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Independence Day in Israel

Israelis celebrated the 38th anniversary of their independence Wednesday without incident but mainly indoors. Unseasonably chilly weather discouraged the usual mass exodus to beaches and picnic grounds.

Thousands of residents of the northern border town of Kiryat Shemona participated in Independence Day festivities. Local leaders said it was a gesture of defiance after a Katyusha rocket exploded in Upper Galilee Tuesday afternoon, slightly injuring a man and two children. Thousands more gathered at the Tal Grove at the foot of the Golan Heights.

The Knesset held an “open house” for the first time and thousands queued up outside for a chance to see a plenary session of parliament at work. They were also able to view the original document of Israel’s Declaration of Independence on display in the Knesset and to hear it read in recording by Premier David Ben Gurion in his historic broadcast of May 14, 1948.

President Chaim Herzog held receptions at his residence for soldiers and diplomats. Another tradition of Independence Day was the finals of the annual international Bible Quiz. This year’s winner was an Israeli, Yoav Schlossberg.

FOCUS ON THE PLIGHT OF SOVIET JEWRY

While Israelis marked nearly four decades as a sovereign nation, attention was focused on the plight of Soviet Jews. Ninety Jewish activists from eight cities in the USSR signed a letter to President Herzog on the occasion of Independence Day. It reached the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center here by way of the Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry.

The signatories gave the lie to Soviet propaganda that all Jews who wanted to leave the Soviet Union have done so and therefore an aliya movement does not exist. “We do exist,” the letter said.

“Jews in the Soviet Union are striving despite all obstacles and still hope for their long awaited reunification with relatives and friends in our native country, in Israel. Next Year in Jerusalem. It was learned, meanwhile, that 37 Moscow refuseniks sent the Supreme Soviet a formal request to register them as “a landsman-shaft (fraternal society) of Israeli citizens living in the USSR.” It would be open to “any person who has Israeli citizenship or has applied for it, their appeal said. According to the Jerusalem Information Center for Soviet Jewry, the charter of the landsman-shaft calls for cooperation with the Embassy of the country representing Israeli interests in Moscow in order to “keep in touch with the homeland and to obtain Consular services.” It also calls for mutual assistance, cultural and educational activities, celebration of national festivals and acquisition of Israeli newspapers and books.

All of these are forbidden to Jews in the USSR by Soviet law. According to the Center, between 800-900 Russian Jews who have been given Israeli citizenship in absentia are being kept in the Soviet Union against their will.

About a third of them have asked the Soviet authorities to withdraw their Soviet citizenship and respect their citizenship of Israel which was conferred according to Israeli law and is completely valid in terms of international law.

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