Activists thirst for Jewish knowledge

Although the Russians are continuing to harass their Jewish citizens, they appear to be refrain-ng from resorting to blatant cruelties which could form the nucleus of an issue between them and the Americans in the US presidential campaign.

Last year, there were eight known trials of Jewish activists. Pour were young men tried for evasion, of military duty. This year, there have been no trials, though the threat of conscription still remains. Once a man serves in the army, his application to emigrate is rejected automatically.

During the American primaries, this “slient” form of harassment increased. In Minsk and Odessa, the emigration offices took a minimum of six months to deal with applications and did not even notify people when their cases had been decided. Queues at the offices were usually at least 60 strong, with applicants having to spend an entire day waiting. One family said: “We queue in turn, two days a week, month after month. Each time we hope that today well have an answer. Now it is our Way of life”.

FROM MANY cities, activists are reporting that the invitations from Israel which are needed before a Jew can apply to leave are not arriving. Even if the invitation is received, there is now a new obstacle to overcome: a work certificate is required which states that no money is owed. This has to be signed by the applicant’s supervisor at work. In addition, a form has to be completed by a number of local citizens. This means that the entire neighbour-knows of the applicant’s desire to leave and usually leads to increased harassment.

This perpetual intimidation can quickly cause apathy and even assimilation among the undecided. A recent report of the Jewish Agency’s department of immigration and absorption revealed that one of the major reasons why Soviet Jews arriving in Vienna decided to proceed to countries other than Israel was their lack of Jewish background and motivation.

Moscow activists have now appealed to Jews in the west to organise the mass publication or books on Jewish history, culture and religion in the Russian language. They stipulate that such books should have no political or propagandist tendency, but should be able to provide material for self-education and self-analysis. In addition, they have urged the Soviet Government to set up of chairs of Hebrew in Soviet universities. A similar demand has been made by 30 Riga activists to the Latvian Ministry of Culture.

WHILE WAITING and hoping that something will be done, the activists have started a number of Jewish cultural seminars. In Minsk, for example, a regular seminar on Jewish history is now taking place. In Moscow last month, Ilya Essas, expelled from a Yeshiva because he wanted to go to Israel, gave a lecture on the development of the Jewish nation.

The scientists’ seminar in Moscow will shortly begin its 1976-77 series, It is held every Sunday from noon until 2 pm. in the apartment of Professor Mark Azbel. The programme includes a lecture on the development of the Hebrew language and alphabet.

In the last series of lectures, as many as 70 scientists participated, including 13 professors and 23 doctors. Next March, the fifth anniversary of the seminars, founded by Professor Alexander Vorotte4 will be celebrated. Vorone1 is now safely and happily settled in Israel. One wonders how long it will be before he will be joined by more of his former students.

Jewish Observer 10 September 1976

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