NEW YORK (Dec. 11)
Boris Penson, the internationally famed artist who was a former Prisoner of Conscience in the Soviet Union and who now resides in Israel, warned American Jewry "about a terrible danger which threatens my fellow Russian Jews" who "are now leaving Russia with visas for Israel and are going to other countries because they have been told by Soviet propaganda that Israel is a dangerous and poor country."
Penson, whose speech in Russian was translated into English, told some 2000 Jewish leaders from the United States and Canada at the United Jewish Appeal’s 1980 National Conference. "Convocation of Solidarity" at Lincoln Center last Friday, " I know all of you love our Israel and the last thing that you would want to do is to hurt Israel, but the sad fact is that, by offering housing and material help to noshrim (dropouts), paying for tickets to America, and all kinds of resettlement benefits, the struggle to free Russian Jewry from spiritual slavery is turned into a tug-of-war over material rewards."
Continuing, Penson stated: "By this Israel is being forced to compete with the richest country in the world, something it just can’t afford to do. And now, in the last six weeks our worst fears are coming true. The Russian government is stopping the emigration of many Jews. Almost no one in Odessa or Kharkov can get a permit to leave now.
"The Russians say the reason is that so many Jews are going to America and not to be united with their families in Israel. They are investigating if a person really has a father or mother or wife or child in Israel. If they find out that the family is in America, they turn down the application.
"Do you understand what this means? It means that if you bring Russian Jews to America, their families will be condemned to stay in Russia, with no way to escape. I know that is not what you intend, in your generosity and goodwill, but you must know that it is now happening, and we must face responsibility for the results."
DROPPING OUT A SECOND TIME
Speaking of results, Penson declared: "You, the leaders of American Jewry, know very well what is happening in your communities to the Russian immigrants. They are becoming ‘Americanized’ very rapidly and are ‘dropping out’ yet a second time. This time they are dropping out from the Jewish people, something that is unforgivable and one day, when it is too late, whom shall we blame?"
Penson, who is on a tour of the United States under the auspices of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said he has learned that many American Jewish youth lack a strong Jewish consciousness and are intermarrying and assimilating " at a frightening rate. Some people call this ‘The Silent Holocaust’ – the loss of hundreds of thousands of Jews without a shot being fired, without a drop of blood being spilled." He warned that this same fate awaits the Soviet Jews "who in their ignorance, and with your good will and help, have been attracted to come to America."
ISSUE OF FREEDOM OF CHOICE
As to freedom of choice, Penson said he is in favor of that principle. "If a Russian Jew has the funds, either his own money or that of his relatives, then let him go where the money will take him," he stated. "Freedom of choice doesn’t mean that American Jewry has to pay for his short-sighted decision. If a man wants to commit suicide, no one should help him." The some attitude should prevail "if a Russian Jew is committing cultural and religious suicide."
Penson pointed out that the future of Israel, its survival and prosperity, depends on massive aliya from the Soviet Union. "In simple terms," he said, "the 65,000 Russian Jews now in America will grow to over 100,000 by a year from now unless we do something to stop it. Do you realize what another 100,000 Jews could do in Israel? Do you realize what a great contribution has been made by the 165,000 Russian Jews who have come to Israel in recent years.
"My dear friends, in the name of the Prisoners of Conscience still rotting in Russian prison camps, in the name of Anatoly Shcharansky, in the name of Ida Nudel, in the name of Vladimir Slepak, in the name of Yosef Mendelevitch, in the name of losif Begun, in the name of 165,000 proud Russian Israeli Jews, in the name of future generations of Jews who will be your judges, I beg that you stop this process, now."
"I DREAMED A DREAM"
Penson, who was fried in December, 1970 during the first Leningrad hijack trial and sentenced to 10 years at strict labor and released last April, recalled his long years in prison: "I think that all I can say is that I dreamed a dream during that miserable time – that I and my chaverim (comrades) would one day be free to go to our Jewish homeland – Eretz Israel, Medinat Israel.
"We wanted to be free Jews, free to live a Jewish life, to be sure that our children would grow up as Jews and not become goyim. For our struggle some of us have died, but we were ready to die if necessary, to free ourselves and to free all our people in Russia. Truly a miracle has happened. With your help and struggle, and our sacrifice, the doors of Russia opened up, and over 160,000 Jews have made aliya to Israel. They are precious to Israel, which needs them and wants them."