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2 Former Soviet Jews in U.S. to Tell About Plight of Soviet Jews

May 7, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Two former Soviet Jews, both of whom now reside in Israel, will be touring the United States to alert American Jews to the continuing plight of Jews in the USSR.

Yosef Mendelevich, who spent II years in Soviet prisons and labor camps dreaming and praying for the day he would live in Israel, will transmit that dream to American Jews and recent Soviet Jewish immigrants, it was announced here by the Israel Aliya Center.

The former Prisoner of Conscience will make his first appearance in the United States at the opening plenary session of the United Jewish Appeal national leadership meeting in Washington May 14. The meeting, which will conclude May 17, will launch the UJA’s 1982 campaign.

Mendelevich will make an appeal for aliva at the Jewish Center in Manhattan the night of May 18 at a meeting sponsored by the North American Aliya Movement (NAAM) in conjunction with the Israel Aliya Center, Raischit Geula and Chevrat Aliya Toranit. Mendelevich, the last of nine Soviet Jews to be released after imprisonment for the 1970 hijacking plot, arrived in Israel last February.


Mendelevich’s prolonged detention is believed to have stemmed from his defiance of prison regulations by adhering to Jewish religious law. An Orthodox Jew, he balked at working on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays and at eating non-kosher food. Fred Schiller, president of NAAM, said “Mendelevich represents for all of us the symbol of the observant Jew whose adherence to his faith led him to immediately and unquestionably make aliya upon leaving Russia.”

Mendelevich will also lead a special session at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America’s New York Region’s Torah Retreat and regional conference Memorial Day weekend at the Homowack Lodge in Spring Glen, N.Y. The session will deal with his experience as an Orthodox Jew in Soviet prison camps. Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said, “His courage and strength in the face of 10 years of unrelenting pressure to denounce Judaism is a lesson for us all. We must not only listen but translate his words into meaningful activity.”


The other former Soviet Jew, Avigdor Eskin, 21, will hold meetings in an effort to organize a group called the Committee for Freedom of Religion and Culture in the Soviet Union, according to an organization called The Jewish Idea which is helping to sponsor his appearances in the New York area.

The Committee intends to promote the need for increased religious and cultural freedom in the Soviet Union and call for more pressure, protests and actions against Soviet interests in the U.S. in an attempt to win freedom for Soviet Jews. Eskin himself stresses that it is imperative to save Soviet Jews now because he feels that there is little time left.

Eskin has been living in Israel for the past two years where he is now serving in the Hesder program of the Israeli army. The program involves the combined study of Judaism with army service. He also teaches piano in the Jerusalem area. Eskin, whose mother was not Jewish but whose father was, converted to Judaism in the USSR, a spokesman for The Jewish Idea reported. He was first arrested at the age of 13 by KGB authorities in Moscow for “Zionist activities.” Subsequently, he immersed himself in the study of Judaism and Hebrew, taught Hebrew and Jewish studies to a group of 30 Jews in Moscow and contributed to Samizdat and Tarbout, both underground newspapers in the USSR, a spokesman for The Jewish Idea said. During that time he was arrested at least 10 times for his activities. He applied to emigrate to Israel at the age of 18 and was granted a visa a year later.

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