-- Chapter from She Shall Be Praised -- The Scent of Freedom Chapter from She Shall Be Praised -- The Scent of Freedom
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  Chapter 31 from
She Shall Be Praised
The faith and courage of extraordinary women

By Avraham Erlanger 

Other Available Chapters
23  45  62  77  91 

The Scent of Freedom

In Eretz Yisrael, a gentle spring breeze carried the intoxicating fragrance of flowers -- and fresh-baked matzah. Everything heralded the coming of the festival of freedom.

In Russia, the situation was very different. The atmosphere was icy and inhospitable, and the rivers ran crimson with blood. Mitzvah observance came along with a risk that was literally life threatening. Mrs. Gita Zilber had firsthand experience with this. She was one of those who sacrificed everything in order to keep the precious mitzvos and to educate her children in the Torah’s ways.

The consequences of her choices soon became evident. Gita was fired from her job and subjected to K.G.B. interrogation. She was beaten and tortured, and she stood in imminent danger of death -- but she was not afraid. She was living the way her G-d required her to live.

Gita’s two young children were left alone for long hours, separated from their parents. Indeed, they had not seen their father for many days. He was in prison, paying his debt to society. His crime was labeled -- in the words of the Communist regime -- “dangerous incitement”: In other words, he was an observant Jew. Gita was forced to be both mother and father to her children, and to worry about her husband at the same time. When not being persecuted by the K.G.B., she was working. She needed to earn a living for her family, while concealing the fact that her husband was behind bars. For who would wish to hire the wife of a criminal?

Pesach was approaching, but there was no scent of baking matzah in the air. Matzos were prepared secretly, in hidden rooms. The Communists recognized no Chosen People; indeed, they recognized no People at all, only a single nation of Soviet citizens. And yet, despite all the danger, it would never occur to these believing Jews to eat chametz on Pesach, or to neglect the mitzvah of eating matzah.

In a well-hidden room, the loyal Gita baked 50 pounds of matzah for her husband and all the Jewish prisoners incarcerated with him. Then she faced the real challenge: finding a way to transfer the matzos from her secret bakery to the lion’s jaws -- the Soviet prison.

She placed her treasury of well-wrapped matzos in a wheelbarrow, and proceeded to make her way along quiet side streets. Suddenly, a policeman accosted her.

“What do you have in that wheelbarrow?” he demanded.

“Why, they’re cakes, in honor of my son’s birthday,” Gita answered serenely, praying inwardly that the officer remain deaf to the pounding of her heart.

The policeman looked skeptical. Gita hastened to explain. “Sir, I am a schoolteacher. I have many students. I teach physics, but in the course of my studies I also learned how to be an electrical engineer. I work very hard, officer. Yesterday I spent hours cleaning the house. It’s really sparkling today -- ”

This stream of talk was calculated to confuse the policeman -- but the Soviet police do not confuse easily. The officer began beating Gita, and tried to drag her and her wheelbarrow away with him. She planted her feet in the frozen snow, trying not to think about what would happen if she, too, were thrown into prison. What would become of her children? And her husband -- where would he get matzos for Pesach? As these fears whirled inside her head, Gita continued babbling in short, disjointed sentences.

The officer, losing patience with the stubborn woman, summoned another policeman to assist him. To his surprise, the second officer instructed him to let her go. Breathless at this unexpected reprieve, Gita hastened on her way. That day, with a great deal of Heavenly guidance, she succeeded in transferring the matzos to her husband and his fellow prisoners.

“Do you know who that second officer was?” Gita Zilber would end the story. “I’m positive that it was Eliyahu HaNavi, come to rescue me!”

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