Tatiana and her husband Yuri met when she studied Hebrew under him in the Soviet Union. By the time they married Tatiana was also a Hebrew teacher and promoting emigration to Israel. When her husband was sentenced to three years in prison for Zionist activities, Tatiana led fearless efforts to free him.
In 1987, when Yuli Edelshtein arrived in Israel, former refuseniks, friends and a great number of Israeli supporters greeted him and his family at Ben Gurion airport with cheers, songs and tearful exclamations of welcome. Later, at the Kotel, hundreds of well-wishers lifted him on their shoulders and carried him, singing, “The sons shall return to their homeland,” then fell silent as the returning son recited the bracha of Shehecheyanu.
It was a moment laden with emotion. Yuli Edelshtein whispered: “It was worth it…all… the imprisonment, the suffering.”
A third welcoming ceremony awaited the Jewish hero and his family at their new home in Alon Shvut, a religious settlement adjacent to Yeshivat Har Etzion in the Etzion Bloc, where their future neighbors hailed Yuli for his courage and perseverance, for the “kiddush Hashem” he performed by teaching Hebrew and Judaism in the face of official Soviet threats and intimidation.
Tatiana, his wife, watched the hero’s welcome with tears in her eyes and a smile on her lips. These were her moments of triumph. It was she, the indefatigable young woman, who fought relentlessly for his release during his three years of imprisonment in Siberia on trumped-up charges of drug possession. It was she, the agonized wife, who appealed time and again against his mistreatment in the labor camp after a brutal fall that caused him to break his pelvis and hipbone and ruptured his urethra. It was Tatiana, the fearless fighter, who petitioned the Russian Ministry of Interior that he not be sent back to the inhumane Kuibyshevsk prison camp and instead remain in the hospital where he eventually received treatment as a result of her relentless entreaties. She demonstrated publicly, unafraid and determined, while privately devising strategies of assault on the authorities, stratagems for her husband’s freedom.
She could not share her thoughts with friends or family, she had to deny herself the comfort of support as she was under constant scrutiny: Tatiana and her twelve-year-old daughter Yulia were forced to share an apartment with the Russian woman who had testified against Yuli in his trial for “possession of drugs” that were “found” at their apartment.
Now all the pain, fear and struggle were over and they were home. Yuli was safe and free, a hero returned to his land and people.
Tatiana stood in the background and listened to the accolades, the cheers, the singing. Her heart was full. It was her homecoming, as well. But, most of all, it was her moment of triumph – a triumph of her faith. Twenty-seven years later, on January 23, 2014, Tatiana Edelstein, wife of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelshtein, died after battling a serious illness.
“For many months we knew about the great suffering of Tanya Edelstein,” said MK Reuven Rivlin, “and we were pained, along with Yuli, over the pains and difficulties she went through. In these difficult times, Yuli bore his personal sorrow while he served as the Knesset speaker with the eager support of Tanya, despite her serious illness. As a woman who knew how to fight for the Jewish people’s honor, Tanya supported Yuli and did not want her suffering and pain to keep him from fulfilling his government role. I knew Tanya as a Zionist woman and an activist for aliyah, who stood by her husband while he was a Prisoner of Zion, and on his public journey here in Israel.”