In the 1980s, during the last years of the Brezhnev regime, the Chassidic
underground in Russia had yielded a crop of young returnees to Jewish practice.
These were Russian youth from secular Jewish homes who had been exposed to the
Chassidic lifestyle and had adopted it.
To spark their enthusiasm and increase their knowledge, the Lubavitcher
Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, obm, began sending pairs of rabbis to
Russia, each one for a stint of several weeks. Through the work of these
emissaries, the Chabad activities expanded even further. Moscow, the city which
boasted Russia's largest Jewish population, was one of the centers of Lubavitch
At that time there was only one mikvah in the Russian capital, in the
main shul known as the Choral Synagogue on Archipova St.
For this and other reasons, in 5746 (1986) the Chassidim decided to build
a mikvah in Moscow's Chassidic shul, Marina Roscha. One of the Chassidim, Sasha
Lukatsky, took charge of the project, hiring black-market builders who secretly
borrowed building supplies from the nearby regional headquarters of the KGB.
This enabled them to complete the mikvah in an attractive fashion.
However, a mikvah requires more than just builders and materials.
Rabbinical supervision is necessary. Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum of S. Paul,
Minnesota, had built many mikvaos in outlying cities, and was contacted with
regard to the mikvah in Moscow. Upon the Rebbe's direction, Rabbi Meir Posen, a
London-based Rabbinical expert who had built many mikvaos, was also contacted. A
freak accident, prevemted Rabbi Posen from going to Moscow. He drew up the plans
for the mikvah and gave directions for Rabbi Grossbaum, who went to Moscow to
complete the project.
Rabbi Grossbaum arrived in Moscow in the summer of that year, just before
the Hebrew month of Av. According to Jewish law, the first nine days of Av are
days of mourning, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples
in Jerusalem. There are certain restrictions against building during these days.
For this reason, the Moscow Chassidim were surprised to receive a message from
the Rebbe telling them to hurry and try to complete the mikvah during this
Later, they realized the reason. The KGB had learned of the plans to
build the mikvah, and had established a lookout across from the shul to check if
any suspicious activity was going on. All those agents were given a week-long
summer holiday, precisely during these nine days!
When the mikvah was completed, pictures were smuggled out and brought to
the Lubavitcher Rebbe. At the time, there were certain Chassidim who wanted to
publicize the evidence of this observance by the Jews in Russia. The Rebbe,
however, advised against doing so, maintaining that this would have negative
Directly after the mikvah was opened, the Russian government learned of
its existence and threatened to demolish it. The Lubavitch women tried to
prevent this by promising to lie down in front of the entrance and physically
block the bulldozers with their bodies.
Their achievement, though heroic, was short-lived. The KGB was intent on
destroying the mikvah. Ultimately, agents broke into the shul at night, smashed
the pipes, filled the mikvah with rubble and paved its top with cement. As a
finishing touch, they covered it with decorative parquet flooring.
When Rabbi Berl Levy and other Chassidim in New York heard what had happened,
they asked the Rebbe whether they should now publicize the pictures of the
mikvah and inform the world of its destruction. The Rebbe counseled against this
course of action. "The mikvah was destroyed by underlings," he told the
Chassidim. "When the higher ups learn what happened, they will volunteer to
rebuild the mikvah themselves. If this is made a point of international
controversy, however, the mikvah will not be rebuilt."
The Rebbe did, however, agree to have the story told to several
Congressmen and Senators who were involved in the struggle for human rights in
the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, Sasha and other members of the Lubavitch
community in Moscow put pressure on the local authorities to permit the mikvah
In the spring of the following year, the Russian Minister of Religion
made an international tour, trying to demonstrate that there was freedom of
religion in the Soviet Union. Wherever he held a press conference, Lubavitch
arranged for someone in the audience to ask about the mikvah in the Marina
After a year these efforts bore fruit, and the Russian authorities agreed
to reopen the mikvah. To save face, they announced that they were closing the
mikvah in the Choral Synagogue. So as not to leave an entire city without a
mikvah, they announced, they would allow one to be opened in the Marina Roscha
The authorities called Sasha and told him he could rebuild the mikvah.
Sasha told them adamantly that he would not; the KGB would have to rebuild it!
They were the ones who destroyed it, and they would be the ones to rebuild it.
Two weeks later, a group of Russian builders arrived at the shul with the
necessary equipment. They dug out the cement and rubble and repaired the pipes.
Within a short while, the mikvah was open. The decorative parquet floor was also
preserved, and now graces the platform where the Torah is read!