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Stalin Vs. Schneersohn

96 Years Later: Who Won?

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • July 14, 2011
  • |
  • 12 Tamuz 5771

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950)

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Class Summary:

Stalin Vs. Schneersohn - 96 Years Later: Who Won?

Dedicated in the memory of Chana bas Reb Aharon Leib, for her Yarzteit on 9 Tamuz. Her grace and kindness brought joy to many

A Vain Battle

If there was ever a battle fought in vain, this was it. Or at least, so it seemed at the time.

The year is 1924. Vladimir Lenin, the father of the communist revolution, is dead; over 900,000 people pass through the Hall of Columns during the four days and nights that Lenin's body lay exposed to the public.

Josef Stalin succeeds him as the new leader of the Soviet Union. During the following thirty years, he would murder 50 million of his own people. Jews and Judaism would be one of his primary targets. He sets up a special government organization, the Yevsektzye, to ensure that Russian Jewry in its millions embraces the new ethos of Communism, introducing a paradise constructed of bullets and gulags. 

Stalin would rule with an iron fist till his death in March 1953, when four million people would gather in Red Square to bid farewell to the tyrant still revered and beloved by much of his nation and by many millions the world over.

At his home in Leningrad (today Petersburg), a 44-year-old rabbi, heir to some of the great Jewish thinkers and leaders of Russian Jewry, summons nine young disciples. He offers them an opportunity most would refuse: to take responsibility for the survival of Judaism in the communist Soviet Union; to ensure that Jewish life and faith would survive the hellish darkness of Stalin’s regime. He wants them to fight—in his words—“till the last drop of blood.”

They embrace the mission. He gives his hand to each of them as a sign that they are accepting an oath, one that would transform their destiny forever. "I will be the tenth, he says; together we have a minyan"...

An Underground Revolution

The nine men were dispatched throughout the country. With assistance from similar-minded colleagues, they created an impressive underground network of Jewish activity, which included Jewish schools, synagogues, mikvaot (ritual baths used by Jewish woman for spiritual feminine reinvigoration), adult Torah education, Yeshivot (academies for Torah learning for students), Jewish textbooks, providing rabbis for communities, teachers for schools, etc. Over the 1920s and 1930s, these individuals built six hundred (!) Jewish underground schools throughout the U.S.S.R (1). Many of them last for only a few weeks or months. When the KGB (the secret Russian police) discovered a school, the children were expelled, the teacher was arrested. A new one was opened elsewhere, usually in a cellar or on a roof.

One of the nine young men was sent to Georgia. There were dozens of mikvaot there, all shut down by the communists who buried them in sand and gravel. This young man decided to do something radical. He falsified a letter written supposedly by the KGB headquarters in Moscow, instructing the local offices in Georgia to open two mikvaot within 24 hours.

The local officials were deceived. Within a day, two mikvaot were open. Several months later, when they discovered the lie, they shut them down again.

And so it went. A mohel (the person performing the mitzvah of circumcision) was arrested, and another one was dispatched to serve the community; a yeshiva was closed, and another one opened elsewhere; a synagogue was destroyed and another one opened its portals in secrecy. It is a chapter in Jewish history unbeknownst to most.

But it sure seemed like a lost battle. Here was an individual rabbi, with a small group of pupils, staging an underground rebellion against a mighty empire that numbered in the hundreds of millions, and aspired to dominate the world. It was like an infant wrestling a giant, an ant attempting to defeat a military tank. The situation was hopeless.

Finally, in 1927—ninety-three years ago—they lost their patience with this man. The rabbi behind the counter-revolutionary work was arrested and sentenced to death by a firing squad. Foreign pressure and nothing less than a miracle convinced the KGB to alter the sentence to ten years in exile. It was then converted to three years, and then—quite unbelievable in the Soviet Regime where clergy and laymen alike were murdered like flies—he was completely exonerated. The 12th and 13th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz (this year it is July 1-2), mark the 96th anniversary since he was liberated from Stalin’s death sentence in 1927.

The individual behind the spiritual mutiny was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), who became the leader of Chabad in 1920, after the passing of his father. He selected nine of his young pupils to wage battle with him. The one sent to Georgia, falsifying the KGB document, was my grandfather, Simon Yakabashvili, my father’s father (1900-1953). He, together with hundreds of his colleagues, Chassidim throughout the Soviet Union, was arrested in 1938, tortured mercilessly and given a 25-year sentence in the Gulag. Most of his eight colleagues who accepted the oath never made it out of Stalin’s hell. They perished in the Soviet Union.

(My grandfather, Reb Simon, made it out of the USSR, but died several years later at the age of 53 in Toronto. He died on 2 Tamuz, 5713-1953, leaving behind there young sons, Gershon, Bezalel and Sholom. My father died in 2005, my uncle Bezalel died seven years ago. Their mother, Freida, passed on in 1954, one year after her husband. She was 44. One child remains, may he enjoy many long and healthy years).

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950)

Investing in Eternity

More than nine decades have passed. This passage of time gives us the opportunity to answer the question: Who won? Stalin or Schneerson?

one century ago, Marx's socialism and Lenin’s communism heralded a new era for humanity. Its seemingly endless power and brutality seemed unbreakable.

Yet one individual stood up, a man who would not allow the awesome war machine of Mother Russia to blur his vision, to eclipse his clarity. In the depths of his soul, he was aware that history had an undercurrent often invisible to most but discernible to students of the long and dramatic narrative of our people. He knew with full conviction that evil might thrive but it will die; yet goodness, holiness, G-dliness—embodied in Torah and Mitzvos—are eternal.

And he chose to invest in eternity.

He probably did not know how exactly it would work out in the end. I am not sure he believed he would survive. But he knew that his mission in life was to sow seeds, though the trees were being felled one by one.

Cynics scoffed at him; close friends told him he was making a tragic mistake. Even many of his religious colleagues were convinced that he was wasting his time and energy fighting an impossible war. They either fled the country or maintained a low profile. Some great rabbis at the time felt he was trying to do the impossible and it was futile.

But more than 90 years later, this giant and what he represented have emerged triumphant. Today, despite uneasy times in Russia, in the republics of the former Soviet Union stand hundreds of synagogues, Jewish day schools, yeshivot, mikvaot, Jewish community centers. Since communism fell, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (the son-in-law of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe who was liberated in 1927) sent hundreds of ambassadors to create a Jewish renaissance. They span the entire length and breadth of the country, from Siberia to Tashkent; from Tbilisi to Krasnoyarsk. Over the last 30 years, they have built more than one hundred (!) full-time Jewish day schools, in which more than 100,000 Jewish children received a Jewish Torah education. As this summer season began, dozens of Jewish day camps opened up throughout the former Soviet Union with tens of thousands of Jewish children who will enjoy a blissful summer coupled with the celebration of Jewish life.

I have a cousin, Rabbi Yerachmiel Garelick, who serves as the Chabad ambassador to Western Siberia. Jewish women had to travel for seven hours to visit a mikvah. He just completed building a magnificent mikvah in Tuman, Siberia!

And the Chabad couple in Birobidjhan, located on the Trans-Siberian Railway, near the China-Russia border, where Stalin wanted to exile three million Russian Jews, opened a Glat kosher restaurant there.

Last Chanukah, a large menorah stood tall in the Kremlin, casting the glow of Chanukah on the grounds where Stalin walked with Berya and Yezhov. On Lag Baomer (a Jewish holiday), thousands of Jewish children with kippot on their heads marched the streets of Moscow with signs proclaiming, "Hear oh Israel... G-d is One." Jewish life is bustling in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Uzbekistan, etc.

Visiting Russia last summer, Russia’s Chief Rabbi, Berel Lazar, pointed to a massive Jewish school he built in Moscow stretching over a full block. “Right across from here were some of the main offices of the KGB, where the orders to decimate Judaism came from,” he said.

Across the street was a massive Jewish museum, one of the nicest I have ever seen, attracting thousands of weekly visitors, and telling the story of the Jewish people and their heritage. “How did you get the money for this?” I asked Rabbi Lazar. He smiled and said that the first million came from the private charity of Vladimir Putin. "The rest was easy."

I then entered, two streets over, the Marina Rashtze synagogue in Moscow, a massive and beautiful 8-story structure. Hundreds of Jews were praying and studying Torah.   

Joseph Stalin

Comrade Stalin is dead; communism has faded away as hopelessly irrelevant and destructive. The sun of the nations is today a clod of darkness. The ideology of the Soviet Empire which declared "Lenin has not died and Stalin will not die. He is eternal," is now a mockery. Stalin and Lenin are as dead as one can be. But the Mikvaot built by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1927, they are still here, from Siberia to Moscow, to Tashkent.

 If you will visit Russia this coming Shabbos, I am not sure you will find anybody celebrating the life and vision of Stalin, or even Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Andropov. But you will find tens of thousands of Jews celebrating the liberation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1927 and the narrative of one holy man’s triumph over one of the greatest mass-murderers in human history, sharing his vision, committing themselves to continue saturating the world with the light of Torah and Mitzvos.

So on this Shabbos, the 12th of Tamuz, lift up your glasses and say L’chayim! L’chayim to a Rebbe who inspired such heroism in so many disciples, many of them who paid the ultimate price. L’chayim to the incredible Jews of Russia who maintained the embers burning for seven decades, and then—when the opportunity came—fanned them into glowing flames. L’chayim to my dear Zeide, Reb Simon, whom I never met but whose life story is engraved in the core of my heart.

Today, we have many battles to fight, and plenty of darkness to conquer. It is easy to become cynical or depressed, leading to emotional paralysis. But our greatest leaders always knew better. They never allowed the mask of evil to define the narrative of history; they ensured that another story would dominate our imaginations and actions.

So can we.

My grandparents, Reb Simon, and Freida Yakovashvili, with their three sons, Gershon, Bezalel, and Sholom

1) This figure was given to me by Rabbi Sholom Ber Levin, chief librarian of the Central Lubavitch Library in Brooklyn, NY.

Please leave your comment below!

  • C

    Chanie -3 months ago

    Am Yisroel Chai!!

    Thank you for this beautiful article! So vividly described!! 
    Do you know the names of all 9 of the young chasidim who were part of this Minyan Pact?

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • YJ

      YY Jacobson -3 months ago

      I do not. I have heard over the years some names. But I never heard all of the nine.

      The names I heard: Reb simcha gorodetsky. Reb yaakov moskolik. 

      Thanks so so much for your feedback. it means so much to me.

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • RS

    Rivkah Schneirson -1 year ago

    Thank you from the heart and soul for the importance of the vital details of this struggle These details are inspiring and meaningful for my own challenges and the values of the struggles of the secular  world and culture  we live in. May they serve as a blessing to strengthen us as we continue the many challenges oft  perpetuating the values Of our magnificent heritage


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    • YYJ

      Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson -9 months ago

      Thanks so so much. It means so much to get this feedback!

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  • S

    Sarah -3 years ago

    Wowow amazing

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  • CS

    connie schiller -3 years ago

    Baruch Hashem, G_d Bless you and your family. May the fruition of the Tikkun come about very soon, our tears be transformed to tears of joy. Toda Hashem for the Blessing of our Rebbes that kept the fire of our Torah ignited during even the darkest of times. Lets tie those tzittzit together and fly to the skies.

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  • M

    MeyerM -3 years ago

    Wonderful and inspiring

    This a story of true greatness, and perseverance in belief in the face of immense adversity. 

    The wives of these brave men are also to be remembered for their courage, support and belief.

    The story reminds us that those who sacrifice for and with Hashem will be blessed in their work, in their lives and in heaven, and Hashem's work will be established.

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  • Anonymous -3 years ago

      Rabbi Jacobson with your talent to speak and write, and having heard your speeches from way back defending Israel against Oslo (the speech you gave in Hebrew in 'kikar tzion) and agains the secular who are willing to give away parts of our land; and as a direct disciple of the Rebbe I see and hope you will become the new fighter for our land of our generation (as the Rebbe and Rabbi meir Kahana) empowering Jews to embrace and love Judaism, Jews and our holy land. and fight for the Torah.

    thank you for all you do to help all Jews and may god bless you in many more successful years in empowering the Jewish people as a whole. and lastly let us see the full redemption in our days.

    Looking forward to reading your future books!

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  • S

    Shlome -3 years ago

    Fantastic article!

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  • S

    Shimshon -3 years ago

    Your writing dances ! Emotional.

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  • RR

    Rajiv Rajan -3 years ago

    The 12th and 13th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz (this year it is July 15-16), mark the 92nd anniversary since he was liberated from Stalin’s death sentence in 1927.

    Shàlom! From the essay: the 12th and 13th of the Hebrew month of Tàmmúz ( this year it is July 15-16)...

    Today is July 3 / 11 Tàmmúz

    Just wondering

     Shabbat shalom

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    • DG

      David Gurevich -3 years ago

      These secular dates are from the last year 

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • ES

    Eliezer Shemtov -3 years ago

    Mikvaot in georgia

    Beautiful article!

    Was wondering if you knew who was the individual that got thק KGB to send an order to built the Mikvaot in Georgia.

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    • Anonymous -3 years ago

      I always heard it was my grandfather Reb Simon. (I think the Rebbe Rayatz told the story in 1932 and it is mentioned elsewhere as well.)

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  • Anonymous -3 years ago

    Stalin vs the 10

    A holy Rebbe sees heaven and earth and leads us by personal example. 

    But the other 9 heroes - they are so much closer to us. We need to learn from them!

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  • L

    Levi -4 years ago


    Isn't it interesting that it's Yosef versus Joseph? 

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    • Anonymous -3 years ago

      Yes, indeed! In fact, in Russia, they called "Yosef" or "Yozef."

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

  • S

    Shlomtzy -4 years ago

    Brought  tears to my  eyes! 

    Thank you.
    It occurred to me that the quote on Rabbi jacobson birthday cake is reminiscent of your original  family name, Bashvili..'kisumu kein hu...' May you be blessed , 'l'chaim till 120... with health  and middas  hamalchus...

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  • RA

    Reb Aharon -4 years ago

    A Great Book about this

    Samarkand by Hillel Zaltzman is a fascinating informative book, opens the eyes and brain about this period of time.

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  • DT

    Dov Trietsch -4 years ago

    The greatest Jewish hero of the 20th century

    Boker tove Rabbi

    About 10 years ago, in the library of the space coast chabad center - run by my teacher and friend Zvi Konikov, I discovered a little book about the the Rebbe's arrest in Bolshy Dom and his strenghth under torture and pressure. 

    I am still at awe. His strength, faith and determination have saved Judaism. Weak in body, but strong in character he fought and won.

    Zecher Zadiq li'bracha.

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  • JG

    Jewish Guy -4 years ago

    Very important article!

    Dear Rabbi YY,

    Thank you so much for this article.  You are certainly bringing naches to your relatives in Shemayim.  The brutal story of Soviet tyranny is not well known and must be more widely told; particularly their intentions to destroy Judaism.  I grew up in the USA public school system in the 1960s-70s. While it certainly is nowhere near the indoctrination we have today, the "progressive" (read Marxist-Communist) agenda was present and I never (!) learned about the evils of the Soviet regime!

      May Hashem bless and strengthen all your efforts with success and may you be strong b'simcha ad 120. 


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  • Anonymous -5 years ago

    did you know who kiled Stalin

    RABBI YOCHONUN PERLOW OF STOLIN on purim night  march 1 1953 asked for a picture of stalin  and he wripet the picture and said stalin should die, that was the night that stalin got paralized and sufferd a stroke and he died on march 5, as you can see in wikipedie ''purim''

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    • I

      isaac -4 years ago

      In Chabad, they also tell a story about the Purim Farbrengen of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of the year 1953.

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  • M

    Milton -5 years ago

    The Rebbe's Release from jail in 1927

    Although it is correct to report that it was a miracle that the R​e​bbe was released from captivity in 1927 instead of killed, part of the miracle was the 24/7 efforts of several individuals in the USA​,​ including my father Chaim Shneur Zalman (CHAZK), the President of Agudas Chasidei Chabad, who were able to reach President Hoover. Hoover used the US's economic leverage against Russia in helping to obtain the Rebbe's release. Russia also revoked the Rebbe's Russian citizenship and exiled him.

    The Rebbe went to Riga in Latvia wher he secured Latvian citizenship.

    Another little known miracle was that his Latvian citizenship saved his life when he escaped from the Getapo in bombed out Poland during WW2. German soldiers rescued him and his family and escorted them to the Latvian border.  Read the full details in Bryan Riggs book "Recued from the Reich". 

    Also, see "Out of the Inferno" by Altein & Zaklikovsky which contains all the documents and correspondence of how my uncle, (the lawyer), Sam Kramer​,​with the 24/7 help of his Washington contacts were able to by pass the well known antisemitic US State Department  to rescue the Rebbi from the Gestapo.

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    • RA

      Reb Aharon -4 years ago

      My father's name was also Milton.  His Hebrew name was Menachem Mendel.  His family came from Dokshitz in Belorus (between Minsk and Pinsk) as frum Jews to New Haven, CT 1895.  My great grandfather, Aharon Kurhan, that immigrant, was a mohel, shochet, chazzan and  ... w/a beard and a long black coat.  I have one or two pictures - he looks tough.  The Yiddishkeit did not survive the following generation, the education system (yeshiva) was not established and the 3rd generation, my father & his brothers and sister and extended cousins etc became essentially totally assimilated and so forth to my generation, my brother, sisters and cousins. 

      Samarkand by Hillel Zaltzman is a great book.



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  • E

    Elana -5 years ago

    What I learn from the rabbi's and this return to judaism is how important it is to believe and stand strong with G-d. This story is yet another miracle that supports believing and living a jewish life in the face of anything. It's reinvigorating and loving.

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  • A

    Aliza -5 years ago

    A moving, beautiful work, a testament to torah, history, righteous good memory and light's triumph over darkness.
    I believe retelling of history is essential so that we feel our connection and are less inclined to repeat history and its horrors.
    It is a disconnect with the truth of our past that gives rise to growing anti-semitism / Jew hatred as we are seeing on the internet, for example, today.  So the answer is not the brake - it is the other pedal.  We must continue to tell and share such stories (as we are the new mass media). 

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  • Anonymous -6 years ago

    S vs S

    Dear Rabbi Yosef Yitschok

    many thanks for your great articel

    my question concerns a previous battle, the one between the Czar and Napolian and the Tsadikim who decided That The czar should win,  ultimatly that brought about Comunisim and the Battle against Yidishkeit mentioned above, can you please explain how the Alter Rebbe understood the evile of napolian

    if this is not an apropiate question please dont publish it


    y d schmahl


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  • AY

    a yid -7 years ago

    Thanks for this important article. It's an incredible story that must be widely known. Although we know Chabad is very active all over America, there exist the terrible problems of assimilation, intermarriage, secularism and "Reform/Conservative Movements" that endanger Judaism and Israel. Along with investing in Chabad, what else can be done to save so many American Jewish souls?

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    • C

      Chaim -3 years ago

      It is not reform or conservative Judaism that threatens us. It is comments like that that divide and thus weaken us.  A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. We have always been and always will be a people with many ways of expressing our Judaism. Some louder than others. But the voices raised in whatever fashion are still Jewish.  If you weaken that with divisive comments you weaken who we are. And the result is that "they" win. 

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  • ML

    Meir L -7 years ago

    Thanks for a great article ! Who where the Ten chssidim ? Where can I read up more about this oath.

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  • M

    mendel -7 years ago

    I think it is a beautiful article, but I think that there is one piece that is missing from the puzzle. It is the period of time after which the headquarters of Chabad had moved to the United States but the network never missed a beat even behind the Iron Curtain (emphasis added) which is important because there is a link in the time sequence that may be overlooked by people. I believe the importance of including it is that in addition to the foresight, commitment, and sacrifice, there is a huge overlay of perseverance. This type of commitment is not a Sprint, but rather a marathon. While the risks are immediate, the retribution constant, the commitment to effect change must span over significant periods of time. It is therefore important to underscore that it is not just the original minyan, and take a look what there is today, but the intervening years and the conditions over many decades that people often lose sight of. Obviously, the collective foresight was that of the Rebbes of Chabad.

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  • SM

    Shaya Mintz -7 years ago

    Thank you for this beautiful article. This is a big Chizuck for those of us fighting the trend of assimilation. May the Neshomos of these Kedoshim have an Aliya.

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  • RYL

    Rabbi Yakov Lazaros -7 years ago

    Great article

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  • CS

    Chana Sharfstein -7 years ago

    This article is essentia. It saddens me deeply that the 12th of Tammuz appears to have declined in importance in regard to public gatherings and discussions. For example in Crown Heights for several years already there is no public gathering to commemorate the life of the Rebbe rayatz, a giant personality whose courage is an inspiration for us all. His memory must be kept alive. He developed and strengthened Jewish life in Communist Russia during the brutal Stalin era. And he had the foresight to bring Lubavitch to America to lay the foundation for thriving Jewish life here. May his memory strengthen us and give us renewed inspiration and strength.Thank you Rabbi Jacobson.l

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  • IN

    Isaac Neuwirth -7 years ago

    Unbelievable, very strong and inspiring!
    Judidisim will stand forever no matter how much they suffer

    Lechiam for life!

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  • S

    shayna -7 years ago

    L'chayim, Rabbi Jacobson! You have so much to be proud of- as do we all!

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay 12-13 Tamuz

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • July 14, 2011
  • |
  • 12 Tamuz 5771
  • |
  • Comment

Dedicated in the memory of Chana bas Reb Aharon Leib, for her Yarzteit on 9 Tamuz. Her grace and kindness brought joy to many

Class Summary:

Stalin Vs. Schneersohn - 96 Years Later: Who Won?

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