At a community Chanukah celebration in the city of Rostov, Russia, guests were awed by a moving video detailing the fascinating history of the Jews of Rostov in the 20th Century.
The video depicts the great influence the Rebbe Rashab had on the city, the tremendous self-sacrifice that the dedicated local Jews had for their religion, and the very special life-mission of one loyal Jew named Rabbi Mordechai Lifshitz, who remained in Rostov until 1969 to fulfill the Rebbe’s wishes that he help lead the community.
Rabbi Lifshitz’s grandson, Reb Avremel Lokshin, recently visited Rostov and related the details of his grandfather’s life as a chossid of the Rebbe Rashab. When Rabbi Lifshitz felt that it was becoming increasingly difficult to live as a frum Jew in Rostov and he wanted to leave the city, he asked the advice of the Rebbe Rashab who told him, “if you will leave Rostov, who will remain?” He took that to mean that he must stay in the city his entire life to keep the flames of Yiddishkeit alive, and this he did, with quiet heroism.
“Until recently, little was known about Chasidim living in Rostov after the war,” said Rabbi Chaim Danzinger. “So we were really grateful to Reb Avremel for sharing these personal and fascinating stories!”
In a wondrous display of the changing times, today the Jewish community of Rostov turns out in crowds to proudly and publicly celebrate the holiday. One community member, Luba, said at the outdoor lighting ceremony, “It’s so emotional to be here lighting the menorah just several meters away from what use to be the communist headquarters for all of southern Russia!” She attended the menorah lighting together with her granddaughter for the first time.
This year Chanukah fell directly after a tragic plane crash in Southern Russia that took the lives of 92 people, and the government issued a national day of mourning in response, forcing the cancellation of the annual Chanukah concert that usually hosts 1,500 people. There were many other Chanukah events throughout the week though, including: a Shabbaton for teenage community activists featuring an exciting ‘Latke Master Chef Competition’; a special Chanukah fun-day for children where they learned about the holiday and got to make their own Chanukah treats to take home; and the annual Chanukah on ice celebration for youth, incorporating an ice hockey game into the event this year.
Perhaps the most important program of all was one that Reb Lifshitz would surely have endorsed: home visits by our students to bring food packages and the light of Chanukah to the elderly.
May the light of Chanukah continue to illuminate our city, our homes and our lives.