NEW YORK (Aug. 5)
About 100 people gathered in front of the Soviet UN Mission to the United Nations Tuesday to pray for Jewish Prisoners of Conscience in the Soviet Union. With temperatures in the 90’s, many of those present were fasting as the rally coincided with Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the month of Av), when both the first and second Temples were destroyed.
The prayer service was dedicated to Alexai Magarik, a cellist and unofficial Hebrew teacher who is carrying out his three-year sentence in a Soviet labor camp, and Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary during the Holocaust. Wallenberg would be 75 years old if, as many believe, he is still alive in a Soviet labor camp.
The men, wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries, read from an open Torah scroll as the women followed along from behind a police barricade, which served as a buffer to separate the men and women during the service. A special prayer was recited for Magarik and all the others in the Gulag.
Following the service, Rabbi Moshe Morduchowitz of the West Side Institutional Synagogue in New York and Rabbi Fredrick Werbell, author of “Lost Hero: The Mystery of Raoul Wallenberg” on which the NBC mini-series was based, walked with the Torah and pictures of Magarik and Wallenberg to the door of the Mission to symbolically confront the Kremlin. The Soviets refused to accept the pictures, so the rabbis left them at the door.
Morduchowitz and Werbell addressed the rally as did three women who recently visited refuseniks in the Soviet Union. “The last thing each one (of the refuseniks) said to us was, ‘Don’t forget us!’ and looking around today I see that we have not forgotten them,” one woman said.
To conclude the service, the audience sang Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, as Jewish passers-by stopped to join in. The crowd slowly dispersed. Some went from there to the West Side Institutional Synagogue to watch a 45-minute-long video tape from the Soviet Union on the destruction of synagogues there.