NEW YORK (Oct. 4)
“I’m so excited, I don’t stop… I’m so excited, I don’t sleep… I will run, I will run. I will run to see my sister. I haven’t seen her in 16 years.”
With these words, long-time refusenik and Soviet Jewry activist Ida Nudel announced in Moscow to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry here in a telephone call that she had been given permission to immigrate to Israel.
She received the news just hours prior to the start of Yom Kippur in Moscow.
Nudel, 56, an engineer-economist, was in Moscow for a hearing for permission to resume residence there, after being forced for five years to live in exile in the Moldavian city of Bendery. While waiting for her residency permission, Nudel was called by Rudolf Kutznetsov, head of the Moscow OVIR emigration bureau, and told to return to Bendery to get her papers in order, as she had permission to emigrate. No specific date has been set for her departure.
Early this year, Nudel was on a list of eight refuseniks who the Soviets said would never be allowed to emigrate. She was among the first group of refuseniks, including Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky and Vladimir Slepak, to bring the plight of Soviet Jews to the world’s attention. Slepak remains in Moscow, also on that list.
A GOOD WAY TO START THE NEW YEAR
Nudel said she would not return to Bendery until after Yom Kippur, but that immediately following she would comply with the order. Jerry Goodman, NCSJ executive director, told her it was “a good way to start the New Year.” Myrna Shinbaum, associate NCSJ director, urged Nudel to leave as soon as possible.
Nudel’s sister, Elana Fridman, has been living in Israel for 16 years, and for that entire time Nudel, and Fridman, have waged a relentless, world-famous campaign for Nudel to immigrate to Israel. After first applying for a visa in 1971, Nudel received her first refusal in 1972.
In 1978, Nudel was exiled to Siberia for hanging banners outside her Moscow apartment window saying “Let me join my sister in Israel.” On her return from Siberia in 1982, she was denied permission to live in Moscow, and many cities and towns would not grant Nudel permission to stay.
In Bendery, where she was finally allowed to reside, she was harassed and followed. Last year, when Nudel tried to see Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel in Moscow, she was taken off her bus in Bendery and beaten.
On Friday, Nudel said she hoped “All my friends in Russia should leave soon. Many people should leave every day.” Nudel was for years known as the “guardian angel” of Jewish Prisoners of Conscience for her visits and packages, and her personal drive for attention to their case.
In the phone call with the NCSJ, Nudel expressed her thanks to that organization and others for their efforts on her behalf. She was told that an NCSJ delegation would be waiting for her as she arrived in Israel.
Soviet Jewry activists were quick to comment on Nudel’s permission. Morris Abram, NCSJ chairman, expressed a “hearty welcome” to the news of Nudel’s permission “on the eve of our most sacred day, Yom Kippur. And we rejoice for her beloved sister, Elana Fridman, who has been awaiting Ida’s arrival in Israel for more than 15 anguish-filled years.”
He added, “We hope this means that the arbitrary and capricious use of ‘secrecy’ to deny emigration will be abrogated in the case of scores of other Jewish refuseniks, such as Vladimir Slepak, Professor Aleksandr Lerner and Yuli Kosharovsky.”
Lynn Singer, executive director of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry, was elated about Nudel’s permission. “Miracles do happen,” she said.
Lilith, the Jewish feminist magazine published in New York which collected thousands of signatures from all over the world on its Women’s Appeal for Ida Nudel, many of them from noted women in the arts, letters and politics, hailed the granting of an exit visa to her.
The signatories included Joan Baez, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Holtzman, Beate Klarsfeld, Mary Tyler Moore, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D. Colo.). Gloria Steinem, Mary Travers and Liv Ullmann.
Lilith’s editor said, “We hope the release of Nudel will be followed by the granting of exit visas to all Soviet Jews who wish to be reunited with their families abroad — as well as the affirmation of the right of all Soviet Jews to live freely as Jews in the USSR.”
A REASON FOR THE SOVIET ACTION
Many Soviet Jewry activists saw Nudel’s permission as a sign that the Soviets wanted to gain credits in the field of human rights on the eve of talks in Moscow between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and the upcoming summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Jewish leaders have called for a massive march on Washington at that time.
Rabbi Avraham Weiss, national chairman of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ), said, that “The welcome news” that Nudel received permission “cannot conceal the plain fact that there was not one reason for the cruel” treatment of Nudel all these years.
“Indeed, as the West begins to warm to Gorbachev’s smiles, the reality of the plight of Soviet Jewry is more chilling. For the second month running, Jewish emigration has decreased, from over 800 in July to below 700 in September. Emigration is but 10 percent of the 1979 figure, when 51,000 left.
“Under the new exit decrees which went into effect in January, an estimated 90 percent of Russian Jews can no longer even apply to leave… We all yearn for concrete moves toward peace in the upcoming Reagan-Gorbachev summit. But with peace must come justice. We will not be silent until every Soviet Jew who wishes to exercise his basic human right to emigrate will be permitted to leave, and the religious and cultural rights of those who choose to remain will be assured.” Alan Pesky, chairman of the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews, the organizing body for the annual march on behalf of Soviet Jewry, called Nudel’s permission “a long overdue but nonetheless welcome development. We attribute the decision to grant Ida Nudel an exit visa to the unremitting efforts of the Soviet Jewry movement on her behalf — here and around the world — and to the persistence of Secretary of State Shultz and others in the Reagan Administration in emphasizing Jewish emigration and human rights in recent discussions with officials of the Soviet Union.
“While we are delighted that Ida Nudel will finally be able to leave the USSR, our work is not done. There are many, many others who, like Nudel, have been waiting for a decade and more for the opportunity to return to their homeland, and we intend to intensify our efforts so that they too can soon live in freedom as Jews.”
Abram said, “Some months ago, we heard from Soviet authorities that Ida would never be granted permission, and the announcement today can only be interpreted as a very positive sign for the repatriation to Israel of thousands of other Soviet Jews. We know her fellow refuseniks and all of the valiant former Prisoners of Conscience who looked to her for sustenance during their terrible ordeal will also be buoyed by her release. We say congratulations to Ida and her family, and to the Soviets we say, ‘Let all our people go’.”