letters to the editor.
(photo credit: )
November 9 UpFront: Soviet Jewry's struggle
Soviet Jewry's struggle
Sir, - There were two major subjects Sam Ser did not deal with in "Right of refusal" (November 2):
1. The important activities of the Tarbut (cultural) group led by Prof. Fein, Vladimir Prestin, Pavel Abramovich and others. Not only were they refuseniks whose every move was observed by the KGB, they put themselves on the line. They taught Hebrew and disseminated material on Judaism and Israel clandestinely brought in by the unstoppable flow of activists from around the world. As opposed to the "aliya" activists, they maintained that only when Jews in the Soviet Union regained their identity - denied them for 60 years - would they be able to decide their destiny. With my own eyes I saw people arriving from all over the USSR to collect the literature.
2. I was in Moscow when Natan Sharansky was arrested, together with Prof. Yuri Orlov, chairman of the human rights movement (Helsinki Committee). My companion and I were involved in getting the first legal documents on Sharansky out to Europe.
Why wasn't Orlov championed in the West? Simply because only Jews in the West were organized and gaining ground on the political level, with little or no support from other groups. They and Israel knew that to confuse "dissidents" with aliya activists could jeopardize the movement to return to the historic Jewish homeland.
Fortunately for Sharansky, it was the Jews and not the human rights movements that made him an "international" figure.
Sir, - Your story created the false impression that US Jewry, more than any other Jewish community, protested and appealed on Soviet Jews' behalf. The very obvious ingratiating of American Jewry's role is also in evidence in the exhibition at Beth Hatefutsoth. There, and in your publication, no European country was focused upon, with the exception of one photo showing a march in London for Raiza Palatnik. Less than 300,000 Jews live in the UK, and pro rata we had a higher number of individuals than the US involved in Soviet Jewry's fight for freedom.
It is understandable that Israel today may not have too much love for the UK and Europe, but that is no reason not to give credit, and not to Canada and Australia either, for the huge input by their Jewish and non-Jewish organizations to helping Soviet Jews gain their freedom.
Omission of this nature is termed revisionist history. Education it certainly is not.
Sam Ser responds:
To Ms. Harris: The activities of those I did not mention are duly noted. It is impossible, of course, to exhaust any subject as complex as this in a single article. Indeed, the museum exhibit offers much more detail than I ever could.
To Ms. Cumber: Surely, Jews from all over the world made common cause with Soviet Jewry in their struggle for freedom. However, nowhere in my interviews and other research did I find evidence that any Jewish community accomplished as much as the American Jewish community did in terms of effective political action at home or visits to Jews in the Soviet Union. While British Jews may have been more mobilized than their American counterparts in relative terms, there simply was no equal to the sheer size and influence of American Jewry in absolute terms.
Optimism wins out
Sir, - The most important lesson I learned from Sarah Honig's "Dancing with scorpions" (November 2) was that a frog crossing a river should be very careful whom he takes on as a hitchhiker. Any comparison between the fable and our situation does not consider the following historical facts:
1. President Anwar Sadat, no lover of the Jewish people, made his historic voyage to Israel in a real attempt to find peace. For this brave act he was assassinated.
2. PM Rabin, whose speech about breaking the bones of Arabs I still remember, also paid with his life when he took a more conciliatory approach to the Mideast impasse.
3. PM Begin, who represented the right-wing parties in Israel, was nevertheless willing to change his stance and give up territory for peace with Egypt.
4. PM Sharon, father of the settlement movement, also changed his hard-line stance in an attempt to find a solution to our problems with the Arab world.
In conclusion: Persistence, patience, goodwill, and an optimistic outlook will win out over the hard-line pessimists. Drops of water falling on the hardest stone will slowly but surely wear it down.