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


Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich

Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich

Did you know when you would be released?

Not at all. I was taken from the labor camp to Moscow and no one told me why. I thought it was yet another attempt to break my spirit and resolve. After two weeks they told me my Soviet citizenship had been permanently revoked and that I didn’t deserve to be a citizen of the USSR and that I was being deported. When I boarded the plane for Israel, I can’t begin to describe to you how tears of joy streamed from my eyes.

Since your release from prison in 1981, what activities have you pursued in Israel?

I spent much time learning Torah as my commitment to an Orthodox life grew and I eventually received rabbinical ordination. I was involved in the Russian department of Arutz Sheva and went on to teach Russian students at the Machon Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

In my early days in Israel I founded an organization called the Soviet Jewry Information Center. In 1988 Sharansky founded the Zionist Forum, which worked toward absorbing immigrants to Israel from the Soviet Union, and its activity was based on the database I formed. I have constantly been involved in the Israeli political scene, have spoken out for the freedom of Jonathan Pollard on numerous occasions, and have been vocal about my opinions on the role of Russia in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Educating young Jews about the beauty and majesty of Judaism is at the core of my being. Just being a Jew living in an independent Jewish state affords us so many opportunities to reach the greatest heights, and I share my knowledge and narrative with others in the hopes that they too will feel the bond between themselves and their God and fulfill their destiny as Torah Jews.

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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.

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