Remembering Two Mesiras Nefesh Yidden

L-R: Reb Moshe Katznellenbogen and Reb Yosef Volovik, a"h

By Hershel Rosenbluh for

Although a generation apart, Reb Moshe Katznellenbogen and Reb Yosef Volovik both showed Jews in the free world that even in Soviet Russia a yid can grow to be a talmid chochom and chossid.

Reb Moshe Katznellenbogen

Known as Maish’ke Sarah’s, Reb Moshe Katznellenbogen passed away on this day (8 Elul) in 5774/2014, at the age of 83. He had been quite active in his mother Mumme Sarah’s activities to help thousands escape the Soviet Union to freedom in 5706/7-1946/7. He was arrested, together with his mother and sent to Siberia. Sarah died in prison before Pesach, 5712/1952, and Moshe – her son – was later sent to Siberia, after spending a year in a Georgian prison.

Reb Moshe spent years in several Siberian prisons and somehow managed to avoid being mechallel Shabbos and to avoid eating chometz on Pesach. Once released after Stalin’s death in 1953, Reb Moshe also managed to find work that kept him from working on Shabbos. For the next 18 years, he also managed to live a life of somewhat normal yiddishkeit without being forced to be mechallel Shabbos and Yom Tov or eat chometz on Pesach.

Reb Moshe was involved in the transfer of documents, etc. from Russia to the outside world, and vice versa. One of those special packages was the Tanya of Rav Levi Yitzchok, the Rebbe’s father, with the margins filled with he’oros (comments), which Rebbetzin Chana left behind for fear of being caught. Reb Moshe was the one transferred it to the Israeli embassy who sent it to the Rebbe.

In Russia, Reb Moshe was also very involved with learning Torah with students and being mekarev them to Yiddishkeit. One prize talmid of Reb Moshe’s was Professor Dovid Kazhdan, who later taught at Harvard University and became a full Baal Teshuvah.

In 5731/1971, Reb Moshe was allowed to leave the USSR, where he made his way to London, where his brother Reb Yehoshua “Heish’ke” Raskinzol gezunt zein – lived. There he raised a beautiful family, with many of them shluchim all over the world.

Upon his first visit to the Rebbe, Reb Moshe was told to visit Reb Moshe Feinstein and redd in lernen with him, so that Reb Moshe could see that Jews in Russia study Torah even under the most difficult circumstances.

Reb Yosef Volovik, a”h.

Another chossid, albeit from a later generation, who also was raised under harsh circumstances, but managed to grow into a chossid and talmid chochom was Reb Yosef Tzvi “Yoske” Volovik, who was born in the Soviet Union after WWII and who passed away on 8 Elul in 5777/2017, at the age of 71. Despite having never learned in Yeshiva he was no less learned than the finest products of the best yeshivos.

Raised in a home of mesiras nefesh, his father was Reb Chaim Volovik, or Chaim Ramener, as he was known in Lubavitch, who was actively involved in the mass escapes from Russia in 5706-7/1946-7. His mother was the daughter of the chossid Reb Eli Eber of Krasnaluk. For years the authorities were looking for Reb Chaim. Yoske was a brilliant child who mastered sections of Tanya ba’al peh and was well versed in Shas and poskim.

As a bochur, Yoske taught in the underground yeshiva in Samarkand. His students, when they got out of Russia, were on the same level – if not on a higher level – than boys their age in Eretz Yisroel. This, despite the fact that their melamed never learned in a proper yeshiva and was always looking over his shoulder to see if somebody wasn’t watching.

Arriving in New York in 5731/1971, Reb Yoske was immediately delegated the mission of bringing the light of Torah and yiddishkeit to the many Russian immigrants that were arriving in this country. F.R.E.E., the organization founded two years prior to help immigrants from the Soviet bloc acclimate in the United States, needed young men like him to help with their holy work. For over 45 years Reb Yoske was involved in FREE’s activities.

In the FREE shul, he was the Rosh hamedabrim, despite not having an “official” position as rov or mashpia. But if you needed anything, Reb Yos’ke was the one to get in touch with. Spiritual or Material. “He was a very geshmake yid,” one mispallel there told “Moleh V’Godush, I still miss him,” he added. Reb Yoske left behind a beautiful family, bonim u’vnei bonim, following in his ways.

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  1. Received this via email:
    When he was in Yechidus the first time, the Rebbe asked him; מען זאגט אויף אייך אז איר זייט בקי אין אלטן רבינ’ס שולחן ערוך and R’ Moishe, in his Russian manner, shrugged his shoulders, so the Rebbe continued; איך האב דאס געהערט דא ביי דעם טיש און בדרך כלל וואס מען זאגט דא איז אן גוזמאות

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