(photo credit: Courtesy, President's Residence)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein surprised US Secretary of State John Kerry on
Thursday night by presenting him with a letter that Kerry had sent – as a
senator – to then-Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1987 urging him
to release Edelstein from a grueling Soviet prison camp.
presented the letter to Kerry at the formal dinner they both attended at
President Shimon Peres’s residence in honor of US President Barack Obama. He
added a meaningful dedication: “To Secretary Kerry with deepest appreciation for
your efforts 26 years ago. Yuli Edelstein, speaker of the Knesset.”
letter, which was signed by more than 40 senators and congressmen, described
Edelstein as a Hebrew teacher falsely convicted of drug possession who suffered
a severe injury in a prison camp and required urgent medical care. The letter
noted Edelstein’s family’s fears that he might have been suffering from acute
“We members of Congress respectfully request that you
intervene on behalf of Soviet prisoner Yuli Edelshtein,” the letter said.
“Soviet law authorizes relief from a prison sentence because of illness. Yuli’s
medical condition is critical and satisfies the conditions for granting medical
clemency. We request that you intervene on Yuli’s behalf so that he may seek the
proper medical care he so desperately needs.”
Kerry was emotional about
the letter and showed it to several people at the dinner, including Israel’s
ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, who said it gave him goose
“This is unbelievable,” Kerry said. “I remember that this was in
my second year as a senator and you were released a few months after that.
Thanks for this wonderful gift.”
Edelstein was released from the Soviet
camp on May 4, 1987, and the veteran prisoner of Zion was finally allowed to
make aliya. He had no idea that it happened to be Israel’s Independence Day on
the Jewish calendar.
When he was badly injured and taken to the nearest
hospital, officials there were told that it lacked security, so he had to be
taken to a far-off labor camp that had a hospital. Edelstein said he owes his
life to the determination of his wife, who continuously fought for him and urged
senators like Kerry to fight on his behalf.
“They hoped I would die,” he
says. “But when it got out to my wife that I was injured, she started a campaign
for me. Only then did they send me real doctors who operated on me. When they
wanted to send me back to the camp, she wrote the attorney-general that she would
go on another hunger strike. Had I been sent back there, I think I would have