Special to the JTA the Plight of Dr. Benor Gurfel
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Special to the JTA the Plight of Dr. Benor Gurfel

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The steady erosion of personal freedom and deprivation of individual rights will evoke different responses from human beings. For Dr. Benor Gurfel, 43, internationally known econometrician now in the midst of a hunger strike to protest of the Soviet government’s policies of repression against Jews who have applied for exit visas to Israel, his refusal to take food represents deep feelings of anguish and frustration.

The Kafka-like maze of bureaucracy in which Gurfel and his family have been enmeshed over the past four years since they first applied for emigration to Israel was related by Alvin H. Gilens, associate national campaign director and Western Region director of the United Jewish Appeal, who has just returned from a 12-day survey of conditions being faced by Soviet Jewish “refuseniks,” those denied exit visas to Israel.

Gurfel, who works in a plastics complex in Tallin, the capital city of Estonia prior to being absorbed by the Soviet Union after World War II, co-authored a scientific paper for the Econometric Society of Europe in collaboration with Dr. Ilya Zlobinsky, formerly of Kiev, who was allowed to emigrate to Israel.

The excellence of their work gained an invitation to both for the presentation of their paper before the conference of the society in Helsinki which concludes Aug. 30. Although Helsinki is 60 miles from Tallin, and the official conference program lists Gurfel as a participant, the Soviet government has denied him the right to participate on the basis that he had not received a formal written invitation.


It is obvious, Gilens pointed out, that the record of continuous harassment of Gurfel and his family by Soviet authorities will prevent him from ever receiving the invitation. He cited the fact that every time Gurfel has applied for an exit visa he has been refused because of possessing “secrets.” The alleged “secrets,” Gilens observed, are available in numerous scientific journals which circulate freely throughout the world.

Compounding the plight of Gurfel’s family, which includes his wife, Soroti, 40, a physicist, and son, Eliezer, 17, who will complete high school in the near future, is that time is running out for them. Eliezer will apply for an exit visa on his own prior to his 18th birthday. If it is denied, he must serve in the Soviet armed forces. If this happens, it will all but eliminate the chances for the Gurfel family to emigrate to Israel, since the regulations state that one who serves, or any member of his family, cannot be allowed to leave the USSR for a period of five years after discharge from the military because of “secrets,” according to Gilens.

Gurfel’s hunger strike coincides with the dates of the conference in Helsinki. Yet, it is much more than that, Gilens observed. It represents the tragedy of the individual who chooses to live as a Jew in a nation, which for centuries has imposed every form of repression and persecution upon the Jewish people. Gilens noted that Benor Curful to alone. He begins the eighth day of his hunger strike today.

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