WASHINGTON (Apr. 4)
Calling Passover the “festival of freedom,” President Bush pledged Wednesday that the United States would continue to support the “modern exodus” of Jews from the Soviet Union.
“We will continue to do everything necessary to make it possible for Soviet Jews to get to Israel, including continuing to press for direct and indirect flights,” Bush said at a White House ceremony.
“We are glad that so many will celebrate the seder in Israel, and we’re going to keep working so that many more can join them.”
Bush’s remarks were part of his Passover message, which he signed surrounded by Ze’ev and Karmela Raiz, Soviet Jews who recently immigrated to Israel after almost 18 years of refusal, and Natasha Stonov, who is visiting the United States on behalf of her husband, Leonid, who has been denied an exit visa for 11 years because of his alleged access to state secrets.
Ze’ev Raiz, who formerly went by the name Vladimir, expressed his gratitude for the efforts of Bush and others in the United States, adding that without their help, he and other refuseniks would not have been allowed to leave.
He said the support for Soviet Jews by the United States is a “distinguished page in the Haggadah that is now being written.”
Karmela Raiz told reporters later that four months ago, she had come to the United States and found support for her efforts to persuade the Soviets to allow her husband to emigrate. She said Natasha Stonov was now here on a similar mission.
CAN’T ‘FORGET THOSE LEFT BEHIND’
Raiz said the greatest thing the United States, as a democracy, can do is to aid freedom.
“You can’t appreciate it as we do, since you always were free, and we arc free only now,” she said.
During his remarks, Bush turned to the Raizes and said, “May you and your children enjoy many years of happiness together in your new home in Israel.”
Bush said that 15,000 Soviet Jews have emigrated to Israel this year and praised the changes in the Soviet Union that have allowed this to happen.
“But, we must not and I can assure you we will not ~ forget those who are left behind,” he added.
Bush then turned to Stonov and expressed “regret that another Passover is here with Leonid still in the Soviet Union.” He asked her to take back to Moscow “a message to Leonid and all others who still await freedom: They arc not forgotten.”
While presidents have issued Passover statements every year, this is the first ceremony in memory held at the White House to mark the event.
Among those present were Vice President Dan Quayle, Secretary of State James Baker, White House Chief of Staff John Sununu and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Attending from Congress were Sens. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and Gordon Humphrey (R-Vt.) and Reps. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y) and Jack Buechner (R-Mo.).