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The Heroic Struggle

Reviewed by Ray Kestenbaum

The collapse of the former USSR Communist regime was soon followed by a Jewish re-identification and a sweeping resurgence of open religious observance. These striking changes followed 70 years of Soviet suppression of religion.

Religious feeling and observance had been driven underground for decades, but was kept alive by a strong “Jewish underground.” At the center of the struggle for Jewish survival was the giant persona of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn (1880-1950), of blessed memory.

It was the Previous Rebbe who led the harbozat hayahadut, the spread of Yiddishkeit, in those dark years right under the nose of the cruel, dictatorial Soviet regime. But he paid a heavy price for his activism, and that’s what this book is about. He was arrested, imprisoned and tortured several times because of his leadership and resistance to the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, and the Yevsektzia, the Communist Party’s Jewish Affairs office.

But he stood firm in his religious conviction and opposed the tyranny of the Soviet authorities. The Rebbe’s resistance to the Communist gangsters was capped in 1927 when he was arrested for “counter-revolutionary activity” and jailed. However, international pressure resulted in his release and later his banishment from Russia.

In remembrance of the Rebbe’s heroic acts, the Chassidic community marks the 12th and 13th of Tammuz as the days commemorating his ordeal, and celebrating his release. Even after he left Russia he continued to lead the Jewish resistance from abroad. Ultimately his activities laid the foundation for the current Jewish revival, which took place under the leadership of his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The previous Rebbe recorded the events of his arrest and the days that followed and put together a compendium of events, but years later in Poland during his flight from the Nazis, the booklet was lost. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, however, was able to retrieve the story by painstakingly copying his father-in-law’s notes.

The Heroic Struggle is based on Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s copied narrative. After Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak arrived in the U.S. he thanked his son-in-law for saving the historic notes. They are a rich source, providing insight into the many facets of a deeply spiritual personality.

The book describes in remarkable detail the process of terror and the courage that the Rebbe mustered up in the face of his captors. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak often said that he took notes to share them with his followers to show how chassidus offers courage and spiritual support to those who are subjected to physical and mental tortures.

The current Russian-language book, The Heroic Struggle, is a revision of the original book and includes in it Rabbi Dr. Alter B. Metzger’s appendices, which provide samples of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s writings and discourses and those of his successor on the spiritual significance of imprisonment. It could be a life-enhancing gift for readers of Russian in the Jewish community.

The main section of this book was originally published by FREE in 1980 under the title “Notations of the Arrest” (Reshimat Hamaaser). In the English original several appendices were added. They were written by Rabbi Dr. Alter B. Metzger. The book was published by Kehot in 1999.

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This Book is available online at FREE Publishing House Bookstore.

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