Ex-‘prisoner of Zion’ returns to St. Petersburg for first time since ’70


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (JTA) — Former “prisoner of Zion” Yosef Mendelevitch made his first visit to St. Petersburg since he was arrested in the Russian city in 1970 for attempting to hijack an airplane to Israel.

Mendelevitch, 67, is scheduled to speak Friday to approximately 350 participants of St. Petersburg’s fourth Limmud conference, the Jewish learning event organized by the Limmud FSU group.

In 1970, Mendelevitch came from his native Riga to carry out Operation Wedding, the code name given to the daring attempt by 12 Zionist activists to hijack a single-engine AN-2 airplane and fly it to Israel in defiance of the Soviet refusal to permit them to emigrate. The KGB arrested him and the other would-be hijackers before they could board the plane.

Mendelevitch, who along with Natan Sharansky was one of the most well-known prisoners of Zion, finally immigrated to Israel in 1981 shortly after his release from jail.

On Friday, Menedelvitch, who now lives in Jerusalem, visited the KGB building where he was held immediately after his capture.

“I spent a lot of time in this city, but only as a prisoner so I don’t know it at all,” he told JTA. “I’m certainly not nostalgic. The Land of Israel is the only place to which I have an emotional attachment.”

Limmud FSU organizers invited Mendelevitch after hearing about his story for the first time last year, according to Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler.

“Rabbi Mendelevitch belongs to a generation whose bravery is famous in Israel and the United States yet is surprisingly unknown here,” Chesler said. “We brought him for the same reason Jews all over the world recall their ancestors’ exodus out of Egypt each year: To teach the young their history.”

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