web analytics
September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Apartment 758x530 Africa-Israel at the Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York

Africa Israel Residences, part of the Africa Israel Investments Group led by international businessman Lev Leviev, will present 7 leading projects on the The Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York on Sep 14-15, 2014.



Rabbi Yosef Mendelevitch, Pioneering Russian Refusenik


Rabbi Mendelevitch and Avital Sharansky meet then-President Reagan and Vice President Bush.

Rabbi Mendelevitch and Avital Sharansky meet then-President Reagan and Vice President Bush.
Photo Credit: White House archives

Have you ever wanted to sit and chat with a real life hero? I don’t mean some famous athlete or rock and roll star, although that would certainly be interesting, but rather someone who risked his life for the greater good and displayed a level of courage that most of us could only dream about.

On a recent Saturday night in Jerusalem I was blessed to have such a privilege as I met for an hour with a real life Jewish hero, Rabbi Yosef Mendelevitch. Born in Riga (Latvia) in 1947, the rabbi was part of group of 16 individuals (14 Jewish, 2 non-Jewish) that attempted to hijack an airplane in 1970 as a way to bring world-wide attention to the struggle of Soviet Jewry. Unassuming and low-key on the outside, it was the rabbi’s inner strength and conviction that enabled him to overcome the dreaded KGB and eleven years of prison in Siberia.

Some details of that episode, as well as the events leading up to it and its aftermath, were the main topics of our late night conversation.

Background in Riga

Yoel Meltzer (YM): Growing up in Riga, did you have any Jewish or Zionist awareness?

Rabbi Yosef Mendelevitch (RYM): That’s a complex question with a very complex answer. Latvia at that time was a new republic of the Soviet Union. While the former generation of Jews in Riga grew up under a liberal democratic regime and received Jewish education, we were the first generation in Riga of “Soviet Jewry” and therefore we didn’t receive any Jewish education. Nevertheless, we still didn’t feel like Soviet citizens and somehow I think we were in a better situation than our Jewish peers in Soviet Russia.

My parents spoke Yiddish and we heard lots of stories about the past. They both were from Dvinsk, which was known for several famous rabbis such as Meir Simcha (known as the “Ohr Somayach”), Rabbi Kook and the Rogatchover Gaon.

At the same time my father was a communist and active in Latvia in the communist underground. But being a unique type of “Jewish communist” he would also teach us world history and Jewish history.

Overall Jewish education was prohibited and my parents were not interested in me having any Jewish education.

YM: So when did you start feeling a stronger connection to Israel?

RYM: Good question. About feelings you never know, it’s a process. I wrote a whole book about that trying to analyze certain developments that brought me close.

Nevertheless, if you ask about a certain time it was definitely my experience at Rumbula, a forest near Riga where the Germans killed 28,000 Jews from Riga. It was there that I met with other people and it was there that something started.

YM: How old were you?

RYM: 16 or 17 years old.

A Strong Sense of Purpose

YM: Something lit inside?

RYM: Maybe the very meeting with that place pushed me towards some sort of development. I’m not sure. All I know is that I was involved in a project, externally the rebuilding and taking care of the place, which was an initiative of an underground Zionist movement. They intentionally brought us to the forest in order to start educating us, and that’s how I got involved.

You have to understand that Jabotinsky’s Betar Movement began in the early 1920s in Riga and the people who met us in the forest were members of a regional Latvian Betar movement that had been arrested under the Soviet occupation and subsequently released after Stalin’s death. When they came back to Riga in the early 1960s they were astonished to see the sad condition of the Jewish youth, half-assimilated and far from anything Jewish. So they decided to act and they sought the best way to influence. This was the reason for the meetings in the forest, an act which was of course illegal and had we been caught we would have been punished.

YM: What kind of activities were you engaged in?

RYM: At the beginning there were just meetings in the forest. Then over time you start talking, you meet in an apartment and study Hebrew and listen to Kol Yisrael (Israeli radio), you read all kinds of materials and basically you start attaching yourself to your group.

About the Author: Yoel Meltzer is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem. He can be contacted via http://yoelmeltzer.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “Rabbi Yosef Mendelevitch, Pioneering Russian Refusenik”

  1. Tzvi Fishman says:

    Rabbi Mendelevitch is indeed a true Jewish hero. His book "Unbroken Spirit" should be read by everyone. Especially by our young people who are so desperate for true Jewish heroes of bravery, idealism, and substance. I recommend the book highly.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
ISIS's response to President Obama's warnings came in the form of a movie trailer.
ISIS Sends Obama Fiery Video Response [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
A Gaza building, reportedly used by Hamas, destroyed by the IDF on August 26, 2014.

For too long the media and international community have been preaching that “Palestinians” bear no responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and they are passive victims of the conflict.

The Iron Dome was called on for the first time in 2013 to intercept a missile fired by terrorists in Sinai at Eilat.

Iron Dome intercepted over 1,000 rockets aimed at Israel with a success rate of over 90% in 2014

IDF lone soldier and Ohio native David Menachem Gordon (z"l).

We talked about the responsibility that comes with the pen, its potential to influence and inspire.

Amnesty International:The crippling of the power station was “collective punishment of Palestinians”

Originally scheduled to be held elsewhere, the hotel canceled, pressured by local missionary groups

It’s likely that some of the rebel factions, including US clients, have indeed made pacts with ISIS

Imam Tafsirli of the Harlem Islamic center: “You cannot be a Muslim without believing in Jesus”

If simple fuel choice were implemented, the power of petroleum and those who sell it would cease.

Value of IS: It enables people to see the place to which all other Islamist fascism is headed.

“When Frank does something he does it well and you don’t have to worry about dotting the i’s or crossing the t’s.”

President Obama: “ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents”

he time of the Uman pilgrimage is upon us, and we dare not ignore the opportunity to highlight the danger.

Healing requires that the victim be validated for being harmed and the guilty assume responsibility.

During the war, not once was Hashem’s name mentioned to the nation by Israel’s PM or gov’t officials

More Articles from Yoel Meltzer
Photo: Naftali Bennett

In less than three months time the Jewish Home Party, formerly known as the National Religious Party (NRP), will be holding its first ever internal primaries.

Ayelet Shaked

The co-founder and former chairman of the MyIsrael (Yisrael Sheli) national movement, the recipient of the 2012 Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism and a close associate of Naftali Bennett – the two worked together in the office of Benjamin Netanyahu prior to the 2009 elections – Shaked is raising some eyebrows due to the fact that she, unlike Bennett, is a secular candidate for HaBayit Hayehudi -a traditionally religious party.

On his attempt to hijack an airplane in 1970 to bring attention to the struggle of Soviet Jewry: “Sometimes it happens in your life that you simply feel it’s the right thing to do.”

“We need to work on instilling a good strong Jewish-Zionist identity in all of the children in Israel and not only in the religious ones. In other words we need to stop looking inward and start focusing on all of Am Yisrael.”

Rabbi Zuriel: “With the ingathering of the exiles, we need a Sanhedrin to implement various changes since Judaism is a developing matter; it’s supposed to be dynamic. He showed me in one of his works twenty items that the Tosafot changed. Today however, he added, we’re like the Karaites, we don’t want to change.

For anyone who is sick of the lies and hypocrisy – be it in Israel or the world – and really wants to work for change, it’s not enough to simply stand on the street corner and shout the truth. How something is said or how someone looks while performing an act frequently has more impact than anything else in the eyes and ears of the viewer.

Most Israelis understand that the funding of Israeli organizations by foreign governments is a way to enable these governments to advance their agenda of delegitimizing Israel.

Commenting on the role the sovereign nation-state plays in the western world compared with the Islamic world, the late Samuel P. Huntington, in his classic study The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order, wrote: “The structure of political loyalty among Arabs and among Muslims generally has been the opposite of that in the modern West. For the latter the nation state has been the apex of political loyalty.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/an-interview-with-rabbi-yosef-mendelevitch-pioneering-russian-refusenik/2012/06/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: