Mrs. Chana Popack, nee Teleshevsky, was born in a small Russian town to her father, Rabbi Mordechai Teleshevsky, a devoted chassid of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn. When Chana, his oldest daughter, was born, he was determined not to send her to Communist schools. He wrote a letter to the previous Rebbe, who advised him to try and leave Russia.
At the time, in 1930, the Rebbe had already left Russia and settled in Riga, Latvia. Rabbi Teleshevsky decided that he would do whatever was in his power to carry out the Rebbe’s directive, although getting an exit visa from Communist Russia was no easy task at that time.
He went to the office of the KGB to request the necessary visa. The clerk merely laughed at him and threw him out of the building. Rabbi Teleshevsky went home and wrote another letter to the Rebbe, asking for his blessing. The Rebbe again wrote that he should make every effort to leave Russia.
The scenario repeated itself six times, with Rabbi Teleshevsky going to the KGB office to request a visa and being harshly refused. On the seventh time, to his surprise, he was granted a visa. As soon as he left the building he ran straight the train station, worried that the officials might still change their mind. He sent a messenger to his home, asking his wife to take the children and meet him at the station. Taking very few of their belongings with them, Mrs. Teleshevsky and the children made their way to the station and boarded the first train to Riga. The Teleshevskys did not relax until the train had crossed the Russian border.
In Riga, they lived near the Rebbe for three years, until 1933. At the time, Riga was home to a large Jewish community with many synagogues and schools for children. The Teleshevskys were happy there and would have been content to settle permanently in Riga. However, one day the Rebbe called them in and asked them to be his personal emissaries to Finland. The Jewish community there had recently sent him a letter, asking him to send someone who could serve as a rabbi, mohel, chazzan and shochet. The Rebbe assured the Teleshevskys that despite their geographical distance, he would be with them in spirit the entire time.
The Teleshevskys accepted the mission that the Rebbe had placed upon them. However, once arriving in Finland, the issue of appropriate schooling for their children arose once again. Although the Finnish were not communist and did not actively suppress religion, there still was no suitable school that would provide the Teleshevsky children with the Jewish education they sought.
Rabbi Teleshevsky again turned to the Rebbe for his advice. The Rebbe recommended that he should send his children back to Riga, to the same schools they had attended before. The children’s grandparents lived in Riga, and they were happy to provide a home for their grandchildren and care for their every need. With tears in their eyes, the parents sent their young children on a ferry boat back to Riga. Their strong desire to provide their children with a Jewish education overcame any other consideration.
Several years passed, and one night young Chana, who was then 11 years old, dreamed that she saw the previous Rebbe. The Rebbe approached her and said that her visa to stay in Riga was about to expire, and she should return immediately with her brother to Finland.
“It was only a dream,” she thought to herself, and tried to push it out of her mind. But the same dream repeated itself the next night. “Chana’le, the papers have already expired. Go back to Finland.”
She awoke confused, with the Rebbe’s voice still ringing in her mind. Still, she did not take action. The third night, it happened again, and she understood it was no mere dream. That morning, before leaving for school, she went to her grandmother and told her about the dream she had had on three consecutive nights. “Why didn’t you tell me that our papers are expiring?” she complained. “Why did the Rebbe have to come to me in a dream to tell me?”
Her grandmother did not try to dismiss the dream or dissuade her from traveling back to Finland. “If this is what the Rebbe told you, my child, then go in peace and G-d will be with you.” Chana took her little brother and they went by train to Estonia, where they waited a full day until they found a ferry to take them to Finland. After several days travel, they reached their destination, where, naturally, there was nobody waiting to greet them. Her parents had no idea that their offspring had undertaken such a risky journey on their own.
After disembarking, Chana and her brother somehow found their way back to their parents’ home. When they entered, their parents were shocked to see them. Chana explained to her parents about the dream she had had, and they all wondered about its meaning.
Only a week later, World War II broke out. The war eventually enveloped Riga, and the Jewish community was deported and taken to extermination camps. There were very few survivors.
Chana still has a picture of the 400 girls who studied with her in the Bais Yaakov girls’ school in Riga, most of whom perished in the Holocaust. The Rebbe had sent the Teleshevsky children to study in Riga, and personally saw to it that they would be rescued from there.
The Jews of Finland were fortunate and were never deported by the Nazis. The Teleshevskys accomplished many great things in the Jewish community there, strengthening Judaism and drawing many of their brethren close to the ways of the Torah.