NEW YORK (Jan. 12)
American Jewish leaders hailed the release of Soviet Jewish aliya activist Anatoly Shcharansky, but they also stressed that the fight on behalf of Soviet Jewry is not over yet and that thousands of Jews are still waiting in the USSR to receive permission to emigrate.
Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, expressed “joy” at Shcharansky’s freedom and praised President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz “for their unremitting and ultimately successful efforts to win his release. Their commitment to the cause of Soviet Jewry merits our deepest appreciation.”
Noting that such refuseniks as Yosef Begun and Ida Nudel have been waiting for many years for an exit visa, Bialkin said: “We will continue our efforts to call to world attention the consistent violations by the Soviet Union of the solemn commitments which it made in signing the Helsinki accords more than 10 years ago,” on the issue of human rights.
Gerald Kraft, president of B’nai B’rith International, declared: “We can only rejoice that Shcharansky’s bitter ordeal has finally come to an end and that he can rejoin his remarkably courageous and steadfast wife, Avital.” He said, however, that Jews in the USSR “are still denied basic freedom as Jews,” and that the Jewish community in the United States “will continue its efforts to help those Soviet Jews who wish to leave to do so.”
OTHERS ARE STILL DENIED FREEDOM
In a joint statement, Howard Friedman, president, and David Gordis, executive vice president, of the American Jewish Committee, said: “At the same time that we rejoice in Shcharansky’s freedom, we are ever mindful of the tens of thousands of other Soviet Jews who remain behind, denied the opportunity for an exit visa. We reaffirm our pledge to continue our efforts until they too are able to establish new lives in Israel and be reunited with their families.”
Abraham Foxman, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said he welcomed Shcharansky’s release but added that there cannot be full rejoicing “while hundreds of thousands of other Soviet Jews continue to suffer-unable to live as Jews in the Soviet Union, unable to leave.”
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, stated: “The release of Shcharansky confirms once again that the Soviet Union cannot forever resist the force of world opinion. It reminds us too that, blessed as we are with freedom to think and speak and act, American Jews must never forget or abandon their brothers and sisters, who, because they wish to live as Jews and join their families in Israel, have been persecuted and imprisoned by Soviet authorities.”
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry said: “We are extremely grateful to this Administration for the continuing public and private efforts in helping secure Shcharansky’s freedom and having him repatriated to Israel to join his wife, Avital.”
It added: “We trust that the release of Anatoly Shcharansky indicates a change in Soviet behavior, as it seeks to build a new relationship with this country. In so doing, we look forward to the release of hundreds of thousands of other Jews waiting to leave, some for more than 15 years.”
Bernice Tannenbaum, chairman of the American Section of the World Zionist Organization said: “Soviet propaganda attempted unsuccessfully to camouflage Shcharansky’s imprisonment for Zionist and humanist activities, as a defender of human rights, and the Helsinki accords, with the canard of espionage. It is so fitting, so right, so inspiring that he has already arrived in the State that welcomes him while it continues to burn a lamp of hope for his fellow Soviet Jews.”
THE STRUGGLE MUST CONTINUE
Chaim Aron, head of the department of immigration and absorption of the Jewish Agency, said: “While we celebrate the release of Shcharansky let us not fall into the trap of forgetting the other Prisoners of Zion and the 400,000 Jews who have applied to leave the Soviet Union. We must continue the struggle to free Soviet Jewry and we must be careful not to view Shcharansky’s release as a change in Soviet policy, a change which unfortunately has not yet been accomplished.”
Alan Pesky, chairman of the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews, said that the “momentous event” of Shcharansky’s release “does not mean the end of our struggle to ease the plight of two and a half million Soviet Jews.” He said his organization welcomed the release, “especially in view of the Soviets’ unwillingness for many years to even consider the nation of his departure.”
Pesky added: “The Soviet Union must understand, however, that the freeing of Shcharansky, or for that matter a handful of other prominent Jewish activists, while appreciated among those who cherish liberty, will only have a lasting impact if it is followed by a large scale emigration of Soviet Jews.”
American Jewish Congress president Theodore Mann said Shcharansky’s release is “an encouraging and significant event,” but the degree to which it “reflects a real change in Soviet policy” remains uncertain. To the extent that the Shcharansky action does signal a new openness on the part of the Soviet Union, Mann said, “it holds the promise of a new phase in American-Soviet relations.”
Rabbi Louis Bernstein, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said that Shcharansky’s release was a tribute to the greatness of the American people and its President. “It is a victory of the indomitable spirit of a human being created in the image of God over the forces of evil and darkness,” he stated. Bernstein expressed the hope that the release will signal hope for the release of other Prisoners of Conscience who wish to leave the Soviet Union and that the USSR will open up its doors to all Jews who wish to emigrate.
Ruth Popkin, president of Hadassah, welcomed the release of Shcharansky, stating that he “has been a symbol of courage and determination for the cause of Soviet Jewry and to all who cherish freedom. We hope that his release will herald the opening of the doors of emigration to the many Prisoners of Conscience and the thousands of other Soviet Jews whose only crime is the wish to rejoin their families and live as free Jews in the Jewish State, Israel.”
Other Jewish leaders who welcomed Shcharansky’s release and stressed that the struggle must continue on behalf of other Soviet Jews who wish to emigrate were: Rabbi William Berkowitz, president, American Jewish Heritage Foundation; Herbert Magidson, president, Jewish Labor Committee; Ernest Zelig, president, Bnai Zion; Dr. Barnett Zumoff, president, Workmen’s Circle; and Hart Hasten, president, Herut Zionists of America.
Some 300 members of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry sang and danced in a “victory celebration” at Stern College in Manhattan around a wooden prison cage which Avital Shcharansky often stood in during SSSI demonstrations for her husband.
Rabbi Allan Meyerowitz of Spring Valley, N.Y., who met Anatoly Shcharansky in 1974, recalled that Shcharansky had encouraged him to sing the Israeli anthem, Hatikvah, with him in Red Square. Israel Fridman of Manhattan, who had been at the courthouse in Moscow during Shcharansky’s trial emphasized that “many Soviet Jews are still left in hell as Shcharansky reaches his seventh heaven.”