web analytics
April 27, 2015 / 8 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


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

YM: Where did they stop you?

RM: They allowed us to come close to the airplane before they emerged from the plane and arrested us on the spot. This way they had real evidence.

The Miracle of Hanukah

YM: What happened once they caught you?

RYM: Their scheme was to have us make a harsh declaration against Zionism. You must understand, a person that came into a KGB prison was like Play-Dough in their hands. They do whatever they want with you. On the spot we were told, at least the leaders, that we would get the death penalty. So they expected us to be broken in order to have us denounce Zionism and tell Soviet Jewry not to be involved anymore in Zionist activities. The death penalty was not as important to them as the performance.

At the trial six months later they tried to stage a big game and they expected us to be compliant actors. They didn’t ask us, they just expected it would happen once we were broken.

Since some of the people were in fact already broken I felt it was a dangerous moment for the cause. However, what happened in the courtroom after half a year of KGB interrogation was nothing short of a miracle. It’s not by chance that this occurred on Hanukah so we’re talking about a real modern day miracle of Hanukah. Rather than denouncing Zionism as the KGB was certain we would do, on the floor of the court twelve people declared that they are true to am yisrael and that they demand from the Soviet Union free emigration! “Let My People Go!” started in this courtroom.

It was a tremendous victory of will against the KGB and the Soviet system. Although all was in their hands, the KGB lost and we won. The moment they arrested us they felt “we did it, they’ve crushed the movement,” and then after half a year they discovered “we did it!” the movement is still alive! However it was not us specifically but it was am yisrael. It was a victory of the Jewish national cause.

The news of what happened in the courtroom reached America, Europe and then the big movement started.

YM: The phrase “let my people go” started with you guys in the courtroom?

RYM: Some people say it started in the 60s in the States. I read a famous book by Gail Beckerman (When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry) and he brings two sides to the story. Although the movement to free Soviet Jews started earlier in the west the real momentum was created that Hanukah in 1970.

People in the west were fighting without getting any response from the other side and then all of the sudden they got a response, a very clear one, a very strong one, which inspired the people in the west to say: “It’s not in vain, it’s not a dream. There really are fighting Jews in Soviet Russia.” That’s when everything really changed.

YM: Did the Jews in Russia hear about it?

RYM: The authorities tried to keep it quiet but still the word got out. Leonid Brezhnev, who was the head of the Soviet regime at the time, sat together with the heads of the Communist Party to discuss the waves of protests and pressure and the possibility of an economic boycott on the Soviet Union. As a result they decided to slowly lift the ban on emigration and within a year of our trial 17,000 Soviet Jews got permission to leave. And believe me, there were 17,000 Jews on the spot that were ready to leave! Then the following year 35,000 Jews got permission to leave.

I assume that when they decided to let a few thousand leave they never thought that more than 10,000 or 20,000 would really want to leave since they believed that most Jews were loyal Soviet citizens. As it turned out this was the beginning of a big bang that created the momentum that led to hundreds of thousands leaving.

Prison

YM: What punishment did you receive?

RYM: They demanded the death penalty for me but since I was the youngest in the group they decided on 15 years for attempted hijacking, 15 years for treason (“betrayal of the Soviet motherland’) and another 7 years for “Jewish activities”, a total of 37 years.

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.

Current Top Story
Children are asleep at last as adults in the Chabad House continue to deal with the crisis in Nepal.
Chabad Co-Emissary in Nepal Hopes for ‘Only Good News’ in Video
Latest Indepth Stories
World Zionist Congress elections end April 30.

Groups promoting anti-Israel/anti-Jewish BDS right on their websites are running in the WZC election

Former New York Governor George Pataki

Pataki is the last Republican Governor to win a majority of Jewish votes.

President Obama

Obama’s desire to be “fair” enables Iran to get nuclear weapons which will threaten global security

israeli-american flags

All GOP candidates will continue seeking – and praying – for Jewish money with greater success.

The one reason to make Aliyah outweighs all the arguments not to move to Israel.

“We returned to this Land not in order to be murdered, or uprooted. We came here to be replanted!”

I don’t fear for the future of our people because I believe Yeshiva University has created an “Iron Dome” of Jewish leadership

Poland’s great Jewish cities where Jewish life had once flourished and thrived, were now desolate

Chief rabbi, Rav Dovid Lau, stated that the Torah community’s turnout in the WZO election is vital.

Iran has at its core the same ideology as that of ISIS but, inaccurately, is thought a lesser threat

An early Yom Ha’atzmaut gathering for Israel’s 67th birthday with Pres. Rivlin of Israel and guests

Israel’s Memorial Day shouldn’t be a day of mourning, it’s a day to honor, not another Holocaust Day

God’s 3 part promise for Israel: to the Avot; a plentiful land; the eventual return home by all Jews

A committed Religious Zionist, he was a sought-after adviser on Zionist affairs around the world.

More important, Mr. Obama is simply acceding to Iran’s position on the timing of the lifting of sanctions.

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: