Soviet Hebrew Teachers No Longer Harassed, but Not Yet Recognized

Hebrew teachers and other Jewish activists face a serious dilemma, despite the more liberal policies of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

At present, they are not bothered by the Soviet authorities. But they live in constant fear of persecution, harassment and even imprisonment, because Hebrew teaching is not recognized as an occupation in the USSR.

Consequently, those who practice it are considered jobless and unwilling to work. That is a serious offense under Soviet law, punishable by long prison terms, Mikhail Chlenov, a veteran Hebrew teacher, explained to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here.

Chlenov and his colleagues are striving, so far without success, to gain official recognition for Hebrew teachers. Official sanction would remove one of the major obstacles to revitalizing Jewish cultural life in the Soviet Union.

Chlenov said he and his fellow Hebrew teachers want state certification and professional recognition. That implies permission to import textbooks from Israel and elsewhere and to have professional exchanges with other Hebrew teachers.

But some quarters in Moscow oppose the extension of recognition to Hebrew teachers. They want to be able to suppress Hebrew studies whenever they think it necessary, Chlenov said.

Another activist, 17-year refusenik Yuli Kosharovsky, told the JTA, “There has been a change here. But it has to be institutionalized to give us a guarantee against further repression. One of the important points is certainly the recognition of Hebrew teaching as a normal occupation,” Kosharovsky said.

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He called attention to another problem, which he said has worsened since Gorbachev proclaimed his policy of glasnost (openness).

Kosharovsky said it has become almost impossible to protest publicly against repression and anti-Semitic activities. “Formerly, we took to the streets rather often to demonstrate against anti-Jewish activities or to demand freedom for refuseniks.

“Today,” he said, “Gorbachev has made such demonstrations all but impossible. According to a new Soviet law, unauthorized demonstrations carry a penalty of one year in prison.

“This makes it impossible for us to stage such protests, since we have no chance of receiving permits to demonstrate against anti-Jewish manifestations, let alone against the regime and its policies,” Kosharovsky said.

In fact, Gorbachev seems to have adopted a carrot-and-stick policy toward the Jewish community.

On one hand, he allowed the staging of a Jewish play with strong nationalistic, if not Zionist elements at Moscow’s city-owned Hermitage theater last week.

He also permitted the opening of a Jewish cultural center in Moscow, which is fully recognized by the Communist authorities.

At the same time, he has put an end to public demonstrations, a form of protest that in the past has helped mobilize support for change, and even forced the regime to be more flexible.

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