Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Q&A with Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman



Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman is the author of the new book The Jewish Underground of Samarkand: How Faith Defied Soviet Rule. Zaltzman, who also has written the book Samarkand, was born in Ukraine and grew up in Uzbekistan. He is based in Israel, and is the president of the group Chamah, which provides Jewish social and educational services.


Q: What inspired you to write The Jewish Underground of Samarkand?


A: My son asked me, “How did you manage to maintain Jewish life under the watchful eyes of the KGB?” My entire book is an answer to his question.   


Q: The book's subtitle is “How Faith Defied Soviet Rule.” In what ways did faith affect your family and the other people you write about?


A: We scrupulously studied the Torah and the chassidic texts authored by our rabbis, and those teachings gave us the inner strength to remain firm in our convictions. 


One of our inspiring stories is how Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880–1950), the sixth Rebbe of Chabad, stood up to the KGB. He was mercilessly brutalized and tortured for his “counter-revolutionary” activities—the creation of an underground network of yeshivahs, mikvahs and other banned Jewish institutions.


Time and again the Rebbe was dragged into the interrogation room. In the dank darkness, where brutes and cutthroats were regularly brought to their knees, the Rebbe openly defied these savages.


It was on one such occasion that one of the Rebbe’s interrogators pointed a revolver at the Rebbe and smirked: “This toy has a way of making people cooperate.”


Calmly the Rebbe replied: “That toy is persuasive to one who has many gods and only one world; I have One G‑d and two worlds.”


Q: The writer Cynthia Ozick said of the book, “You have in your hands a cultural treasure!” What do you think of that assessment? 


A: I felt there was a great and urgent need to share with the world that page in Jewish history. After all, those of us who lived it, are getting on in years. 


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book?


A: One one hand, it felt wonderful to relive those years, but at other times I found myself crying as I wrote of the pain and suffering of so many. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am publishing chapters of Samarkand as comics for children. We must let the next generation know.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If you remain strong in your faith and your resolve, you can overcome all difficulties in life.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment