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June 16, 1978 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1978-06-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

64 loe 16, 1978


Noshrim: Wandering in the Wilderness of Italy


(Copyright 1978, JTA, Inc.)

Jewish-owned businesses
in Rome closed early on Fri-
day, April 21, Passover eve,
as the city's Jews prepared
for the traditional Seder.
For the Russian Jews in Os-
tia, 26 kilometers south-
west of Rome, Seder night
was, however, a night like
every other night. It was if
anything, a little more dis-
e mal, a little lonelier and a
little colder on the
windswept steps of the
Ostia post office where they
gather every night.
The Jews of Ostia are the
"noshrim," the Russian
Jews who, once out of the
Soviet Union, have decided
not to go to Israel. Over
3,000 are waiting in Italy
for "the miracle," a visa for
America, Canada or Au-
stralia. Every month about
1,000 more arrive from Vie-
nna and join them in this
Over 2,500 of them live in
Ostia, once a popular vaca-
tion spot for Rome's middle
Every evening the
"Bassi" gather on the
steps of the local post of-

fice, a large, round build- how in buying or selling,
ing. It is their stock ex- sightseeing trips in old
change, the "bursa" as broken-down cars with
they call it, for gossip, in- German tax-free plates (no
formation and petty one knows how they ob-
trude. It is here that the tained either the cars or the
newcomers start looking number plates) and just
for a room, for addresses plain old-fashioned Jewish
of where to go and what "eitzes" (advice) on how to
to do. survive in this strange new
It is here that they discuss world.
the latest "inside" informs-
There is one thing the
tion about visas and
whether Chicago is a better noshrim know and insist on

they don't want to go to
place than New York and
Montreal cheaper than Ot- Israel. They are adamant
tawa. Some, who badly need and obstinate about it. Most
a few extra liras above the of them, if not all, have
made up their minds on this
Joint Distribution Commit- subject even before they left
tee (JDC) grant, offer their
Soviet Union. During
wares for sale: a few cups
and a "tchainik," an em- the four days I spent in
I talked to more than
broidered napkin and even
a pair of shoes. The real 50 noshrim, some who have
others who had
worthwhile goods are sold
on Sunday morning at been waiting for months.

Rome's flea market "Porta
None could or would
Portese" where the Russian explain his decision. A
Jews have by now a corner former
of their own.
Jewish journalist, who
It is also at the post office had been a Zionist ac-
that the veterans — those tivist for years, tried to
who have lived in Ostia for explain that he does not
eight or nine months, three like "the Begin regime."
years in the case of some of his too liberal, it does not
the Israeli yordim — offer know how to deal with
their services: their know- the Arabs or with ter-

rorists. The country is not
disciplined or organized
He is 56 years old and
knows that he will not find
work in his profession in the
United States and that he is
too old to start a new career.
He also knows that life in
New York, where he has a
cousin, will be hard and

He has been waiting in
Ostia for nine months and
his visa might still take a
long time to come through.
He says this is because of his
journalistic activities with a
Communist paper.


searched the memory of my
experience as a black person
who is not Jewish but who
lived illegally for three
years and six months
among the Israelis as I
sought to escape from ra-
cism elsewhere.
Of course times have
changed considerably
since 1967, when I ar-
rived penniless in Israel,
but it is hard to accept
that an entire people
would have changed so
much. I stress entire
people because in Israel,
much more than in other
countries, the views and
wishes of the majority are
directly reflected in the
actions of the govern-
ment, perhaps because of
the close knit nature of
the society.
Fully 60 percent of the Is-
raeli population comes from
foreign countries (the other
40 percent being born in Is-
rael or the immediate vicin-
ity), nearly all having come
to escape one form of op-
pression or another. And
since it is an important con-
sideration these days, it
must be noted that roughly

80 percent are non - white.

During the months that
followed, I found the Is-
raelis to be an exception.
ally sensitive people who
try to present a brash and
tough exterior. Of course
they are incredibly effi-
cient and courageous in
war, but off the

battlefield they are a
warm-hearted and emo-
tional people.
The Israelis I observed
between 1967 and 1970
were very embarrassed at
any complaint or discussion
of racism aimed at their
country because they
abhorred racism and didn't
want to consider the possi-
bility that such a monster
could exist in their society.
I found them to be very
idealistic about and well
disposed towards the black
people, and, in fact, unable
to differentiate between an
Ethiopian black and an
American or West Indian
black, or between a Marxist
black and a democratic
black. The Israelis have a
long relationship with the
Ethiopians and for years
• have had their own popula-
tion of Yemenite Jews
which is well integrated and
well regarded in their soci-
ety. (A Yemenite Jew re-
cently retired from his post
as speaker of the Israeli
Parliament.) Consequently
they canna understand any
other black person behav-
ing differently from the two
groups with which they are
Also, because of the na-
ture of the society and the
raison d'etre of the nation,
Israelis then recognized
someone coming there for a
prolonged stay only as being
desirous of becoming a part
of the society and of abiding

avoids them, the HIAS
people even refuse to talk to
them. I'll go to Israel with
an American passport, like
the American Jews do, and
then decide whether to stay
there or not."
In a group which had ar-
rived in Rome the day be-
fore, I ask: "Don't you
realize that you were let out
because you are Jews and
because Jews the world over
asked the Soviet govern-
ment to let you go? Even
now you are helped by
Jewish organizations. Don't
you feel you owe something
to Israel and the Jewish
A man in his forties, a
former store manager
from Odessa, replies, "We
know we owe a lot. We
are grateful and say
thank you." A woman,
who feels that this reply
is not sufficient, adds:
"Once we settle in
America and start work-
ing, we also shall send
money to help other
Jews. You won't find us
The people with whom I
spoke never once mentioned
the higher standard of liv-
ing in America. According
to the social workers who
deal with them on a daily
basis, this, and the fear of
war in Israel, seem to be the
main factors in their deci-
sion. Most also believe that
if they go to Israel they will
find it difficult to get out
Several people told me:
"We know that to leave Is-
rael we shall first have to
return all the money spent
on us. This is probably just
as difficult as obtaining an
exit permit in Russia."
Those who refuse to go to
Israel — last year about 50
percent of the Russian
emigrants — usually make
the decision before they
leave Russia.

A young man, a
chemist, has his mother
All this does not deter " in Haifa. He is tempted by
him. However: "No, no, it is Israel but would first like
pointless to talk to me about to go to see "whether I
Israel. I shall see later, once like it and whether I can
I am in America. Not now." find suitable work." He
A chief electronic en- knows the word "Yored"
gineer from Moscow who I and explains: "I was told
met at the HIAS office, exp- that if I go to Israel first, I
lains: "After having lived will lose all my other
all our lives in a country rights. Neither HIAS nor
which constantly made de- Joint (Joint Distribution
mands on us we are just not Committee) will help me
ready for additional sac- again should I decide to
rifices. We just want to take change my mind. What I
it easy for a few years , in a would like is to be able to
country where no one will go to Israel for a few
ask us for anything, where months and then make a
This is obviously against
Jewish Agency policy as if
were enabled to go
by its rules, rather than as
seeking to be separate but and "look around first," all
to avail them-
equal, which to them was
the concept of apartheid. selves of this possibility. A
They all expressed a great Jewish Agency official exp-
admiration for Martin lains: "We would become a
Luther King, and on the day travel agency, shuttling
of his death there was such people around and immig-
obvious sadness and regret ration would probably drop
that I felt very self- at once."
This argument does not
conscious from the atten-
tion and expressions of carry much weight with the
A women engineer
sympathy that I receiyed.
from Leningrad, says: "We
By September 1967 I see in Ostia the yordim,
had begun to speak Heb- those who went to Israel
rew, I had made friends,
first. Now they are stranded
and I felt quite at home and who knows what will
among a people who become of them. Everybody
were young, enthusiastic
and not hung up on
someone else's color. We
lived a very out-of-doors
life-style and I found the
sense of adventure, of
Careers of four noted per- wl
ppen to be in the the-
participating in the
formers, who had to their at
at who had to feed
building of a country ex- credit 170 years of stage their kids.
citing. I had no desire to popularity, are described in
"The Gilfords felt the
return to the white
"170 Years of Show Busi- impact just as Jack was
societies I had known,
ness" by Kate Mostel and about to embark on a new
because those memories
Madeline Gilford.
career in television; the
contrasted so much with
Zero Mostel and his wife, Mostels, in Hollywood,
the sense of freedom and
Kate, and Jack Gilford and learned that the terms of
self-respect I was begin- his wife, Madeline, are the Zero's seven-year con-
ning to experience for the
heroes of this Random- tract with 20th Century-
first time outside of my publishesd volume.
Fox were fulfilled by one
father's house.
Extensively illustrated, film. In New York, the
At the urging of my Is-
and Gilfords
raeli friends, I decided to the fascination of this watched as good jobs
stay on in Israel, keeping book lies in the in- passed them by, as .
well clear of any trouble and timacies, the theatrical friends' careers were in-
of the police and immigra- experiences, the reac- terrupted — some never
tion authorities. From time tions to performers and to be resumed — and as
to time (after I had moved to audiences.
lives were destroyed.
live in town, first in Tel
The story relates expert- During those years Kate
Aviv then Eilat), I met ences from one-night stands got a job acting in Cam-
other blacks from the West to the Broadway and Hol- bridge; Madeline created
Indies or Africa who were lywood triumphs. television shows for which
either students or like my-
For the Mostels and Gil- she would not receive credit
self "just visiting." There fords, the blacklist was one and worked with the actors'
are hundreds of people of all of the serious periods in union against McCar-
races and nationalities their lives. thyism; Jack found work in
(among them a large com-
"When we remember the the "tent" theaters, whose
plement of Japanese), both blacklist, what we talk management was willing to
Jews and non-Jews — I about is a little different; hire blacklisted actors; and
have lived among each political, sure, but re- Zero worked in small theat-
group — who have enjoyed member, we were family ers — performing Moliere
this unexpected hospitality. people --niamas and papas — and painted.

A Black 'Visitor' Looks at Israel's Racism'

(Editor's Note: The fol-
lowing article was writ-
ten by the international
news editor for Encore
American & Worldwide
News, the prestigious
Black biweekly.
Recently a group of
American tourists from a
Chicago sect calling them-
selves the "Black Hebrews"
were expelled from Israel
after only a few days in that
country. Israeli authorities
claimed to have evidence
that this group of 25 men,
women, children intended
to settle illegally in the
country by joining a com-
munity of more than 400
other black American
settlers from the same sect
living illegally in the town
of Dimona.
Reacting to the expulsion,
spokesmen from black
American groups claiming
Jewish ancestry or identity
levelled charges of racism
against the state of Israel
which they said practices
"rigid discrimination
against Jews who are not of
European background."
Like many other persons
familiar with both the black
and Israeli communities, I
have sought to undystand
how things have come to
this sorry pass between two
people who have every
reason to respect each other,
most particularly their his-
torically shared burden of
-human injustice. I have

for once we can think about
ourselves. We are simply
dead tired, worn out.
"Israel? Maybe, but in a
few years when I shall feel a
different man."
A woman, also from Mos-
cow, well dressed and with a
diploma from one of the
Soviet Union's best medical
schools said: "We heard (in
the USSR) that once we go
to Israel it is very difficult to
leave should we change our
minds. It is always possible
to go from America to Israel
— the other way round is

Mostels, Gilfords List Roses
on the Stage in New Book

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