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May 02, 1980 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1980-05-02

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64 Friday, May 2, 1980


10 Days Behind the Iron Curtain: A Visit With Soviet Refusniks


(Copyright 1980, JTA, Inc.)

(Editor's note: Frank
Wundohl, editor of the
Jewish Exponent in
Philadelphia and
president of the Ameri-
can Jewish Press Asso-
ciation, and Rabbi Her-
bert Tobin, associate di-
rector for community
services of the Jewish
Community Relations
Council of Philadelphia,
recently spent "10 tem-
pestuous days behind the
Iron Curtain.")
We met several times
with those who had gone be-
fore us on similar missions
to the Soviet, Union. Those
who had previously toured
offered their encourage-
ment, their experience and
their counsel.
First, we were loaded
with detailed biographical
sketches and snapshots of
the refusniks with whom it
was hoped we would meet.
We learned what to do
and even more importantly
what not to do in attempting

to contact refusniks. For the were to do, whatever we
refusniks, we packed denim were to carry with us, was
jeans, sweaters, tape re- strictly in conformance with
corders, batteries, peanut Soviet law. We were going
butter, chewing gum, whis- to be "tourists." We were
key, candy, cigarets and de- going to make contact (le-
hydrated foodstuffs easily gally) with the refusniks.
reconstituted, like bouillon We knew that the Russians
cubes and instant coffee. would not be happy when
They seem like everyday we made contact with
items to us, but to our im- Soviet refusniks.
prisoned brothers and sis-
The last time we dis-
ters, they are a lifeline.
cussed our trip we touched
Much of the food and upon perhaps the most sen-
clothing ultimately sitive issue we might be ex-
makes its way to such pected to face over the next
God-forsaken places as 10 days — the matter of car-
Amur in Outer Mongolia rying Jewish books in the
where Vladimir Slepak Russian language to the re-
languishes in isolation. fusniks. There is no ac-
He is serving five years' counting for the Russian.
banishment in internal What annoys them with one
exile for the "crime" of tourist may be completely
holding up a sign on the ignored with the next. Some
balcony of his Moscow books are confiscated one
apartment which read: time and waved through the
"Give qs visas so we may next.
We were warned that dis-
be reunited with our sons
covery of these materials
in Israel."
Throughout the weekly might lead to temporary de-
briefing sessions, the air tention and the confiscation
was lighthearted. We were of the books.
"Please follow me, sir," a
about to embark on a great
adventure. Whatever we customs officer directed me

Life of U.S. Jewish Immigrants
Recalled in Green's The Chains'

Gerald Green has written
his name inerasably in the
record of American literary
achievements. He sen-
sationalized, his labors as a
novelist with "The Last
Angry Man." As a best
seller and subsequently as a
high-ranking movie, "The
Last Angry Man" remains
among the most impressive
accounts of the life of im-
migrant Jews in this coun-
Then came the interna-
tional triumph, his novel
about the Holocaust which
became the text for the
five-day television program
that was watched and
talked about by tens of mil-
lions, later trekking its way
to Germany, with showings
in many lands, including Is-
Now Gerald Green treats
his readers with another
novel that is already on the
road to being a long-
running best seller.
Green's newest novel
follows a tradition. He
deals with a Jewish fam-
ily, with three genera-
tions, their evolutionary
The Chains" (Seaview
Books) are the heroes of the
novel, whose American
roles reflect on the immig-
rant integrations in this
Brooklyn is the scene.
The Chain family is active
here in the years 1910 to
1960. They begin in the
Brownsville area. Im-

poverished, they grow with
their appreciation of the
new land and the devotion
with which they benefited
from American advantages.
Jake Chain is symbolic of
the family. He was a child
on the boat arriving in the
U.S., grew up in an orphan
asylum. He became a seltzer
wagon driver _and he was
tough fisted.
He was the type of man
who would not yield to
insult. He struck back
when assailed.
It is undoubtedly normal
to the Jewish experience
that Jake should become
involved in union activities.
Rising in the ranks, he is
portrayed beating up strike
breakers, and from a labor
racketeer he became a boot-
Mortimer Chain, Jake's
son, inherited the bootleg-
ging, and when liquor was
legalized he rose in the in-
Then came the achieving
of respectability — by
Jake's grandson Martin, the
brilliant manipulator who
rose in the corporate ranks.
Introduced by Green in
the ranks of the changing
generations is Jake's
cousin, Eva Heilig, who is
hailed as a heroine by the
embattled women strik-
ers. Socialist, street
corner orator, student of
world affairs, Eva
emerges as a dedicated
advocate of reforms. The
fact that she married an

aristocrat from Manhat-
tan in no way affected her
zeal as a reformer.
Green describes how
power, influence and money
is ill-gotten in the Chain
chronicle of events during a
half - century of Ameri-
canized rise from immig-
rant to financial _power.
But there also is the pro-
tester, the critic, the rebel,
Dr. Samuel Abelman, the
hero of "The Angry Man,"
epic. He resorts to tirades
against swindlers, crooks,
employers, the city, shout-
ing, "The bastards don't let
you live."
The role of this doctor is
revived as the man upon
whose principles the Chain
family leans, the healer who
charges five cents for an
office visit, a dollar for a
house call.
The impressiveness
and fascination of "The
Chains" is that its author
reconstructs the Ameri-
can experience while re-
lating the story of three
generations of Jews. He
portrays with great skill
the immigrant's rise, the
social and political
occurrences, the labor
movement and its strug-
gles. It is certain to rank
among the very notable
of Green's works.
Gerald Green is the
author of 21 books of fiction
and non-fiction. Green re-
ceived the Dag Ham-
marskjold International
Peace Prize for "Holocaust."

the street outside the Mos- changed the word to " 'here,'
cow synagogue where we who continue to taste the
met many refusniks. When bitterness of slavery."
Wundohl produced one of
we turned sharply into the
narrow street, we were the four copies of the-March
struck by several im- 21 edition of the Jewish
mediate impressions. First, Exponent. Its 112 pages
the Great Synagogue of brought gasps from those
Moscow with its soft white gathered as they turned
columns is much less impos- page after page. The refus-
ing that its name suggests. niks of Moscow were wide-
Second, we were hardly eyed in amazement that a
prepared for the throngs of Jewish newspaper, a
people milling about in the flourishing newspaper, car-
street. There must have ried openly stories like: "In-
been 250 Jews, refusniks terfaith Seder Is Dedicated
and "observers" in small to POCs" (Prisoners of Con-
(Wundohl) after I had hur- clusters busily talking.
science); "Soviet Jews
riedly re-assembled my
These Saturday after- Israel," a report with ph
carefully searched luggage noon meetings represent on a mission of 12 members
at Moscow's Sheremetyevo the best opportunity weekly of the Soviet Jewry Council
for refusniks and other to visit former refusniks
I was directed to a tiny Jews, who have not applied now living in Israel. ,
interrogation cubicle, for exit visas, to exchange
surrounded by what greetings, information, Michael and Alexander
seemed to be a platoon of news and ideas. And we Khadmeansky suggested a
customs and government joined in.
private session the next af-
officials but was com-
Riva introduced Tobin ternoon to delve deeper into
prised, in fact, of only five to Victor Brailovsky's the complex issue of drop-
individuals. And it was wife, and brought Wun- outs. The valuable hours we
hot. I had been awake for dohl to Masha Slepak, spent in the Moscow apart-
291/2 hours.
who only by coincidence ment of Michael and Ilalana
Surrounded as I was on had just returned from Khadmeansky the next day
the short walk from bag- exile with her husband, prevented us from attend-
gage inspection, I failed to Vladimir, in Amur, Outer ing a Purim Spiel elsewhere
see a somewhat dispirited Mongolia, in order to that drew overflow crowds
and dissheveled traveling comply with Soviet regu- to three performances.
companion who had just lations requiring that the
Our session with the
emerged from the very same Slepaks register every six three leaders was some-
room to which I was de- months to keep their what more somber. They
stined. - Tobin had been Moscow apartment.
outlined to us their worry
plucked out of line, too, and
It was difficult to spend that Jews who choose not
already subjected to a body more than a few minutes to immigrate to Israel are
with each of those whom we smothering the chances
There were as many as six met . . . Ilya Essas, Pavel of those still in the Soviet
officials in the room at one Abramovich, Helen Seidel, Union from ever being
time, and each Jewish item Arkady Mai, Yuli granted permission to
they found elicited com- Kosharovsky and many, leave.
ment. We were convinced many others. As the sun set
It is a simple argument.
that, at the least, all our and temperatures plum- Those who seek to leave
treasured items would be meted, we left the street the USSR and accept
with Kosharovsky, head of "first-degree relative af-
About 15 minutes later, the network of Hebrew fidavits" (those who have a
almost everything, includ- teachers, and a handful of mother, father, sister or
ing our address cards were his colleagues. We also were brother in Israel) issued by
returned to us. The notable accompanied by two young the state of Israel and then
exceptions were the Jewish women from head West instead allow the
Soviets to claim the visa
Russian-language books England.
After a 40-minute hike procedure is a mockery.
and Hagadot each of us had
through the cold, we were Further, the Russians claim
been carrying.
Not 10 minutes after led to another apartment Israeli visas are not truth-
checking into the hotel, block. The apartment, ful.
The three refusniks also
Wundohl followed James though furnished in the
Bond's 007 prescription. He taste and pocket book of one outlined the arcane and
left the dining room, slipped of the teachers, was almost capricious nature of the exit
c ros s be- a carbon copy of the visa application process,
edhotel, crossed
out the
and pointed to a lack of a
e x u p
t olaf the main boulevard to Feldman flat.
Kosharovsky invited us comprehensive written set
the Metro (subway) ter-
. minus and amidst a milling as the guests of honor dur- of guidelines. A variety of
crowd of Muscovites, found ing our walk there to take their other needs and con-
the floor for the bulk of the cerns was expressed.
a pay phone on the well.
Their commitment to He-
Three tries finally pro- several hours of that eve-
duced our first connec- ning's seminar. Tobin lec- brew, to Zionism and Eretz
tion — refusnik Riva tured in Hebrew about the Yisrael in no way pre-
Feldman. Riva put one of history and traditions sur- vented them from display-
her two sons on the rounding the celebration of ing their appreciation for
phone because, as she Pesach. Therewas an obvi- our visit. They lavished
apologetically, ous thirst and- appreciation hospitality and comfort on
us, as we sipped tea and Ate
he "speaks better English for the ideas he presented.
A silence enveloped the a wide variety of food , l
than I do." We completed
arrangements for a visit room when he mentioned sweet cakes.
When Khadmeansky
to the Feldman the next the "fifth cup of wine that
many U.S. Jews add to matter-of-factly an-
their Seder in commem-
Riva Feldman, twins oration fo the Six Million nounced, You know -e
Efim and Vladimir, Vla- martyrs of the Holocaust. have contingency ph, I
dimir's wife Helen and their The tragic ramifications Ynli suddenly disappears
11-month-old son Lev of the Shoah are felt by in the middle of the night
greeted us on an upper floor both communities," he one night. I will take over.
If I go, it will be Michael
of a typical shabby Moscow said.
and there are others,
hi-rise apartment building.
both of us felt a cold
Weeks later, we received
word in Philadelphia that remarks by speaking about psychological chill.
We pledged to relay their
Riva Feldman's request for the "fourth matza — the
an exit visa to Israel had at matza of hope — that many concerns, their needs, to the
long last been approved by American Jews point to as Jews of America. Then it
the Ovir's office in Moscow. symbolizing the enslave- was down into the deep and
It had been essential, we ment of our brethren 'there' intricate Moscow Metro en
felt, to meet Feldman be- in the Soviet Union." He route to our next refusnik
cause she was to lead us to paused for seconds, then meeting.

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