Risking lives for the education of others 
Jews in Communist Russia risk their lives to ensure Jewish continuity. 
by Rabbi Zushe Greenberg 

 Last month, my grandmother Leah Chazan passed away in Israel at the age of 82.

 I remember her as a woman who allowed and encouraged my grandfather Rabbi Aaron Chazan to undertake a challenge that  placed his life in danger. 

 My grandparents lived in Russia in the darkest time of Jewish  history.  During World War II, they fled from the advancing  German front to a city in Southern Russia called Tashkent. 

 Upon arriving there, they met a group of Chabad Chasidim who  had organized underground Jewish schools to ensure Jewish  continuity.  The schools were held in secret because, at  that time, teaching Judaism was illegal.  Punishment was many  years in Siberian prisons, or labor camps. 

 As a result of the harsh laws, and severe penalties which  were meted out unmercifully, Jewish education came to a  complete halt, and the majority of the Jewish children had no  idea what the word "Jew" meant. 

 In Tashkent, like in many other communities in Russia, the  Chabad families risked their lives to run secret schools.  They knew it was the only way to ensure Jewish continuity. 

 In the winter of 1944, a Chasidic Rabbi approached my  grandfather, Rabbi Aaron Chazan, may he be well. He asked  him for his help in arranging new schools. 

 The Rabbi said, " Our children already receive a good Jewish  education, but who will take care of the rest of the Jewish  children in the community ?  We must make sure that the  Jewish nation doesn't lose them! 

 We are looking for a person like you to be in charge of this  risky and dangerous undertaking," he appealed. " We will  provide the funds for all the expenses.  You must make sure  everything runs smoothly without the authorities suspecting." 

 My grandmother Leah, of blessed memory, knew very well that  if he would be caught, she would be left alone to raise her  young children.  Nevertheless, she urged him to meet the  challenge and offered her full cooperation in any area  needed. 

 The hardest task was convincing parents to allow their  children to attend the secret schools.  He would start by  visiting the parents at night. He explained that, in memory  of his parents, he took it upon himself to teach the Alef Bet  to Jewish children. 

 He would sit before the children and draw the first few  letters of the alphabet in a notebook. In a short time, the  children learned to read the letters. In a few days they  could read a few complete words. 

 My grandfather would then tell the parents that they could  broaden their child's Jewish knowledge in a special secret  school that had been formed. 

 Many parents refused, as it was dangerous to withhold  children from the Soviet schools and teach them "religious  propaganda" .  This was tantamount to counterrevolutionary  activity or spying. 

 My grandparents hard efforts resulted in four makeshift  classrooms with twenty children each, located in four  separate corners of the city. 

 The teacher and the children knew full well that teaching and  learning in these schools were strictly forbidden and they  performed drills to prepare for unwanted government  officials. 

 One winter day, a clever fourteen year old boy spotted  officials heading for their building.  The class sprung into  action.  In a flash, the text books disappeared to secret  hiding place.  The boys dragged a withered pine tree from the  corner. 

 When the officials walked into the room , they saw the  student pushing a white bearded man (the teacher) to the tree  mocking, " Look!  We found an Old Man Frost ! " ( In the  former Soviet Union, New Year's Eve was celebrated with a  decorated pine tree, gifts, and an "Old Man Frost" similar to  Santa Claus.) 

 "Shame on you !" the officials reproved them. " Do you have  nothing to do but torture an old man ! Leave him alone !"    This time they were lucky,  The officials left them alone.  The danger was ever present, but Jewish education continued. 

 As I reflect on this story, I recall a famous saying of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory.  " It is  imperative for every person to spend a half hour every day  thinking about the Jewish education of children, and to do  everything in his power, and beyond his power, to inspire the  children to follow the path along which they are being  guided." 

 I believe that my grandparents lived this thought each day.  Today, as the school year begins, and the education of our  children has been arranged, perhaps it's time to think about  the education of other Jewish children -and it's not even  forbidden or dangerous!