Arie (Lova) Eliav, one of Israel’s most decorated citizens, born in the Soviet Union, in 1924, was a Knesset Member and leader of the Labor party. He served as the First Secretary at the Israeli embassy in Moscow. Eliav died on May 30, 2010, at age 88.
The old Shuk in Samarkand is one of the most colorful and bustling places in Uzbekistan. This is especially so before May first, the great spring festival of the nations of the Soviet Union. Thousands of people, from every part of the Uzbek Republic, are on hand to see the great parade, and the squares are crowded with throngs of people.
Many of the carpet sellers are Bukharian Jews, an exotic tribe that has been in the profession for generations, and now, under Soviet rule, went from private ownership to state owned commerce.
As I wandered the narrow streets of the bazaar, I saw an apparition that appeared to have come from a different planet. He was an old Jew of about eighty, bent, white beard, lined countenance, wearing a Chasidic long black coat, old and worn, and old half – boots. He was standing behind a small stand and selling an variety of small items. The whole portable stand was tied to a broad leather strap that was draped loosely over his shoulders.
It was apparent to me that he was not a native Bukharian. He was Ashkenazic, a European, a typical Chabad Chasid.
He was so out of place in this Eastern Bazaar, so alien, that his very presence there evoked my sympathy. Indeed, I noticed that not a single customer approached him. He stood there alone, sad, like a total stranger, amidst the hustle-bustle going on around him.
As I looked at him, I the image of my father came to my mind – the same height, the same beard, the same facial features, and, especially, the same wonderful Jewish eyes.
I went up to him and said in Yiddish: “Shalom Aleichem, Reb Yid.”
The man jumped. He looked at me suspiciously and then replied in a cautious whisper: “Aleichem Shalom.”
I asked: “Reb Yid, what do you have to sell?”
He pointed out his merchandise: shoelaces, hairpins, cheap perfume, combs, matches, and the like.
I asked: “Nu, how is a Yid getting along?”
He answered with two quick questions: “Where are you from? What are you doing here?”
I replied: “I am from Eretz Yisroel, and I am touring.”
The Chasid was flabbergasted. He leaned on his stand and emitted a long and heartfelt Oy . . .
I bought a pair of black shoelaces. The old Chasid held my hands and looked deeply into my eyes.
Suddenly he said: “Buy something else, so you won’t arouse suspicion. You are the first Israeli I ever saw in my life and surely also the last. I must speak to you!”
As I pretended to scrutinize his wares and he pretended to help me, he told me his story.
“Two of my sons were killed in the war, while serving in the Red army. With my wife and youngest son I traveled to Siberia. There I was arrested for religious activism and exiled to a labor camp in the far North, where I spent thirteen years at hard labor: cutting trees, digging coal and laying railway tracks. Look at me: next year I will be sixty five.”
I looked at him, stupefied.
“Yes”, he continued, “I know that I look like eighty. This is the price that I paid in the labor camps . . . After the wicked one died, I was freed, but I was only permitted to live in Samarkand, with my wife. This is how I make a living.”
And then, in a barely audible whisper, he breathed his name . . .
I knew very well who it was that he wanted me to tell about this encounter . . .
Suddenly his eyes filled with tears and he said: “Shehechyanu VeKimanu VeHiganu Lizman HaZeh.”