Slepaks Arrive in Israel with Delight and a Warning

Vladimir Slepak, a pioneer of the aliyah movement among Soviet Jews, arrived in Israel Monday night with a warning against being fooled by the apparent liberalization of Soviet emigration policies that allowed him and his wife, Maria, to leave the Soviet Union 17 years after they first applied for an exit visa.

The release of the Slepaks and a dozen other longtime refuseniks in recent weeks is “a well-known tactic, a concession to the West from which the Soviets want something,” Slepak told the enthusiastic crowd that greeted the couple at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Weary from his long journey, which included a 24-hour wait in Vienna for a flight to Israel, Slepak spoke in Russian of his delight at being in his homeland. “It’s not for nothing that they say the Jews are an optimistic people. To dream 2,000 years for a homeland, and then to reach it, can be achieved only by people of great optimism, by a great people,” Slepak said.

He seemed to be alluding to his own optimism as well. Asked how he managed to survive 17 years of struggle with Kremlin officials, including five years’ exile in Siberia, the former radio engineer said: “I am a simple man with a simple strength. Many, many of us, in my place, would have done the same.” Slepak will celebrate his 60th birthday Thursday.

His dogged determination to gain permission to emigrate for himself and other Soviet Jews began upon Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Slepak was among the first group of Jews in the Soviet Union to petition the United Nations by letter for the right of Jews to emigrate.

‘WON’T FORGET

“It is not my personal accomplishment that we are here,” Slepak said. “It is the right of the Jewish people everywhere — in Israel, in America, in the Soviet Union … We won’t forget those non-Jews who helped us.” The emigration in this generation of 250,000 Soviet Jews “is an accomplishment of all of us,” he said.

He added, “But friends, I want to warn you that while some Jews have left, that doesn’t mean that there has been a change in Soviet policy.”

The welcoming reception for the Slepaks was simpler than those organized for other prominent activists, such as last year’s for Natan Sharansky and Ida Nudel’s two weeks ago.

About 100 Soviet immigrants were waiting at the airport with an array of government and Jewish Agency dignitaries including Absorption Minister Yaacov Tsur; Jewish Agency Executive chairman Leon Dulzin; Haim Aharon, head of the agency’s immigration department; and Fina Feinberg, chairperson of the Soviet Immigrants Association.

Asked if he would try to convince his sons Alexander and Leonid, who left the Soviet Union some years ago for the United States, to join him in Israel, Slepak replied that his sons “are adults and can make up their own minds. For me, I’ve made my decision — to be here.”

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