Purim in the USSR 1974

The festival of Purim was celebrated by many Soviet Jews last week. For them the figure of Haman had a more modern connotation. As Ovsei Gelman from Tbilisi, Georgia, put it in a message to a friend in London:

On the eve of Purim, which symbolises the vain efforts of all enemies of the Jewish People to exterminate us, we express our feelings for the people and government of Israel. In our time, as in the past, the evil intentions of the anti-Semites will dissipate and they will turn against themselves. All over the promised kind of our ancestors under the blue sky of Israel, let there be both peace and prosperity.

A more poignant, if defiant, note was struck by six Jews in a Kishinev prison. Nearly two weeks ago, Yaakov Schwartzman, Mark Abramovich, Leonid Bendersky and Sender Levinson had attempted to go on hunger strike in the Central telegraph office in Kishinev in protest against persistent Sovuiet refusals to grant them exit permits.

Two hours after the start of their fast, a squad of militiamen arrived and arrested them together, with two others Miron Dorfman and Yaakov Shtarkman. The following morning six were sentenced to 15 days’ imprisonment. In a message to World Jewry smuggled out of their prison, the six announced their in intention to stage a two-day hunger strike during Purim as a protest against the arbitrary action taken against them. Referring to themselves as “forcible outlaws” in Soviet society, they pointed out that they were unemployed and that their freedom of movement was severely restricted. Their telephones were tapped even to the point that innocuous conversations with relatives were interfered with. Regarding their hope of future emigration to Israel, they stated “we do not know when tomorrow morning’s sun will rise.”

In the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, 10 Jews sent the following message to President Katzir of Israel:

We congratulate the People of Israel on the festival of Purim and wish our country prosperity and strength. May all the enemies of Israel fall by the wayside.

In Kiev the situation of the Jewish activists has even more difficult since the trial of Alexander Feldman at the end of November. Some of the signatories on the Purim message such as Kim Fridman, had offered to be witnesses at the trial. Instead they were threatened with imprisonment themselves.

Two other signatories, Saul Raslin and Alexander Tsatskis, had just returned from Moscow where they had been involved in the action during which over 70 Jews been arrested. On arrival in Moscow, Tsatskis and Raslin had been tailed by ten plainclothes KGB agents. Outside the Bolshoi Theatre in the centre of Moscow, the two Jews were confronted by their followers and a fight started. Bystanders who did not recognise the KGB men in civilian clothes rushed forward to help the Jews. Uniformed police immediately stepped in to hold them back. “Don’t worry they are thieves,” they said referring to the Jews. Tsatskis and Raslin were arrested, put on the first train to Kiev, rearrested on arrival, interrogated and finally set free, late at night.

The Kiev ten also sent a message to all Jews and friends of the Jewish People in Great Britain and the United States. This was given to a leading.member of the Jewish Community in England by Basia Soroko,who was recently separated from her husband and nine-year-old son when they were given permission to emigrate to Israel while she was denied this right on the grounds she had access to “classified information.”

Jews from small towns who up until now had not been active in the exodus movement also sent messages of support. This was exmplified by a telegram sent to President Katzir from ten Jews from Vinnitsa. and Zhitomir:

We are sending to the people of Israel and to you personally our best wishes on the festival of Purim. May there always be peace and prosperity in our country.

Happy, holiday.

A large number of Moscow activists attended the service at the Central Synagogue on Arkhipova Street. Many returned afterwards to the flat of professor Alexander Lerner for a Purim party.

 Jerusalem Post 13 March 1974

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