NEW YORK (Jun. 28)
The long-awaited bar mitzvah of Mishka Fuchs-Rabinovich, 13-year-old son of prominent former Moscow refuseniks Michael and Marina Fuchs-Rabinovich, took place Saturday at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Mass., before 600 worshippers.
The congregation adopted the family four years ago and sent Mishka a formal invitation to be bar mitzvah there. The family arrived in the U.S. three weeks ago.
“It’s very, very hard to tell you how I feel. It’s impossible to express such a nice feeling,” Mishka told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in sure and clear English. Like any bar mitzvah boy, he said he was “nervous.” Pesach, which the family celebrated in Vienna, was a tremendous experience, he added, as “I really felt free.”
The parents last week discussed their tremendous excitement and gratitude for being here at last and being able to celebrate the long-planned bar mitzvah. Mishka had been preparing for more than a year in Moscow with visiting American rabbis.
His Torah portion, “Miketz,” and haftarah from the Book of Kings was actually not appropriate at this time in the Hebrew calendar, but the Soviets did not grant the exit visas convenient to his intended bar mitzvah Shabbat.
However, the fact that Mishka could observe his bar mitzvah in his 13th year is, his father said, thanks to the support of their friends in America, “which was extremely important for us. I think it was only through their support that we were able to become free. I’m sure that without it, we could not have left Russia.”
He also praised the help of HIAS and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. At the bar mitzvah, he expressed gratitude to U.S. politicians and Jewish leaders for work on the family’s behalf.
LONG STRUGGLE TO LEAVE
Michael, a 49-year-old meteorologist with advanced degrees in mathematics and physics, lost his job in 1983. Marina, also a meteorologist, lost her job when the family applied to emigrate eight years ago. The application, he said, is “like committing suicide with your previous life.”
The family staged a 20-day hunger strike in December to protest the Soviets’ eight-year refusal to permit their emigration and particularly their request that Mishka be allowed to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the Wellesley temple, whose members simultaneously held a sympathy fast.
In April, Michael began a demonstration in front of the Lenin Library in Moscow, about which he had previously alerted the government. The night before, he refused an invitation by OVIR emigration authorities for the next day. “I’m sorry, I’m busy. I’m demonstrating,” he told them.
His demonstration was stopped by his wife, however, who came running to the library with news that the authorities would decide on their case the following week. They did, and the family arrived in the United States two weeks ago.
Michael said he didn’t want their release “to be considered on behalf of Soviet liberalization. To a certain degree, it is so.” He called the current process of “glasnost” (openness) a “well performed” act. He wants his case “to be a good precedent for other families who want to struggle for their freedom.” Most important, he said, “We left a lot of close friends in the community behind. We want to be responsible for them. We consider ourselves representatives of the refuseniks who are still waiting. We want to join the struggle with everyone who helped us.”
The emigration rules of January 1987 have “excited” refuseniks, he said. They are both “happy that a small portion of their friends can leave, but worried if they’re refused once more, when someone else can be permitted.”
Michael emphasized the plight of his refusenik friend Benjamin Charny, who suffers from many illnesses including cancer, and whose brother Leon lives in Needham, Mass., near the Fuchs-Rabinoviches’ new home. “I know there are a lot of important cases, and our aim is to seek all refuseniks here or in Israel as they want. But Ben Charny is a real emergency, maybe considered as the most important case now. He can’t wait,” Michael said.
CITES KGB INROADS
Michael is amused by Americans’ willingness to accept recent Soviet gestures, such as the U.S. tour of the Soviet Yiddish theater group, and the offer for six Soviet Jews to study for the rabbinate in the U.S.
He agreed with the assessment of Yuri Shtern, spokesman for the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center in Jerusalem, about the rabbinical students: “So why not have six KGB rabbis?” Michael said, “I’m quite sure that any person who wants to have this rabbinical education can only get it through the KGB.”
Michael said that the main Moscow synagogue is “a special place for me, but the rabbi himself (Adolph Shayevich, who recently visited the U.S. and promised a kosher restaurant and Hebrew teachers soon for the USSR) does not mean anything to me. I don’t consider him a rabbi. No doubt he’s supported by the KGB.”
He called the Jewish Cameo Musical Theatre of Moscow, which recently performed in North America, “a dirty fairy tale … part of Soviet propaganda. The fact that Jewish artists were permitted to come here is proof they’re part of the KGB. Practically no one else has such a privilege to go to the U.S. on their own will. If they are sent, they are sent by the KGB.”
He also mocked America’s preoccupation with Soviet “journalist” Vladimir Posner, who is frequently seen on network television here and has co-hosted programs with Phil Donahue here and in the USSR. “Posner has no influence on Soviet media,” Michael said. “In Moscow, in Leningrad, everyone knows he’s just a KGB man and nobody respects him.”