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Home for Life

The year 1971 was a fateful one for Rabbi Shlomo Aryeh Niasoff and his family. Rabbi Niasoff was born and raised in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he married and raised a family. After many years of living under communist rule, he decided that it was time to start a new chapter in his life.

He submitted a request to the government for an exit visa for himself, his wife and their four children, and prayed that he would be one of the lucky ones to get out from behind the Iron Curtain. In those days Rabbi Niasoff worked in a factory owned by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gorelick, who also submitted an application for an exit visa at the same time.

One day, Rabbi Gorelick approached Rabbi Niasoff and asked him to accompany him on a trip to the gravesite of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn, the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had spent the final years of his life in exile in Kazakhstan, and was buried there, in the city of Alma Ata. "Among chassidim there is a rumor that praying at the gravesite of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak has a spiritual power that will help us get an exit visa," Rabbi Gorelick told Niasoff. "Would you like to join me?"

Rabbi Niasoff happily agreed, and the next day both of them went on their way. They heard that in Alma Ata there was a chassid named Yosef, who maintained a kosher mikvah in his house. When they reached the city, they found Yosef's house, where they were greeted warmly and granted permission to use the mikvah. From there they made their way to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's grave, where they poured out their hearts in intense prayer.

Within two days, Rabbi Niasoff received an envelope in the mail from the consulate: His family was entered into the list of visa holders. Just like that.

Over the next few weeks, as his family frantically prepared for their emigration from the Soviet Union, Rabbi Niasoff undertook a project of his own: to renovate the gravesite of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. The neglect in the area was terrible. The gravestone was covered with thick mud and weeds. There was a great need to clear the debris and restore the gravestone.

Rabbi Niasoff found a friend, Gavriel Ochonov, who was just the right person for this job. However, at the time he was very ill and was unable to travel to Alma Ata to complete the work. Rabbi Niasoff explained to him the great spiritual power of prayers said at the gravesite of the tzadik. This gave Gavriel the strength to overcome his illness and make the trip to Alma Ata.

Amazingly, within a short time Gavriel himself was helped by this matter. He quickly recovered from his illness, and even received a limited visa to leave the Soviet Union. Years later, after both families had settled in Israel, Rabbi Niasoff and Gavriel Ochonov became relatives through marriage: Gavriel's only son married one of Niasoff's daughters.

After receiving his exit visa, Rabbi Niasoff and his family moved to Israel, and the absorption ministry assigned them to live in Dimona, a southern Israeli town set up for immigrants. However, Rabbi Niasoff wished to live in a Chabad community, which did not exist at the time in Dimona.

At the time, a Chabad neighborhood had recently been constructed in Lod, and friends of Rabbi Niasoff suggested that he apply to settle there. Rabbi Niasoff turned to Rabbi Ephraim Wolf of blessed memory, the head of the development, who told Rabbi Niasoff to write a letter expressing his desire to live in a Chabad community.

A few months passed, and the Niasoff family moved in temporarily with friends of theirs in Bnei Brak, awaiting a response from Rabbi Wolf. But time dragged on with no reply.

Their salvation came from a completely unexpected direction. Rabbi Gorelick, the former employer of Rabbi Niasoff in Uzbekistan, had likewise received an exit visa and was then in New York, visiting the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Gorelick, knowing the straits of his friend Rabbi Niasoff, mentioned his problem to the Rebbe. In response, the Rebbe took a piece of paper out of his desk drawer, wrote something on it and told Rabbi Gorelick that when he would reach Israel, even before going home, he should deliver this paper to Rabbi Wolf in Lod.

Apparently, in the letter the Rebbe instructed Rabbi Wolf to accept the Niasoff family into his development. Shortly after Rabbi Gorelick delivered the letter, Rabbi Wolf contacted Rabbi Niasoff and informed him that he was welcome to move into the Chabad neighborhood in Lod.

However, even after he was accepted Rabbi Niasoff still had another problem: how to pay for an apartment. The solution came quickly, no doubt thanks to the Rebbe's blessing.

Rabbi Niasoff approached the Jewish Agency and asked for their help. "We need 40,000 lira," he explained to the agent. This was the full sum required to buy an apartment. The agent had compassion on this family of recent immigrants and granted them the full sum.

Rabbi Niasoff and his family live to this day in the apartment that he bought then, on Tzemach Tzedek Street in Lod. "I feel that this apartment is a gift from the Rebbe for life, in exchange for my help in restoring the gravesite of his father."



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