A song that I heard from Chazan Berel Zaltzman still resonates with me: “Your name used to be Misha, but you are a Jew; your name is Moshe.” I truly felt that I connected with the Russian Jews, soul to soul. It was, and still is, an emotional experience for me. Both those who came and those who welcomed them recognized the Almighty’s Hidden Hand in bringing His children back from a seventy-year exile. In our synagogue, there was a Russian man, a Kohen, who said: “For fifty years I have not been able to duchan (bless the congregation), and now I finally can!”
The first thing the older immigrants would share with me was their experience during World War II. Most families lost their young men during the war years, as many fathers and husbands had been sent to the front by the Stalinist government because they were Jewish. Many of those families, who thirty years later arrived in Chicago, were still traumatized by all they had suffered during the war.
We at F.R.E.E. became personally involved with these families, helping them with their resettlement, celebrating their successes and inviting them to our homes. Eventually, the immigrants were able to stand on their own feet financially, support their families, and repay the Federation loans. F.R.E.E. was instrumental in introducing them to the Jewish way of life.
It is impossible to assess how many lives have been touched, how many mitzvot have been performed because of F.R.E.E., and the far-reaching effect of each interaction with another Jew. My daughter was once conversing with a woman who came to her shul in the Boston area for Rosh Hashanah. The woman happened to mention that she had come first to Chicago after leaving the Soviet Union. My daughter asked if she knew her mother, Mrs. Kosofsky. The woman exclaimed, “I can’t believe it! Is Mrs. Kosofsky really your mother?!”
She went on to explain that she had only just arrived in Chicago when she discovered that she was pregnant. She met me at F.R.E.E., and discussed her intention to terminate her pregnancy. Both she and her husband were studying; they had no money, how would they find the time and the means to nurture a baby?
It seems that I had somehow managed to talk her into keeping her pregnancy viable. She eventually gave birth to a little girl, who grew up and became observant. The woman showed my daughter a picture of her daughter in her wedding gown under the chuppah.
Sometimes you see the fruits of your actions only twenty years later!
I thank the Almighty for providing me with the appropriate language, Yiddish, in which to speak with the immigrants; otherwise, I would never have been able to communicate with them. The entire organization ran on the Yiddish language!
Finally, my heartfelt, deepest thanks go to my dear mother, Shaindel Malka Kushner, whose devoted help in my home enabled me to be free to help establish the F.R.E.E. organization.
Hodu l’Hashem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo – Thank Hashem for His kindness is forever.