held laundry scales, like the one my mother had. I search through the produce for the "best" and take stuff I wouldn't dream of even looking at back home – if such poor produce even exists there. There are bendable carrots and wormy apples. These are last summer's crops that have wintered over in someone's root cellar. Lemons and oranges are from Turkey, across the Black Sea. No juice oranges. They've never heard of them. But beautiful burpless cukes that sell for a premium in America are cheaper here than the garden variety. We also bought our "broom" at the market. Brooms in this part of the world come without handles, probably contributing to the bent over elderly population. They're simply bunches of broom straw bound together with wire or raffia. Tradition has it that they must be dipped into salt water before using, to make them firm. We've experimented with binding ours to a stick, using electrical tape, as our American broom and mop were lost somewhere between New York and Paris.

Every block seems to have its own magazeen, or Mom-and-Pop type grocery store, which sells a dozen or two products, ranging from coarse dirty sugar and thick gray macaroni to fifty-cent vodka that Sholom Ber says tastes like wood. There are also kiosks all over the place. I haven't been to them yet, but they sell all sorts of things. The boys come home daily with awful-tasting Coke and Pepsi from Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Hungary, which they've purchased. The ritziest stores (and they definitely are not) are Solo of Australia and Bradlees of London. Mendy and Sholom Ber ride their bikes to the bakery every morning to turn on the oven and get our bread. (Seven delicious loaves for a dollar — 152,000 coupons!) Challahs are costing us about 30 cents each, and they use my recipe.

Friday (of course,) brought the discovery that, by the rule of inverse need, whenever you need the water the most is when it goes off. I didn't time it that day, but the next time it went off was Erev Pesach — for about four hours!

We asked everyone about finding a better apartment to rent, and also tried the agency, but were unsuccessful. So Itchie had the idea to rent the apartment next door. He had to be elsewhere, so off I went with Bubba to see the owner. They were speaking Russian of course, and I kept hearing the word "crisa" along with a lot of "tsk, tsk-ing". I thought they were talking about someone who got involved with a "Yushka" cult. Finally, when they finished speaking, I gave the woman the “dengi” (money) and she gave me the "klyootsh" (key). We went to explore the apartment. First the kitchen, 4' by 5' or 6', containing a decrepit two-burner stove with a broken glass window in the oven, and one cabinet. Another quaint feature of this apartment was its ceiling which had fallen to the floor. Off the kitchen was some kind of a decaying bathroom, with part of the wall still extant, with a coal furnace and coal all over the floor. Next was a small bedroom, jam-packed with ancient furniture and possessions, and a "very nice" refrigerator (almost but not quite the size of the tiny one I had in Brooklyn when I first got married.) The remaining room was a very large living room with holes in the plywood floor. I was absolutely devastated. Here it was, less than a week to Pesach and I didn't even have an apartment to start to clean! Itchie came home and saw the apartment and thought it had possibilities. But then came the clincher. "Crisa" doesn't mean "Chr..." as I'd thought; it means RATS!!! Forget it! Boruch Hashem, Itchie didn't want to deal with all of the possessions in the apartment at that late date, and boruch Hashem the woman gave us our dengi back, quite a rare occurrence in itself. We decided to remove all of the boxes from the storage room, and lo and behold, it became a kitchen of sorts. In the entrance was a locked cabinet which good neighbor Viktor jimmied open for us — my pantry. And across from it was another cabinet which he built a shelf above. And he rigged up electricity for us. The room itself had a sink sans plumbing which Victor fixed somewhat, several broken cabinets which Viktor fixed, and — just what every great kitchen needs — (drum roll) a bathtub! There is a tiny attached room which is impossible to enter. It holds an extremely leaky hot water tank, a non-functional toilet, sink, and a showerhead dangling from a hose. The floor is constantly covered with at least an inch of water, and the balabusta's efforts to have it fixed made it considerably worse. We outfitted the tub with an old hinged-down-the-middle door we found in the shul, and it became my pareve counter with easily accessible storage below. When we remove the door and stand it up it becomes a privacy screen for bathers. So this storage room became my fleishige kitchen, and I already had a place to prepare milchige in the house.

Meanwhile, the two bochurim who came to help for Pesach had arrived. I know this sounds terrible, but quite conveniently an elderly lady had just passed away, leaving her apartment available for them to use. A driver was coming to pick up one of the bochurim at 3:00 a.m., so they could be in Odessa early to pick up our meat for Pesach ($2 per kilo — plus $100 for pick-up, plus, plus, plus.) He went with Itchie looking for the address where the bochur was staying, but after an hour they came back, unsuccessful in their search. They tried the phone, but there was no answer. They went out again, this time with Sholom Ber in tow, and finally found the address, several blocks away from where it should have been. While they were in Odessa getting meat, we were out frantically searching for appliances to buy. This is not like in America where you can "let your fingers do the walking". Here your feet do the running from Univermag ("department store") to Univermag. These are really two story buildings with booths where people sell things — apparently whatever they can get their hands on to sell that day. We ran all over. We found a lovely refrigerator. "Can we get it now?" "No, this one doesn't work. Tomorrow I will have one that works." Next store... we see a good freezer, but the man who owns it isn't there. And another one, but "Sorry, we're closing, come back tomorrow." We put as much meat as we could into our tiny refrigerator, and protected the rest in a metal locker outside the building, which was designed to hold gas canisters. We prayed that the meat would stay cold. (People on the street were blaming the untimely cold weather on the Jews' Pascha. If our meat had anything to do with it, I guess they were close!) Finally the next day we found two freezers, a refrigerator, and an oven. The windows of the kitchen had to be removed to bring in the appliances, since the doorway was too narrow. Naturally, that's when the balabusta showed up, and did she ever freak out! She wants us out right after Pesach. But she finally calmed down and even gave us a rickety table to use. Well, the freezer didn't work, and the man had to take it back, so the meat was still outside. That night Rex somehow managed to pull a nice juicy roast out of the locker, and called all his friends to have a party. We heard them all howling with delight, and surmised that’s what had happened, but only found out with a certainty the next morning. The next afternoon the freezer was back, working, and it continued to work — until the last days of Pesach, when it quit on us altogether! A lot more meat went down the tubes. The oven only works when the burners are turned off. It only worked at all after Viktor and Marat fiddled with it for three days. At first it would only work for five minutes at a time. There is no gas connection in this house, and no electric stoves could be found, so we have to use a gas bahlown -- a canister of gas which is supposed to last a month, but just lasted for Pesach. Now we found out that we need a license to use it too!

Finally at 12:20 Erev Pesach we were set up and ready to start cooking at a frenzied pace — when the water went off! I quickly taught Itchie and Zushe, one of the bochurim, how to clean the fish outside. I was already a mayven, having done it myself the previous Friday for the first time. Shloima, the second bochur, and my kids peeled vegetables until the seder. At 5:00 people started coming – in droves! Now, mind you, mincha wasn't until 8:15, let alone maariv and the seder. They obviously don't know from Jewish Time here! We had just spread by word of mouth over the last three days the fact that there would be sedarim -- at 9:30. Last year there were 70 people, so we expected maybe a hundred. Soon there were a bunch of people in the courtyard who had washed up and were all hastily peeling chrain! Itchie and Sholom Ber, handkerchiefs over their noses, started grating and crying. It was almost Yom Tov when we discovered that the blech hadn't come together with the other Pesach paraphernalia. Yasha, our “butcher,” who had come to hack up our chunks of meat earlier in the day, raced home for a big, shapeless piece of unused tin, which we bent roughly to stovetop size, and boruch Hashem it worked. I lit candles in the kitchen and kept on with the preparations for the seder. And people kept on arriving — over 200 of them! I didn't make it to the seder until the very end. Sholom Ber and I held our own seder afterwards. Oh, by the way, neither Romaine lettuce nor anything resembling it is available here (among many other things) so we had to use pure fresh chrain both times. We found out that if you can manage to swallow it without chewing it or gagging on it, it's not that awful!

The rest of Pesach was also very successful, and boruch Hashem we made a nice lebedik Moshiach's Seudah for about 100 people. The people who had come to run the YUSSR programs were shocked — I mean with their mouths literally hanging open. "You have the four coolest kids in town here! We always thought you have to dress the way we do to look ‘cool’ to attract people." They found it hard to believe that these same kids have been coming here for the past year, some on a daily basis, to actually do things like putting on tefillin! I invited these teens to come back for Shabbos. They said, "OK, for the daytime, but Friday night's just too late."

Before Pesach I sent our laundry to a company to get done, but I got it back all wet and terribly wrinkled (all except the things that didn't come back, of course.) So I set aside these wrinkled things to get ironed. Then I tried to hire the "nice lady" who cleans the shul to do the laundry. She kept putting it off because of the holidays and the weather. When she finally got around to it, she tried to take the "rich Americans" for a ride with the price, telling me that 1 load would cost $25! So there I was, a few hours before Shabbos, washing our clothing in the bathtub, which luckily (at least for this purpose) is almost at waist level. I told Sholom Ber to bring me the pile of badly wrinkled clothing, and if there was more room on Bubba's clotheslines, which there wasn't, I'd do those also. Having no other alternative, and with Shabbos fast approaching, we put them aside in a garbage bag. "Make sure nobody thinks this is garbage, and throws it out by mistake!" I said. Then I took a nice icy bath for Shabbos. Sometimes the water heater works, and sometimes it doesn't. And this time it didn’t. Then, right at licht tzinden, who shows up but the 15 teenagers who said they couldn’t come. So we ran to light candles with the girls, davened, made kiddush, washed, ate, sang, and forgot about anything else. Shabbos I came down with one whopper of a cold. After lunch I went to bed and stayed there. After Shabbos the boys and Itchie cleaned up. They were great. Sunday morning I still couldn't get up, but finally forced myself, because Bubba was taking us to see her 92 year old uncle's house which is for sale. On the "main" streets here, the houses and hovels and buildings all seem to share one common outer wall, facing towards the street. They are built around courtyards which are entered through big old creaky iron doors. Then there are the little streets that look like alleys, except there are more ruts than road. The roads are like that altogether here and the drivers speed like maniacs around the potholes. We went down such an alley today to see Mironova 24. It's the best house we've seen, which definitely isn’t saying too much. It has a private walled yard with no windows facing the street, and the wall could possibly be extended about six feet closer to the street. There are 15 fruit and nut trees — actually the entire small yard is a garden; it even has some raised beds. There is a garage of sorts, and an outhouse/out-shower combo: the rainwater collects on the roof, is warmed by the sun, and voila! An instant shower! A second small building with three tiny rooms and a three-walled pierced tin structure with a table and benches (possible Tzivos Hashem clubhouse?) complete the picture. Then of course, the house itself: the “kitchen” consists of two 4' by 4' roomlets and a 4' by 6' room. At the far end are sliding doors. I thought “great – finally a house with a pantry!” But, lo and behold, when I opened the door it turned out to be the "bathroom" — a toilet and a showerhead on a hose (without any separate enclosure.) Then two tiny bedrooms off a miniscule hall, and a living–dining room. If we can break down walls, and build up and out, we will have a halfway normal house. Cost — $15,000. Renovations — $20,000 (+?)

Anyway, we came home, and I saw the boys still hadn't done everything to clean up before they could go to the park, as they wanted. I instructed each of the older boys to throw out one of the bags of garbage, “and don't forget to bring back the bags.” This is really crazy, but when we throw our garbage in the dumpster down the block, the neighbors go out and retrieve the bags, jars, etc., to wash and re-use. And while they're doing that, our garbage ends up on the street. And our American garbage is easily identifiable, so we have to clean up their mess. So even if we're not saving the bags, we have to dump out the garbage and then throw the bags in after. However, since we're learning to be "good Crimeans," we do save the bags. Bags are valuable. Nobody goes anywhere without one! And you ought to see the clotheslines here. Nice clean, freshly-washed bags from Golden Fluff popcorn, Pathmark, and Kosher Plaza adorn them. I kid you not!

Well, the kids finished cleaning up, went to the park, ate, davened, counted sefira, said Shema, and went to bed. Then I went to pack for Itchie, who is going to America today. (It's morning already now.) I picked up a wrinkled shirt, and asked, "Where's the ironing pile?" And then it all came together. In my fog of not feeling well earlier in the day, I'd told the boys to take out the garbage — only one of the bags wasn't garbage — it was the ironing that I'd put on the side before Shabbos! We lit a candle (there aren't streetlights on most blocks) and went out to see if the new shirts could possibly still be there – which, of course, they weren't. Itchie started laughing, saying, "Now we truly look like real Crimeans, going out to look in the garbage!"

And I have to think of the Michoel Streicher song that has pretty much become our theme song here: "...When things aren't moving the way you've planned, don't give up, you've got to laugh it up, you've got to put your trust in Hashem!"

Be well. Do keep in touch. Maybe we'll even be properly connected to the internet soon — but that's another story! Hope IY"H we'll see you all in Yerushalayim a lot sooner!


Leah Lipszyc & Company

More Chanukah Pictures

Hi! I think I'm finally beginning to get the hang of this. In these pictures, you can see Alexander Markovich lighting the menorah the first evening, part of the crowd of over 100 that came to watch, and more of our Chanukah activities. Hope you enjoy! Leah

My 1st post -- Chanukah 5767

Chanukah was very exciting. As usual, we lit the big menorah every day on the "ploshada" (square) in front of Privatbank, in the center of Simferopol. I'm pretty sure ours is the tallest menorah in Europe. We have a daily raffle, "ponchiki" (jelly donuts,) and Chanukah gelt is distributed to everyone.

Every day at Bais Menachem we had a special program, with all sorts of contests, for the kids, culminating in "ponchiki," lovingly made by Beila and her crew, chocolate Chanukah gelt, donated by Ruti, and the lighting of the school menorah. Of course everyone at the school, and hundreds in the community, received free menorahs and candles.

We had three teams participating in the annual "Intellect Cafe," and the staff of Bais Menachem won a prize. We also made a Chanukah party for the community, where the kids from Bais Menachem presented their productions.

The shul was really full on Chanukah as well, with many new people coming after the menorah lighting, Boruch Hashem! We are glad to welcome all of our new members! After davening, we all shared the joyful Shabbos seudos together, with a full meals, as usual, and the special addition of latkes and still more "ponchiki" -- thanks cousin Stuie for the delicious filling for them!

This is my first attempt at blogging, so I hope this goes easily and the pictures also arrive to the blog. I"YH I'm hoping to post some of our previous pictures as well, working backwards, as I find the time.

Paka! Leah

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