Former Soviet Jewish Prisoner of Conscience Yosef Mendelevich, who was released from a Soviet prison in February after serving II years on charges related to an alleged attempt to hijack a Soviet airliner to Israel, is urging American Jews to make aliya now.
In a speech at the Jewish Center in Manhattan, he expressed frustration with American Jewry’s indifference to aliya. He told an audience of 500 that he found it hard to understand how six million American Jews could remain in the United States when Soviet Jews are “struggling for years in prisons.”
Mendelevich pointed out that only a small number of American Jews decide to make aliya. “I don’t believe in words, I believe in action,” he said. This meeting was one of many which Mendelevich is appearing at during his three-week tour in the United States which began May 13.
Addressing a large audience at Columbia University, Mendelevich declared: “I am very disappointed to discover that only a small portion of the six million Jews in the United States are participating actively in Jewish concerns. I see this as a tragic crisis in the American Jewish community. Many Jews intermarry, forsake Jewish religious tradition, and attempt to forget their Jewish origins.”
He contrasted this situation to that of Jews in the Soviet Union where “Many Jews in Moscow, Leningrad and other Soviet cities are unable to leave for Israel and are being persecuted for observing Jewish religious precepts and for giving their children a Jewish education.”
CITES THE ROLE OF FAITH
At rallies attended by more than 700 children, sponsored by Project RISE (Russian Immigrant Services and Education) of Agudath Israel of America, Mendelevich said, “Just as emunah (faith) and the observance of mitzvohs sustained me during my eleven year confinement in a Russian prison camp, so can it help you live as truly free Jews in America.”
Speaking first at the Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Flatbush to nearly 300 boys from more than a dozen yeshivos, Mendelevich recounted his experiences in a moving address, specifically emphasizing how he had kept Yiddishkeit while in a Soviet prison.
Two Russian children attending the Be’er Hagolah Institute in Brooklyn moved the former Prisoner of Conscience when they responded to his question of what they’d like to be when they grow up. One said he dreamed of becoming a “talmid chochom,” (Jewish scholar) whereas the second said, a “Tzadik” (pious Jew).
Addressing more than 400 girls attending the Bais Yaakov Academy in Boro Park, he told them he was privileged to be in Eretz Yisrael where he can observe all the mitzvohs fully.
GETS KEY TO THE CITY
Mendelevich was also a special guest at a news conference at City Hall where Mayor Edward Koch presented him with the Key to the City.
The mayor said, “With freedom-loving people everywhere, I rejoice at the news of your release from a Soviet labor camp …. I would like to welcome you to our city to share your experiences and the joy of your freedom with all of us.”
Mendelevich responded by urging all American Jews to persist in their fight for human rights and religious freedom of “those millions of Soviet Jews still yearning to be free.”
Mendelevich will be a featured guest at the 10th annual Solidarity Sunday for Soviet Jewry march along 5th Avenue on May 31, sponsored by the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.
Mendelevich’s New York City tour is being sponsored by various groups, including the North American Aliya. Movement (NAAM), in conjunction with the Israel Aliya Center, Raishit Gaula and Chevrat Aliya Toranit; the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; the New York Conference on Soviet Jewry; Rabbi Steven Riskin, honorary chairman of the New York Conference and chairman of the Or Torah Society; and the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.
Mendelevich was also in Washington this week meeting with Congressmen. He was hosted by Rep. Martin Frost (D. Texas).
Reminder: There will be no Bulletin dated May 25 due to Memorial Day, a postal holiday.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.