Excerpts From a Letter From R’ Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin to His Children

Dearest Kinderlach,

As Yom Kippur approaches and we make a cheshbon hanefesh of the past year, in addition to recognizing where we went wrong, we also need to recall our accomplishments. Not in order to feel smug about them but to thank Hashem for giving us the zechus to fulfill our purpose in life, and take chizuk from our successes to go on to higher levels.

Even here in this dark cold place we were able with Hashem’s help to accomplish things in tefilah and Torah. We succeeded in having a minyan every day for mincha, and a few times a week for shacharis. (Veteran prisoners with “experience” warned us that these things couldn’t happen in the place called Prison.)

We also organized a shiur in Gemoroh berabim at mincha. We made a siyum on Maseches Megilah and will soon do the same b’ezras Hashem on Maseches Brochos. We also increased the shiurim we learn with one another. All this is mechazek us in the reality that Hashem is everywhere and we can serve Him in whatever matzav we find ourselves in, with simcha and geshmak. Even in this dark place devoid of kedusha, a person can connect with Hashem Yisborach and feel His love.

The key is placing one’s trust in Him to overcome whatever nisoyon one is given.

Let me share with you a number of things that that made this Rosh Hashanah especially inspiring, and strengthened me in this path of bitachon. It also taught me about the power of ahavas Yisroel to transform a person’s matzav.

I was looking forward erev Rosh Hashanah to calling all you kinderlach to give each one a brocha and wish you a kesiva vachasimah tova. Sounds pretty simple, right? But making a phone call here is anything but simple. Two phones for hundreds of inmates. Talking time is limited to 15 minutes. And after each call you must wait 30 minutes before making the next one, as per regulations. (Turns out that it takes even longer since the two phones are shared by so many prisoners!) To make things more difficult, the phones are shut down from 3:30 to 4:30.

So it was getting close to 5 p.m. and it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to talk to all of you before yom tov.

Prisoners are allowed to leave the barracks at set times each day, at 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30. They gave special allowance for the Yidden to go to the chapel to prepare for davening at 5 p.m. But since I needed to call Mommy and the younger kinderlach I decided to go a few minutes later, at the 5:30 “move.” Boruch Hashem I was able to reach everyone and wish each one a kesiva vachasima tova.

Little did I realize there would be a price to pay!

To my surprise, they didn’t announce a move at 5:30 as is routine. When I asked an officer when the move would be announced, he told me there are no more moves for this evening. I was speechless. I explained that it’s Rosh Hashanah tonight and I must be in the chapel. At first he shrugged… not his problem. But something in my face made him change his mind and he went to the office to try to get permission for me to go to the chapel. He returned saying the lieutenant refused. The answer was no.

I was close to despair. There I was in a barrack with people sitting around in an atmosphere I can’t even describe… as remote as possible from any hint of the yom tov that was about to begin. How could I go into Rosh Hashanah like this? My neshama needed to be in that chapel with my people, davening!

I looked at the steel door and thick barred windows which separated me from the minyan . At that moment it embodied all the bitter separations from my family and friends in this terrible place. And now, within these concrete walls, I was even being cut off from other Yidden where I so much needed to be.

With no recourse, I went to my cell, trying not to feel depressed about this being the first year in my life that I would miss hatoras nedorim and davening with a minyan on Rosh Hashanah. I asked Hashem to help me even though it seemed impossible to budge the officer. I placed my trust in Hashem Yisborach, said some Tehillim and started to learn some divrei Torah about Rosh Hashanah.

I realized that I could use the time to call Meir Simcha and wish him a kesivah vachasima tova. I reached him but didn’t share with him the gloomy matzav I was in. Suddenly, about 15 minutes to shkiya, I heard my name being shouted by the officer. I grabbed my machzor and dashed to the office, hardly daring to hope.

“Okay, we’re gonna make a move for you,” the officer told me.

I wasn’t asking questions. As soon as the door opened, I hurried to the chapel, spotting my good friend, Moshe through the barred window. When he caught sight of me, he laughed with pleasure and started dancing. He told me how they all were very concerned for me and many had asked the chaplain to intercede for me so I’d be allowed to come to the chapel. One person told me had davened for me in Shemona Esrai that I should be able to join them.

Boruch Hashem I was able to do hatoras nedorim and bring in Rosh Hashanah with more than a minyan of Yidden, who all need a big yeshuah.

Dear kinderlach, from everything we see and hear we can take a lesson in our avodas Hashem. Here the lesson is twofold: the power of bitochon in Hashem and our ahavas Yisroel that can move mountains. Just like the Yidden on the other side of the metal prison door displayed their love for a fellow Yid and accomplished a real turnaround, the ahavas Yisroel so many Yidden are showing me and our family in feeling our plight and davening to Hashem to send His yeshuah, will surely accomplish remarkable things.

And just as my name was shouted suddenly to notify me I was to go to the chapel to join the other Yidden for Rosh Hashanah, so too I believe b’emunah shleimah that a summons will come suddenly without warning, to notify me of my release to freedom… B’ezras Hashem Yisborach, we will sing and dance with boundless simcha to thank Him for all His nissim in freeing me and reuniting us, even before this Yom Kippur haboh oleinu letovah!

Gmar chasimah tovah,

Love, Tatty