web analytics
May 25, 2015 / 7 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Mendelevich: ‘Educating Young Jews Is at the Core of my Being’


Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich

Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich

In Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage and Survival (Gefen Publishing), the newly released English translation of his memoir, internationally renowned former Soviet refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich tells a compelling story of struggle and victory. He spoke to The Jewish Press during his recent U.S. book tour.

The Jewish Press: You’d already published your memoir in Hebrew years ago. Why an English version at this particular time?

Rabbi Mendelevich: A group of American Jews who were involved in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry came up with this idea about a year ago. Pamela Cohen, the president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews from 1986 through 1996, called and asked me why I never published my book in English. She and others like her saw my life as more than a simple story. It is the story of a young boy struggling to find his Jewish identity in a spiritual wasteland and of a young man challenging the draconian dictates of the Communist monolith in a struggle for freedom.

She came to the conclusion that my story published in English would inspire young and often alienated Jews searching for their own identity.

Describe your life as a young child in Stalinist Russia.

I grew up as an atheist. My parents were not interested in me having a Jewish education. My father was involved in the Communist underground in Riga, but both my parents spoke Yiddish and I was taught Jewish history. Back then in the Soviet Union Jewish tradition did not exist but Riga was the center of the renaissance of the Jewish movement. Before World War II, books were published in Russian about the great Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

In the 1960s an underground movement of Jews supporting Israel began to take hold. One could tell the difference between life under Stalin and life under Khrushchev. You could sit in jail forever under the Stalin government for learning about Jewish culture, language and thought. In 1963, the first book on Jewish vocabulary was printed and many books on Hebrew poetry served as a catalyst for Jews to become closer to their identity. It was like a miracle.

When did you take an interest in activism on behalf of Israel and Jews?

While still a teenager, I gravitated toward activism in 1964. I attended a technical college for four years and studied electronics and computers. I worked as an engineer in a big plant in Riga, and in terms of technology it was advanced. The moment I became an engineer, I wanted to leave the Soviet Union and go to Israel. I had a big decision to make. If I obtained my degree I would have to stay in the Soviet Union forever, so I sacrificed my career by not getting the degree. It boiled down to either staying in the Soviet Union or living as a free man whose destiny is in his hands.

Where was your life heading after you finished your studies?

In 1968 I was fired from my job as an engineer for inquiring about emigrating to Israel. At that juncture I was also heavily involved in various Zionist organizations and in 1969 I assumed the position of editor of a national journal on Jewish issues. Everything had to be top secret so we met clandestinely in forests or perhaps in someone’s apartment. I was in charge of deciding what to write and what articles to publicize, and it was sent all over the Soviet Union. We had only published two issues before my arrest.

Why did you hijack a plane in 1970?

Soviet antipathy toward Israel continued to increase in the years following the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli soldiers were called hooligans in the Soviet press but we in the Jewish underground only yearned for the freedom to go to Israel, study in yeshiva and be part of the Zionist dream. We decided to hijack a plane to the West to spotlight our plight, even though we knew how risky it was. While undertaking this action, we dreamed about fighting in the Golani Brigade in Israel. We also wanted to counter the incessant Soviet propaganda that told the world there was no Jewish issue in Russia and that Jews were very happy to be proud Soviet citizens. We wanted the world to know there was a growing number of Jews who wanted to connect to their Jewish heritage, to study Hebrew and dedicate themselves to studying Torah.

About the Author:


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.

No Responses to “Mendelevich: ‘Educating Young Jews Is at the Core of my Being’”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Israeli-flag
A Palestinian State in the West Bank – World Hypocrisy
Latest Indepth Stories
Israeli-flag

U.S and European demands for the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank is world hypocrisy.

Harris-052215

We take a whole person approach, giving our people assistance with whatever they need.

Shalev and Rabbi Levinger

During my spiritual journey I discovered G-d spoke to man only once, to the Jewish people at Sinai

MK Moshe-Feiglin

20 years after the great Ethiopian aliyah, we must treat them like everyone else; no better or worse

Connecting Bamidbar&Shavuot is simple-A world without Torah is midbar; with Torah a blessed paradise

Many Black protesters compared Baltimore’s unrest to the Palestinian penchant of terrorism & rioting

She credited success to “mini” decisions-Small choices building on each other leading to big changes

Shavuot 1915, 200000 Jews were expelled; amongst the largest single expulsions since Roman times

Realizing there was no US military threat, Iran resumed, expanded & accelerated its nuclear program

“Enlightened Jews” who refuse to show chareidim the tolerance they insist we give to Arabs sicken me

Somewhat surprisingly, the Vatican’s unwelcome gesture was diametrically at odds with what President Obama signaled in an interview with the news outlet Al Arabiya.

The recent solid victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party produced something very different.

The reaction is so strong that nine times out of ten, parents engage in some form of coping mechanism before arriving at a level of acceptance of a special-needs diagnosis.

“…his neshamah reached out to us to have the zechus of Torah learning to take with him on his final journey.”

More Articles from Fern Sidman
book-new-anti-semitism

Because she is keenly aware that anti-Semitism may start with the Jews but never ends with the Jews, she makes the logical connection between the opprobrium for both America and Israel so commonplace on the political left.

Sidman-022814-Kabul

For the past 64 years, the Jewish Book Council has spotlighted the best of Jewish books and their authors through its presentation of the annual National Jewish Book Award. On March 5, the winners in nearly 20 categories of Jewish books will assemble at the Center for Jewish History in New York City for a celebratory gathering.

“This is the story of a young and naive Jewish American woman who meant to rebel against tradition but who found herself trapped in the past, stuck in the Middle Ages, without a passport back,” declared Dr. Phyllis Chesler.

In Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage and Survival (Gefen Publishing), the newly released English translation of his memoir, internationally renowned former Soviet refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich tells a compelling story of struggle and victory. He spoke to The Jewish Press during his recent U.S. book tour.

MK Tzipi Hatovely addressed a Chabad “Lunch and Learn” event on December 14 in Miami Beach.

The November midterm elections may well alter the political face of this country. Opponents of Obama administration policies have galvanized their forces and are eager to make their voices heard to the American electorate.

One of those people is Jay Townsend, a GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York who will be seeking to unseat incumbent Sen. Charles Schumer.

The Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam, founded in May 2009, has held numerous political demonstrations, rallies and seminars aimed at bringing about a collective awareness of the perils of Islamic extremism. The Jewish Press sat down with Dr. Marvin Belsky, chairman of the board of HRCARI, to hear more about the goals and objectives of the group.

Skepticism about the existence of Hashem reigns supreme in some circles and there is clearly no shortage of unabashed atheists circulating in the literary world, blogosphere, and the media. Tragically, it is the Jew that has been most affected by the deluge of misinformation spewed forth by those who question the veracity of G-d’s existence while they fecklessly attempt to navigate the vicissitudes of life.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/educating-young-jews-is-at-the-core-of-my-being-an-interview-with-former-refusenik-rabbi-yosef-mendelevich/2012/07/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: