On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Footprints: Colorful Lives, Huge Impact, a new photo book by Dovid Zaklikowski, documents the struggles and victories of three Jewish families who lived under the Communist regime.
“There will be no national holiday [marking] the uprising” in Russia, the New York Times reported. The Communist experiment was an unqualified failure, claiming the lives of millions of innocent people. But for religious Jews, it was a particularly terrifying experience.
“In Russia, openly admitting to other people that you were Jewish was a heroic act. In order to be an observant Jew in the Soviet Union, you had to struggle,” says Mrs. Ella Skoblo in a chapter about hergrandfather, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin, chief rabbi of Moscow. “You had to have been in Russia during those times to truly understand what it means to survive from day to day.”
Footprints arrived in the Skoblo home on November 7, the day the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. The chapter about Rabbi Levin is the first official biography of a man who was unfairly demonized as a Communist collaborator by activists in the United States. Mrs. Skoblo smiled as she gave her children copies of the book. Look at this miracle, she said. My children are living a Jewish life a hundred years after the Communists sought to eradicate religious observance.
The book’s twenty chapters, illustrated by 180 photos, tell the stories of Jewish men and women who faced adversity and triumphed. “Every person has a story,” writes Zaklikowski, a researcher known for his biographies. “An understanding of the struggles and successes of our predecessors helps us face the challenges of the future.”
Another chapter tells the story of Reb Chatche Feigin, a leader of the Chabad underground in the USSR who was later murdered by the Nazis. Under the Soviets’ watchful eye, Zaklikowski writes, “a clandestine network of Chabad-Lubavitch schools continued to operate.”
Reb Chatche was the administrator of the schools. His selfless dedication to Jewish education made him heedless of the job’s dangers and difficulties. What pained him most was that he often could not pay the teachers on time. Yet, he was known to say, “Why do we need to worry? At the end of the day, it is not our mission to seek out what will be. We need to do what is incumbent upon us, and G-d will do as He wills.”
The Soviet era represented the ultimate test of faith for observant Jews, a test the Chabad movement passed with flying colors. Footprints provides an intimate look at individuals who fought to keep Judaism alive during one of the darkest periods in our history.