A wedding in Gorky

Friday, 7 July, 2023 - 7:08 am

I thought that I was beyond being moved by stories of the past. All my life I have heard stories from my parents about their parents and grandparents, about their devotion to Torah, mitzvahs and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness). I heard about their being arrested, exiled, dying young and other travails.

Even a video that was flying around the internet last week, in which my father and his brother tell something of their lives there, in Soviet Russia, didn’t touch me. I’m so familiar with these stories, they are in my bones; I received them as a baby with my mother’s milk.

I do think the past is important, but the future is much more important. The past is interesting, but the future is a thousand times more fascinating; and the main thing is, one can’t influence the past, but the future is there for us to shape. 

That’s what I thought at least until yesterday, when Mussi sent me a picture of herself in Nizhny Novgorod (known in the past as Gorky) in Russia. She was visiting the graves of the chassidim Shlomo and Batya Chaya Yenta Raskin z”l, my father’s grandparents. Both of them died not long after the Second World War, which means, after they had opened their home to all the Jewish refugees who arrived in the city during the terrible years of famine.

My grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski, was active in Gorky as a shaliach of the previous Rebbe, the Rayatz.

My father was born in that same city. 

Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Yael Bergman are the Rebbe’s shluchim to Nizhny. The Bergmans have been ministering to the Jews in Nizhny for 25 years already. They are completely devoted to them, fulfilling every day, every hour, the Rebbe’s mission – to reach every Jew, save any soul, not to give up on anyone, to fulfill the prophecy of Yeshayahu Hanavi: “And you will be gathered up one by one, children Yisrael”. I must emphasize once more: This is not just a poetic statement, not just fine words. It is their work every day and hour. Whoever hasn’t seen the joy of a Chabadnik when he meets a Jew he’s never met before, has never seen such a pure, honest and internal joy in his life. Sometimes the shaliach didn’t know that that Jew existed and sometimes the Jew himself wasn’t aware of his own Jewishness. 

Leah, the Bergmans’ daughter, was married in Nizhny this week, and our Mussi went to participate in her friend’s wedding. She sent us many pictures of the wedding, starting from the preparations and going all the way to the sheva brachot. It was very nice to see all this, and mainly very gladdening for us. 

But the next day we received a picture of Mussi standing next to the graves of the above-mentioned grandparents. This is what she wrote: “I am in Nizhny Novgorod, formerly Gorky, for the wedding of a friend, Bergman. My sweet aunt and uncle, Chani and Itzik Gorelick, came from Kazan and took me today to the gravesite of R. Shlomo and Batya Raskin. I said a few chapters of Tehillim and invited them to [my] wedding. Regards! ❤️

And suddenly, everything came back to me. Nowadays it’s known as a “trigger”. But it was a good trigger, as positive as can be. I suddenly remembered the descriptions of the previous Chassidic wedding there in Nizhny: my grandfather’s wedding, which took place on 17 Tevet 5694 (1934) in that same city, in Gorky. I remember the letter that R. Shlomo Raskin wrote to the Rebbe on the 25th of Tevet 5694:

“…. Your letter with the blessing of Mazel Tov for the wedding day of my daughter, Shima Chasya with the perfect groom, Moshe Wishedski, we received with joy and pleasure. And I hereby announce that with Hashem’s loving-kindness upon us, the wedding took place at a good and successful time, and, Baruch Hashem, we rejoiced on a sublime level.”

He goes on to tell of the important guests at the wedding:

“My honored father shlit”a (R. Chaim Ben Zion Raskin) came and took part in our rejoicing, and among them appeared also my relative… the Ranan (R. Nisan Nemenov).” He writes some more descriptions and asks for blessings for the couple and signs: “Your servant, Shlomo, son of my father, Chaim Ben Zion shlit”a.”

Suddenly all the years became compressed, and everything looked close and real. Mussi, the Chabad school student, is about to marry Yitzchak, a student of Chabad Yeshivas. She is standing at the graves of her father’s great-grandparents and invites them to her wedding, and I see in my imagination how they are looking at her with inner joy and seeing that they were successful, that their way is being perpetuated, that it was worth all the investment; their devotion wasn’t wasted. Generations of sons and daughters stayed within the framework, exactly in the same system. What they did back then, in the 1930’s, their descendants are doing today. The blessings are the same blessings, the prayers the same prayers. 

Can you imagine?

In a letter my grandfather sent from Gorky to the Rebbe (who was already in Poland) after his wedding, he wrote: “… Please bless us that Hashem yitbarach will help us that the structure will be built on the foundations of Torah and mitzvahs.” That is exactly the same request, prayer, beseeching and blessing that Rabbi Shimon and Yael Bergman blessed their daughter and son-in-law under the chuppa, in exactly the same city – with only its name changing from Gorky to Nizhny.

* * *

I still think the future is more interesting than the past.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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