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What Would Stalin Say?

Sami Rohr’s impetus for building Jewish community in the former Soviet Union.
Reb Shmuel Rohr (L) with Rabbi Berel Lazar.

Reb Shmuel Rohr (L) with Rabbi Berel Lazar.
Photo Credit: Israel Bardugo

Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Rabbi Berel Lazar

My relationship with Reb Shmuel Rohr started about twenty years ago, in the early 1990s. He was visiting Russia on a business trip, looking for investment opportunities.

Truth to tell, I looked at him kind of quizzically: “Investment? In Russia!?” This was a country that everyone was trying to get out of, figuring that it had no future. A dank and dreary place, where the store shelves were empty and there was nothing to eat; the only kind of economic activity was that of émigrés selling their goods and leaving the country with the little money they had gotten for them. Now this man is coming to invest? When does he ever expect to see any profits from this?

So I asked him, “Reb Shmuel, what are you doing?”

“I myself may not see any profit from it,” he replied, “but my children and grandchildren will. I’m investing for their sake. Now, when everything is collapsing here, when no one sees a future for the country—that’s the time to enter the market here. It’s a window of opportunity that opens only once in many decades. So, yes, it’s unlikely that in the near future I’ll see any benefits from this investment, but my grandchildren will see it.

“And this is just as true in spiritual matters, in matters of Judaism, as it is in business,” he continued. “On the face of it, there seems to be no future here: everyone is getting out as fast as possible, going to Israel, or America, or Western Europe. But I do foresee a future here—a bright future. Again, I may not get to see it, but my grandchildren most definitely will. Time will come when Russia gets back firmly on its feet, both economically and Jewishly!”

As Reb Shmuel spoke, I saw before me a Jew with great vision, a person with enormous foresight. He envisioned a revolution—and he took a leading role in making it happen. He was the Nachshon ben Aminadav who jumped into the swirling waves, into a sea where no firm footing could be seen—yet he walked into it with head held high and eyes affixed ahead, toward the future.

He encouraged, cajoled, pushed and worked on having shluchim sent to Russia. He not only talked the talk, but walked the walk—supporting them financially from the start.

In the many conversations I had with him, he’d often refer to his underlying inspiration. What indeed motivated him to spend such a fortune on behalf of Russian Jewry? His yardstick, he said, was simply this: “If Stalin could see this, he’d roll over in his grave!”

This idea was expressed in the wide variety of activities he funded, in each of which he saw the ultimate revenge against Stalin. A few come to mind now:

Return of Synagogues

Whenever Reb Shmuel would hear about a synagogue that had been nationalized by the Communist government and that there was a chance to have it returned to the Jewish community—he’d exert all possible efforts to make it happen.

That was his sweet revenge. A building that was seized by Stalin’s goons en route to ensuring the ultimate defeat of the Jews—to think that in that same building Judaism would be rebuilt and blossom anew—that would definitely make Stalin roll over in his grave, if he could only see it. So it must be done!

Bris Milah (Circumcision)

During that early period of Jewish awakening after seventy years of communism, there was a particularly urgent need to find mohalim who could arrange circumcisions in an orderly fashion.

One day I approached Reb Shmuel excitedly and told him that we identified an expert mohel, who was also a credentialed surgeon, who would be perfectly suited for performing adult milah.

After committing certain funding, Reb Shmuel told me, “The real revolution, the real Jewish victory, is performing a bris on an eight-day-old infant, a bris in its proper time. That’s what will make Stalin roll over in his grave.

“You see,” he continued, sounding like a sagacious chassid, “Stalin wanted to break the Jews’ intrinsic connection to G‑d. When an adult undergoes a bris milah, that’s on his own initiative: he’s weighed the pros and cons, and decided rationally that he needs to be circumcised. He’s taken Stalin’s view into consideration and ended up rejecting it.

About the Author: Chabad.org is a division of the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, under the auspices of the Lubavitch World Headquarters


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2 Responses to “What Would Stalin Say?”

  1. Ch Hoffman says:

    R' Lazar may be a well-meaning man with a sense of purpose.
    But his main goal should be to get as many Jews as possible to leave Rus while the opp'ty still esxists.

  2. Tim Upham says:

    Now there is a large museum on Jewish history in Moscow. Chabad has been helping communities in Kharkov and Moldavia, and Jewish pilgrims have been flocking to Rebbe Nachman's grave in Uman. A far cry from the days of helping them to get out during the Soviet Era.

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