Tribute to refuseniks, Soviet Jewry movement features calls to 'complete' Russian-speaking aliya

"Nothing can guarantee Israel's existence and strength more than aliya," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says at the conference.

russian synagogue 248 88 (photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
russian synagogue 248 88
(photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
"Nothing can guarantee Israel's existence and strength more than aliya," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday at a commemoration honoring the refuseniks who led Soviet Jewry's struggle for freedom in the 1970s and 1980s. The Russian-speaking aliya "changed Israel," he said. Olmert's words echoed those of Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski, who told the hundreds of assembled guests - including hundreds of refuseniks and those recognized as Prisoners of Zion - that "the work [of aliya] has yet to be completed, since there are hundreds of thousands [of Russian-speaking Jews] in the former Soviet Union, Germany, the US and Australia. We have to continue to act to bring them to the only home of the Jewish people - the State of Israel." "Your struggle was a symbol and an example that aliya is the future of the state," Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'acov Edri said. "All Jews who come to Israel strengthen it, so I call on the Jews to come to Israel." While most of the speeches centered on aliya, the purpose of the evening was to remember the struggle of the thousands of Jews who suffered years-long harassment and imprisonment by Soviet authorities because they wished to immigrate to Israel. "The Soviet regime couldn't stand up to the Jews who were demanding their basic rights," Olmert said. "This struggle contributed to the downfall of the Soviet regime. This was David against Goliath. The Soviets tried to destroy the Zionist movement [in the Soviet Union], but more and more joined it." For former MK and cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, a famous refusenik who spent over a decade in Siberia for his Zionist agitation, the movement was a lesson about strength. While the Soviet Jewry movement included "demonstrations of hundreds of thousands" around the world, "these came after the demonstrations of just a few brave activists who were then sent to Siberia." The movement, he said, found "a source of strength in the State of Israel and its achievements and military victories." The event was part of a series of events throughout the year marking 40 years to the Soviet Jewish movement, which was sparked by the Six Day War in 1967. The event brought together the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the Jewish Agency and the Public Committee for Commemorating 40 Years to the Soviet Jewish Struggle for Freedom, which Sharansky heads. It was attended by refuseniks living in Israel, along with former and current activists and members of the organizations, such as Nativ and the Jewish Agency, which worked to bring Soviet Jews out from under the Soviet regime.