Under Communist rule, Reb Yona Kahn “Poltaver” risked his life by running all underground branches of Tomchei Temimim in Russia. When Reb Mendel Futerfas asked him about leaving, Reb Yonah shared how he felt about it.
Reb Yona Kahn of Poltave came from a frum family, though they were not chassidim. As a young bochur, the local shochet Reb Pinye Rakshiker advised him to go learn in Lubavitch, where he studied diligently, especially the maamorim of the Rebbe Rashab.
In 5696 (1936), he was appointed by the Frierdiker Rebbe (then in Riga) to be in charge of all the underground branches of Tomchei Temimim in Russia. Where each bochur should learn, the teachers, the fundraising — everything was on his shoulders. He was arrested on 19 Kislev 5708 (1947), and a short time later, he passed away in prison.
When people would complain to Reb Yona that the children refuse to or are scared to learn Torah, he would reply adamantly, “The children are not to blame. Their fears are very well understood. We must say Tehilim from the depths of our hearts, crying and asking Hashem to plant the desire to learn Torah in their hearts.”
Reb Yona was a fine example of this:
Reb Berke Chein needed Reb Yona’s opinion about a matter and visited him in his home. He found him crying and saying Tehilim, and when he asked Reb Yona what had happened, he responded, “I just received a letter from a cheder stating that the children stopped coming to learn, and possibly will not continue. That is why I’m saying Tehilim.”
Reb Mendel Futerfas was very involved in arranging the rescue of Lubavitcher chassidim from Russia after World War II using forged Polish passports. He once related:
During the escape of Lubavitcher chassidim from Russia after the war, we were in the city Lvov and the work was very hard. Things were tense and I had no more strength left physically. In addition, I feared for my safety and the safety of my family.
Because of the situation, I decided to leave with my family on the next train, together with the big group that was planning to depart for Poland. I turned to my good friend Reb Yona Kahn and told him about my thoughts and my decision. Reb Yona listened and then said, “Look me in the eyes, Mendele, look at my eyes very well. Does that mean that mesirus nefesh also has a limit?” His words pierced my heart.
Reb Mendel ended up sending his family out, and he himself remained in Russia for another 17 years.
For sources, visit TheWeeklyFarbrengen.com