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Jewish Leaders, Elected Officials Stress Soviet Jewry As Summit Issue

May 27, 1988
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A delegation of American Jewish organizational leaders and New York elected officials, convened here by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said that raising the issue of Soviet Jewry with President Reagan was their main goal.

The group of about 40 persons gathered here to advocate for the rights of Soviet Jews as Reagan prepares for his fourth summit conference with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Reagan arrived here Wednesday night for a three-day rest, before flying on to Moscow.

“We want to make sure that human rights remains high on the superpowers’ agenda,” said New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams, as he debarked the plane.

Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins, emphasizing black-Jewish commonality, said he had joined the delegation “not only as one elected to public office, but as one who is black and recognizes that human rights deprivation anywhere in the world is a deprivation for us. It’s especially important for me to be here.”

On Thursday, the National Conference leadership delegation held a hearing on the Helsinki Final Act that included former refuseniks, Soviet Jewry activists, some members of the Finnish government, private Finnish citizens and a member of the small Finnish Jewish community. There are about 850 Jews in Helsinki.

Testifying and replying to questions put by NCSJ chairman Morris Abram were Anna Rosnovsky, now living in Israel, who is the sister of 14-year Leningrad refusenik Elena Keiss-Kuna; former prisoner of conscience Lev Elbert, once a Kiev activist; Ruth Popkin, president of Hadassah; and Anita Gray of Cleveland, Ohio, a chairperson of the United Jewish Appeal’s Young Leadership Cabinet.


Setting the hearing’s tone, National Conference chairman Abram quoted President John Kennedy, who said, “Whatever is peace but a matter of human rights?”

Abram announced a most recent Soviet human rights violation: the removal of Keiss-Kuna from a train bound for Moscow, where she was to join a refusenik women’s group for the duration of the summit in anticipation of a possible meeting with Reagan.

Rosnovsky, the hearing’s first witness, quietly but forcefully spoke of human rights violations inflicted on her family by Soviet authorities for the past 14 years.

Rosnovsky applied to emigrate with her sister in 1974. Rosnovsky was given permission; Keiss-Kuna was refused as she has been every six months subsequently. She has just received another refusal, until 1992.

Rosnovsky also spoke of Keiss-Kuna’s son, Andrei, who, at age 18, faces military conscription. If he resists, a prison sentence is anticipated. His service in the Soviet army would further prevent the family from emigration for at least eight years, according to the NCSJ.

“It is my pain, I feel it very hard,” said Rosnovsky. “I know many families who are in the same situation. Let’s hope that pressure from the West would bring a reversal.”

Elbert spoke of his “more than 12-year painful trek to Israel,” which included repeated refusals to emigrate and imprisonment on trumped-up drug charges, because he taught himself Hebrew and wished to go to Israel.

Elbert said he was released from prison because of intervention from former American president Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

In response to questions from Abrams, Elbert observed that the denial of religious education is “especially hard on Jews, because they must know what they are professing in order to practice their faith.”


Popkin and Gray sounded poignant notes as they recounted meetings with refuseniks during visits to the Soviet Union.

Popkin said, “It’s almost impossible to describe the pain of a parent who wants to teach children to be Jews. You also see the pain of the children.”

Gray spoke of her pain this past April, during her second visit to the Soviet Union in 10 years.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same for Jews in the Soviet Union. It’s most painful to visit Jews 10 years later. What message do you give them? ‘Have hope? See you in10 years?’ “

On Thursday, Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry national director Micah Naftalin and president Pamela Braun Cohen were notified by the Soviet Embassy in Washington that they could pick up entry visas at the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki.

But more refuseniks inside the Soviet Union have reportedly been stopped from demonstrating in Moscow.

Roald Zelichonok was barred by members of the KGB from attending a scheduled meeting next Monday between Reagan and refuseniks, according to the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry and the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.

At a news conference convened by the Wiesenthal Center, 17-year refusenik Yuli Kosharovsky told Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley by phone that Zelichonok was prevented from attending the meeting because he planned to present his book, which talks about 18 Soviet Jews who lived and died in refusal.

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