These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Rabbi Meir Schweiger – An Inspiration to Families Worldwide and His FSU Adventures

Posted on August 1, 2016 by Miriam BenSander

Tags: , , , , , ,

Imagine my family – a Jewish family, a respected family in FSU Moscow in 1983 …

When I was an adolescent my parents decided to return to our Jewish roots and begin to observe traditions again – in a time when that was dangerous. They studied for themselves and tried to teach us, their children – the traditions, laws, Hebrew, Torah etc. All this under the Soviet regime was not simple. Many teachers were persecuted, arrested, and there were expulsions. Soviet Jews waited for the time when a change would come, and they would be able to return to their homeland, Israel.

In the reality of this not so distant past, there were those who considered it their duty to not merely sympathize with the struggle of Russian Jews for their right to learn their mother tongue and to study Torah – there were those who dared to act, and even do completely crazy things – like go to the Soviet Union in order to conduct lessons of Hebrew, Torah, and Gemara.

One evening, my father, Dr. Pinhas Polonsky, told me: “Mash, someone is coming to visit us from Israel. It is necessary that you meet him in the subway station, and bring him home.” I was terribly curious to meet such a brave person who, in spite of the obvious dangers, had decided to come teach us.

I immediately went to the subway station to meet him in a ‘happenstance’ place. I waited humbly for my ‘kind uncle’ who stepped onto the platform in a “typical Russian” warm jacket and pie hat (it was winter). He was easy to pick out of the crowd. I taught English then, and immediately spoke to him in English. He was very happy to have found his ‘contact’ and be off to teach. We went home on the bus, and in the meantime, my family began to gather our friends to listen to his lesson.

That young man was Rabbi Meir Schweiger. What was the lesson? I do not remember. I do remember how we tried to understand his lesson in Hebrew and English.

During the lesson a district police inspector visited us, barking: “Who are all these people? Why are you gathered? Why is there a foreigner with you?” Meir had a visit with the KBG.
Today, I smile remembering these moments and sigh over how everything worked out.

In 1987, our family and friends finally got long-awaited permission to immigrate to Israel. Our dream came true.

For my father and his friends, it meant the beginning of a new spiritual life. Meeting with friends in Israel, including Meir, marked the beginning of a new initiative – Mahanaim, a spiritual center for the absorption of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.

Meir supported, helped, and continued to give lessons to new Russian olim (immigrants to Israel), including old friends of ours. We, my parents’ children, too, have tried to introduce Jewish learning as much as possible to our families and world Jewry. Today, I am a mother of six Israeli girls.

With sincere appreciation for everything Rabbi Meir Schweiger has done and continues to do for the Jewish people everyday,

Miriam BenSander