"And tell your son..."
From the 1950s to the 1970s, there were still many people who learned Jewish traditions at their mothers' knees in Leningrad. Some of them were so devoted to follow the commandments that they made ends meet for their families by doing odd jobs, but refused any job that did not allow to follow the Shabbat. Reb Mordekhay Razran, for example, was such a Jew. Having moved to Leningrad with his family in the early 1930s, he did odd jobs for 10 years. In the beginning of the war, Mordekhay Razran was called up to a labor battalion; however, in two weeks they had to demobilize him because for that fortnight he had not eaten even a bit of non-kosher food. In 1945, when the Razrans came back from the evacuation, Rabbi Lubanov invited the head of the family to the synagogue. Razran became a shoykhet and shames. From that time until his death, Reb Mordekhay Razran provided all the Leningrad Jews who followed Kashrut with meat.
Like many other elderly Jews, Reb Mordekhay wanted very much for his children to follow Jewish religious traditions. However, the children got higher education and worked for some designing enterprises; they were afraid of losing their jobs and getting into other trouble. While the family lived in "communal" flat (a flat in which kitchen and toilet facilities are shared by a number of tenants) Razran was not able to gather a minyan at home. However, shortly before Pesach, they baked matzoth in the shared kitchen; and when one of the sons got married they improvised a Khuppa out of the table-cloth tied to four shelves with its corners, just at home. In the 1960s, the family managed to receive a separate apartment in an exchange; the apartment was situated in the ground floor, but that did not embarrass the Razrans family. When they gathered a minyan, they curtained off the windows so nobody could see the minyan from the outside. They do the same when boys came to Reb Mordekhay to learn Tanakh.
Not many students came to Reb Mordekhay - 3 or 4 boys from families who considered it necessary, in spite of any persecution, to hand the ethnic traditions down to the children. Reb Mordekhay taught the children the same way he himself was taught at cheder. As they studied Tanakh texts, they learned Hebrew, the religion tradition, and the ancient history of Jewish people without dividing their studies into separate disciplines. In the circles organized in the later 1960s by young people oriented toward emigration to Israel, studies were structured differently. Their studies were organized in circles like the Ulpans; and the students called them Ulpans. For security reasons, few students studied in each such circle. They gathered in private apartments.
Sometimes, in the suburbs, they organized more numerous circles. The Ulpans established in 1967 in Repino and Lisiy Nos were the most numerous. They operated on Sunday. They studied Hebrew and the history of Jewish people in those Ulpans. Future emigrants the most interested to study those subjects. The quality of the teaching in the Repino ulpan was rather high; there were rather many followers of Lia Lurie amongst the teachers; the students took exams at the end of the course. The teaching was not so good in Lisiy Nos and the students did not learn Hebrew so well. The teachers in Lisiy Nos were those who had finished a primary course in Hebrew shortly before.
Rabbi Mordekhay Razran. Photo