VERY SPECIAL "TEFILIM" IN BERDICHEV
(a real story)
In the 1980’s, Rabbi Israel Aharon Ceitlin visited Russia. One day, in the synagogue in Moscow, he found a “Shojet” (ritual slaughterer) that when heard the name of Rabbi Ceitlin asked: "Are you a relative of certain man called Ceitlin, who was arrested 50 years ago in Berdichev?" "Yes" Rabbi Ceitlin replied. "He was my father Z’L" The young “Shojet”, Moshe Tamarin, told the following story: "A few weeks ago, I received a call from an old man, Reb Refoel Brook, asking me to send a “Shojet” to his city, before the holidays. He told me that he had 15 Jewish families living in Saratov and that they only ate ate “kosher” food. I went there. The journey lasted 17 hrs in train. When I finished the “shejitá” of chickens, the man showed me a couple of "tefilím" that he kept always with him. They were very old and were in worn conditions. He asked me if I could bring them to Moscow to verify and see if they were “kosher"
"Why you use such old “Tefilim”?" I asked. "I can get for you other quite better" I have another “tefilín” that I use every day. But these “Tefilim" are very special. I call them "the Tefilim Mesirut Nefesh (self sacrifice)..." And he recounted: "Many years ago, with five other boys, we used to study in a clandestine Yeshiva Lubavitch in Berdichev.
The conditions of the "Yeshiva" were almost appalling. At night, seeking a basement or an abandoned train wagon we tried to sleep. We fed ourselves badly, but preferred to suffer, but to learn Torah. One night, staying in the synagogue, during the “Iortzait” of Rabbi Zalman Shneur from Liadi [founder of Chabad and author of Tanya], covering all the windows to avoid anyone to see us from outside, we put a white table cloth and began the “Farbrenguen”.
We heard stories of the master and deep concepts of the Chassidic philosophy. The melodies we sang transported us to a world without fear. Suddenly, we heard hard blows at the door. ‘Open! ’ yelled a voice in Russian. In a few seconds, we managed to hide in different places. When agents entered, they found us and immediately arrested everybody.
The excuse that we had prepared was, we were all orphans. After a few days, they sent us to an orphanage in the outskirts of the city. They warned us that, if we continued studying Torah and observing “Mitzvot" they will punish us. Despite the beatings, we didn’t eat any non-kosher food. Meanwhile, the local “Chassidim”, did everything they could to liberate us. We used the daily walk, they allowed us, to pray in front of the tomb of Rabbi Yitzhak Levi in Berdichev.
Once, a man has passed and threw away a note. The note reported that they put a couple of “tefilín” hidden in certain tree of the forest. We also received Sidurim and other texts. Since then, we went in couples to walk. passed nearby the tree (where the “tefilim” were hidden). and with great “mesirut nefesh”, we dressed the “Tefilím”. A month after, we found a new note. We had to prepare to escape in a certain date. According to the plan, in the forest somebody will be waiting for us, with train tickets to Kiev.
At Kiev, we were separated, staying in different “Yeshivot Tomjei Tmimim”. "These are the “Tefilím” that we used in the forest..." Moshe Tamarin recalled that one of the names that Reb Refoel had mentioned was Yehoshua Heshel Ceitlin. The Rabbi Ceitlin was deeply moved. His father had counted the history of the “Tefilim”. His father recalled the names of the five other boys, but he only knew the whereabouts of four of them.
He regretted, not knowing what had happened with Reb Refoel. The mystery of the whereabouts of the sixth boy was solved now, thanks to a special pair of “tefilim” . The Rabbi Ceitlin could not share the news with his father, because he had died two years before. But, he decided that he would contact Reb Refoel. After much effort, Rabbi Ceitlin could locate him by phone. The emotion of both was fantastical. The Rabbi Ceitlin urged Reb Refoel to leave Russia.
He suggested him to pass his last years in an atmosphere of Torah and with his "old friends." "Who will take care of the 15 Jewish families from here, if I leave?" Reb Refoel asked to Rabbi Ceitlin. When Rabbi Ceitlin commented to his father’s friends, that he had found Reb Refoel, they enthusiastically decided to arrange a visit to their friend in Russia. Unfortunately, as the own Reb Refoel suspected, the emotion was too big, and he died days prior to the meeting.