n Dec. 3, corresponding to the Hebrew date of Kislev 19, Chabad followers around the globe celebrate the release from prison of the founder of Chabad Hasidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. A few days earlier, Kislev 10, is named by Hasidim the “festival of liberation” as the day his successor, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, was released from prison as well.
In fact, there are more such commemorations. It is told about a father whose son was becoming religious and was spending time in Chabad circles: upon hearing the causes for many Hasidic celebrations, the father commented, “Son, perhaps you should not be hanging out with such lawless folks.”
My great-grandfather, Rabbi Aaron Eliezer Tzeitlin, belonged to that seemingly shady club as well.
On Dec. 20, 1937 he was sentenced to eight years of “restorative work” in Russia’s Siberia (he ultimately died there, never to be properly buried). The counts he was convicted on explain why I am so proud of his criminal past — and why Chabad pays tribute to its rebbes’ felonious activities.
According to the investigation file, Rabbi Aaron Eliezer was accused of being “a member of the underground group and promoted among Jewish workers anti-
revolutionary propaganda against Soviet rule and its leaders.” He also “persuaded Jews to immigrate to Palestine.”
This referred to the Torah classes he gave, the mikvah he built and the kosher food he supervised for Belarus Jews. And later, the underground synagogue and Jewish day school he operated in his home in the Moscow suburb of Mozhaysk, until the Soviet secret police finally got hold of him.
Today it is hard to imagine living a Jewish life with the challenges our forefathers faced, or the existential dangers our grandparents confronted not too long ago. CONTINUE...