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Breaking Past the Communist Shackles

Yocheved Lavon

Two famous refuseniks born in the Soviet Union under the KGB's prying eyes. One was raised with a rich Jewish heritage, the other had merely a name that would always remind her she was Jewish and a promise that someday she would reach Eretz Yisrael. But both received enough to keep the Jewish spark bright, enough to enable them to live beyond the confines of a repressive regime even while imprisoned in it. Batya Barg and Carmela Raiz share their stories for our special "Beyond the Confines" theme section.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Batya Barg was born in Kiev to parents who had grown to adulthood before the Bolshevik Revolution. Batya’s father, Reb Yehudah Leib Meislik, was an accomplished talmid chacham and her parents’ emunah and yiras Shamayim were rock-solid. As related in her book Voices in the Silence (Feldheim), Batya and her family stubbornly kept every mitzvah and minhag to the extent that they were able, even after Stalin’s harsh regime came to power.

Yet the regime was a reality they were forced to live with. Batya had to attend a Communist school or risk losing her parents to a Siberian prison camp. Even as a first grader, she knew enough halachah to be aware that going to school on Shabbos involved many prohibitions. When she turned to her father for guidance, he was in a quandary. He couldn’t tell her to do melachah on Shabbos. Yet, if he told her explicitly not to write, and she, a little girl, were to mistakenly blurt out that information, she was liable to end up in an orphan home with no parents to guide her at all.

“So,” says Batya, “he told me this: ‘Listen, my darling. You stood at Har Sinai just as I did. You heard the Ten Commandments straight from HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s mouth. Do what you know is right.’”

The outcome was that Batya learned to use her ingenuity to come up with dozens of different excuses to avoid chillul Shabbos at school.

A teenage Batya held undercover meetings with other young Jews, where they would study subversive subjects like “how to daven.” Before each meeting they would say Vidui. Batya knew what she was willing to die for, and what made life worthwhile.


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