Sir, – Your report “Arabs riot minutes before housing minister ascends Temple Mount” (March 17) makes it clear that any permanent Israeli-Palestinian accord must include the total return of Israeli sovereignty over this holiest of Jewish shrines.
The loss of such an opportunity in a final arrangement would be an irreversible tragedy for all of Jewry.
Sir, – Leading Palestinian figures have told reporters that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has no authority to make concessions on Jerusalem, settlements, refugees or borders, or to recognize the “Jewish state” of Israel.
The core of the conflict has always been about Arab rejection of the Jewish state. There can be no peace and no security for Israel without a change in this basic condition.
If the current talks fail it will be because of this and the Arab and Muslim world, spearheaded by the Palestinians. It’s as simple as that!
Netanya Purim 1953
Sir, – We were happy to read the article by Yosef Begun and Larry Pfeffer (“Purim 1953: Jews in the Communist empire,” Comment & Features, March 17) as, interestingly enough, we discussed this very subject at the Shabbat table just before its publication.
At the table a young Russian woman told us how her parents remembered the feeling, as youngsters, that something awful was about to happen. At school, bullies were telling Jewish youngsters, “Just you wait.”
She described how everything was planned – all the horrible, scary things, and then with no one else to turn to, the Jews would turn to Josef Stalin, their only possible “savior.” But he would transport them to Siberia; the trains were already at the railway stations, and the “second Holocaust” was proceeding according to plan.
She explained that Stalin was considered immortal by the people, and that it was impossible to describe the fear that Jews felt at the time. Had it not been for his collapse on Purim 1953 and death four days later, there is no question of what would have happened to the three million Jews of the Soviet Union.
Thank you for featuring this article. We, sitting around the table, felt goose bumps as this young woman, who was not even born at the time, retold the story as experienced by her parents.
MOSHE and RUTH COHN
Sir, – My mother was born in Moscow in 1934 into a very pious Chabad family. Together with others, they risked their lives to teach their children Torah and other Jewish teachings, and to keep a fully observant life under terribly dangerous conditions.
After World War II, when Josef Stalin’s anti-Jewish decrees worsened, there was a window of opportunity for Jews who wanted out. This opportunity arose with the Soviet agreement of repatriation of Polish citizens, which allowed members of the Chabad community to obtain forged Polish papers and escape via Poland to various free countries.
My mother’s family arrived in Lvov (then Lemberg) to board trains to Poland with their false passports. It was very risky and involved great danger, not just for the travelers disguising themselves as Polish refugees, but also for those who prepared the false passports and arranged the transportation.
My great-grandmother and great-grandfather wouldn’t join the escapees because my great-grandfather was very involved in Chabad activity in Moscow and knew that the NKVD, the Soviet internal security service, was frantically looking to arrest him. He knew that if he was found in Lemberg he would put all the others at risk. Sure enough, in 1947, he was arrested along with other members of the Chabad community and after a quick trial they were sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in Siberia for being traitors.
My great-grandfather was deeply pious and refused to break any Jewish law at all while in prison. His wife faithfully traveled the long journey to bring him kosher food. The jailers insisted that all Jews with beards shave them off. My great-grandfather absolutely refused. Eventually, the authorities forcedly shaved him. A short time after that he died from grief in the arms of his good friend, another Chabad hassid. His body was never returned for burial.
My great-grandmother, after applying numerous times for an exit visa, finally was given permission to leave in 1965 and joined us in Melbourne, Australia, where she lived until her death five years later. I was privileged to know her for those five years as a deeply pious and believing Jew.
My uncle wrote a book about his and his family’s experiences in Soviet Russia titled The Man who Mocked the KGB.
Sir, – Yosef Begun and Larry Pfeffer provided a timely, important reminder of how dark the early 1950s were for Jews behind the Iron Curtain, as well as how miraculously fortuitous the timing of Josef Stalin’s demise was.
While teaching about those terrible times and commemorating that great modern deliverance, it would be particularly appropriate to note the role of a heretofore unsung heroine, Dr.
Sophia Karpai, in preventing the impending disaster. As described in Stalin’s Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors 1948-1953, her heroic refusal to confess to imaginary crimes, even under intense torture, critically delayed Stalin’s planned mass action against the Soviet Union’s Jews. As authors Jonathan Brent and Vladimir P.
Naumov put it, “the fate of the Jews of Russia may well have depended on this latter day, unknown Esther.”
Unfortunately, due to the conditions of her imprisonment, Karpai died shortly after her release in March 1953.
However long it has taken, the traditional Jewish dictum of hakarat hatov (gratitude, or literally recognizing the good) fairly demands that Sophia Karpai’s extraordinary heroism finally receive highly deserved recognition by the State of Israel.
RICHARD D. WILKINS Syracuse, New York Sir, – Josef Stalin actually died on Purim. He did not collapse on that day and then die several days later. Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, so testified in her autobiography Twenty Letters to a Friend. The announcement of his death was kept hidden for three days until a troika of leaders was agreed upon so as to prevent a revolution before succession was established.
Jewish tradition teaches that the Hebrew month of Adar, in which Purim occurs, is blessed with special protection from God, while anti-Semitic leaders are cursed.
Clear and tragic
Sir, – Rabbi Reuven Hammer calls for the elimination of the Chief Rabbinate (“The Chief Rabbinate: An obstacle to conversion,” Comment & Features, March 16).
Is Jewry really flourishing in the Diaspora, as Rabbi Hammer writes? The answer is clear and tragic for the future of Judaism, for recently we read of many non-Orthodox synagogues renting out unused space, since their activities had decreased considerably – all this without there being a chief rabbinate in America to bother them.
What should one say about his Masorti-Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, which has failed so miserably, as clearly shown in the recent Pew study? It is high time to admit the truth: It is the rabbinate, along with our great rabbinic leaders, who are preventing the Jewish people from being eliminated.
I would also remind Rabbi Hammer that Israel is a democratic state where even chief rabbis can partake in a prayer gathering, even if they are paid by the state.
Dimona The writer is chief rabbi of Dimona