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April 05, 1985 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-04-05

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Friday, April 5, 1985




The Russian Dilemma .


• •

Continued from Page 2

sharply restricted the number of
letters and parcels that get
through to refuseniks, many of
whom depend on gifts from the
West to help them get by.
Over the last year or so, police
have launched a crackdown on ac-
tivists promoting Jewish religion
and history. Particular attention
has been focused on unofficial
teachers of Hebrew who hold
courses in private apartments.
Since October 1983, six of them
have been arrested and sent to
labor camps on charges ranging
from possession of narcotics to re-
sisting arrest.
Some of those waiting to leave
say they have been summoned by
emigration officials and told that
exit permits on a large scale never
again will be issued.
In view of these developing conditions,
the speculations over the Gorbachev atti-
tudes are vital to the issue and the follow-
ing revelations need serious consideration.
The facts accummulated and provided by
experts on the Russian issue must not be

USSR Sense Of Jewish
Values . . . The Biased
Policies Scrutinized

In the eras of Czarism, when Imperial
Russia was fanning anti-Semitism, every
change in government was treated with
caution. The slogan always was: Let's not
judge speedily. Let's not invite fear. Let's
be grateful for what we had. Let's hope
change in rulership will not be worse.
The old experiences invite current ap-
plication. Will the assumption of power by
Mikhail Gorbachev have an effect on the
Kremlin's prejudicial attitudes toward
Jews which are legacies from Czardom?
Perhaps a partial reply is provided in a
New York Times Op-Ed Page essay
entitled "will Gorbachev Be Brezhnev II?"
by Marshall I. Goldman,. professor of eco-
nomics at Wellesley College and associate
director of the Russian Research Center at
Harvard University, published the day
after Gorbachev assumed power:
The rapid selection of Mikhail
S. Gorbachev as General Secretary
— at 54, he is the Politburo's
youngest member — may not be as
sharp a departure from past Soviet
experience as it first appears.
Leonid I. Brezhnev was only 57
when he assumed power, and his
18-year record showed nothing to
indicate that relative youth, and
vigor, is sufficient to make possible
radical changes in domestic and
foreign policy. This suggests that
the system is more important than
a leader's age and vitality in de-
termining change.
Will there be any changes in USSR
attitudes toward Jews under the new ad-
ministration? Will emigration be permit-
ted in accordance with international regu-
lations endorsing peoples' rights to choose
their domiciles? Will the educational re-
strictions on Jews be altered?
The doubts overwhelm the hopes.
There has been very little in recent decades
to indicate an end to Soviet restrictions on
Jews. What the Kremlin officially sen-
sationalized in recent months was the
claim to alleged fame for the Birobidjhan
myth. A Birobidjhan troupe did, indeed,
tour Russia and gained acclaim as an
entertaining theatrical element. This was
not strictly Birobidjhanese in that cultur-
ally frozen area. It was mostly Muscovite.

The USSR especially delights in giv-
ing emphasis to the personality and works
of Sholem Aleichem. The latest from the
Novosti News Agency, shared with us by
the information department of the Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics' Washington
embassy, makes a big claim, contending
that "in 1984 the USSR public widely
marked the 125th anniversary of the birth
of Sholem Aleichem." Then it proceeds to
describe his popularity in the United
States and the Fiddler on the Roof sensa-
tion. Novosti's explanatory release,
bylined Uram Guralnik, described as "a
Ph.D. in pilology and a senior research
associate at the Gorky Institute of World
Literature under the USSR Academy of
Sciences, Moscow," offers the following ex-
On the occasion of the jubilee,
various Soviet newspapers and
magazines, including Sovietish
Heimland monthly issued in Yid-
dish in Moscow, carried dozens of
articles featuring the life and work
of the writer. Ceremonial meetings
were held in Moscow and
Kishinev, Kiev and Chernovtsy
and other Soviet cities. Many mus-
ical and drama companies gave
concerts and showed productions
based on Sholem Aleichem's
At the end of the year Sovetski
Pisatel (Soviet Writer) Publishers
(Moscow) brought out a 334-page
collection of articles and memoirs
under the title "Sholem Aleichem
— the Man and the Writer." Among
the authors whose essays and arti-
cles were included in the collec-
tion, which is illustrated with rare
photographs, are the first Soviet
People's Commissar (minister) of
Education Anatoly Lunacharsky
and the pioneers of post-
Revolution literature Alexander
Fadeyev, Vsevolod Ivanov and
Marietta Shaginyan. Among the
writers from the Ukraine, where
Sholem Aleichem was born, are his
contemporaries Alexander Kor-
neichuk, Mikola Bazhan and Petro
Panch who tell the reader how his
memory is cherished in his native
land. Incidentally, there is a
memorial museum in Pereyaslav -
Khmelnitsky, the writer's birth
The book also includes articles
by prominent Jewish cultural fig-
ures — poet Perets Markish, stage
director Solomon Mikhoels and
actor Veniamin Zuskin who have
done a great deal to popularize
Sholem Aleichem's literary heri-
Memoirs of some of the
writer's contemporaries and rela-
tives, among them his son-in-law I.
Berkovich, his daughter Lyalya
Rabinowitz, his brother Vevik
Rabinowitz and his
granddaughter American writer
Bel Kaufman are also included. Bel
Kaufman sent her papers to the
Soviet Union several years ago,
specially for this edition.
I had the honor of being
editor-in-chief of the book and the
author of the afterword. The com-
piler of the collection, Professor
Moisei Belenky, and I tried to
gather and comment on the
writer's most informative judge-
ments and reminiscences of his
contemporaries and relatives."
Accepting these interesting details as
facts, there will surely be a sharing of
appreciation for what the USSR does for

Sholem Aleichem:
New Soviet hero?

the great Yiddish writer, the eminent
humorist who gained affection from his
U.S. contemporary. There is doubtless the
exaggeration about extensive popular cel-
ebration of the Sholem Aleichem anniver-
sary, but letting that stay as a factual ex-
perience, the general theme must be
Nevertheless, the emphasis given to so
fascinating a theme must be accompanied
by a question: why the isolation of an ad-
miration for a Yiddish writer when his fel-
low Jews are the subject of discrimination?
Allan L. Kagedan, an American
Jewish Committee staff member who is
recognized as one of the most authoritative
scholars on matters relating to the Soviet
Union, writing in Soviet Nationality Sur-
vey's current issue on "Discrimination
Soviet-Style," comments that, "Under-
standably, USSR officials are particularly
sensitive to Western accusations of Soviet
discrimination: not only are such charges
ideologically embarrassing, but they also
undermine the effectiveness of the Soviet
Union's own propaganda."
Thereupon Kagedan proceeds to show
that "restrictions on Jewish access to
higher education are a principal form of
Soviet discrimination." He submits that
"the Soviet propaganda machine vehe-
mently denies even the possibility of artifi-
cially low educational quotas for Jews." He
then proceeds to expose the facts and to
how devastating the Soviet educational
bigotries apply to Jews:
On May 15, 1984, for example, a
young woman claiming to be a
Jewish student at Moscow State
University informed Western re-
porters of the complete absence of
anti-Jewish discrimination in the
USSR's higher educational institu-
What, then, are the facts about
Jews and education in the USSR?
Statistics are revealing. Between
1969 and 1979, the number of
Jewish students in Soviet higher
educational institutions plunged
by half. Neither emigration nor
demography can explain this pre-
cipitous decline; discrimination
Unofficially conducted sur-
veys of applicants to Moscow State
University's Department of Math-
ematics and Mechanics support
this conclusion. In 1979-1983, on
average, while 80 percent of qual-
ified applicants with two non-
Jewish parents gained admission
to the department, only 13 percent
of similarly qualified Jewish stu-

dents gained entrance. Indeed, in
1979, one applicant, Gleb
Koshevoy, who was initially sus-
pected of being Jewish and there-
fore was rejected, won admission
after submitting a family tree and
proving three generations of non-
Jewish ancestry.
Emigres have provided addi-
tional insight into anti-Jewish
practices in Soviet educational in-
stitutions. A young woman, now a
doctoral candidate in computer
science at an American university,
describes how, when she took an
admissions test in Moscow State
University, Soviet examiners gave
her mathematical problems that
were impossible to answer in the
allotted time. This method of dis-
crimination is so well-known in the
Soviet scientific community that
the problems reserved for Jewish
students have been dubbed
"Jewish questions." Human rights
activist Andrei Sakharov, a physi-
cist, described his attempt to take a
10-minute test given to a Jewish
university applicant as follows:
"I chose one of the problems on
the list. Of course, the student tak-
ing the examination is not allowed
to choose the particular problem
he wishes to solve. I found a very
pretty solution to my problem, but
it required a non-trivial and in-
genious argument, and it took me
much more than one hour.
Moreover, I was able to work
quietly at home. I needed to use my
considerable experience in solving
these difficult mathematical prob-
lems as well as my large store of
mathematical knowledge."
Why does the Soviet govern-
ment permit, indeed encourage,
such discrimination? The answer
lies in Soviet nationality policy,
which endeavors to co-opt the
elites of larger, territorially-based
nationalities by promising them
and their children a middle-class
future. Since education is a
passport to the middle class, the
Soviet regime excludes Jews from
universities in favor of Russians
and other prominent ethnic
groups. Such discrimination,
Soviet officials reason, will
enhance the regime's popularity
with important nationalities.
In addition, because most of
world Jewry lives in the Western
democracies, Soviet officials mis-
trust Jews and therefore wish to
deny them the educational train-
ing required for positions of
prestige in Soviet society. Jewish
emigration has served to fortify
this mistrust, but it is misleading to
argue that emigration causes dis-
crimination, since it is discrimina-
tion that impels Jews to leave in
the first place. Besides, discrimina-
tion has affected all Soviet Jews —
even those with one Jewish parent
— regardless of whether or not
they have applied to emigrate.
It is a simple matter to propagate a
theatrical called Birobidjhan or to take
credit for the Russian background of
Sholem Aleichem. It does not dismiss the
discriminating elements.
Will Mikhail Gorbachev emerge as a
civil libertarian in action, or will such
claims be made only on paper when charg-
ing racism in America and Israel, as his
predecessors have done? The test will be in
evidence very soon. Hopefully, it may in-
troduce a new era in human relations and
in improved USSR policies.

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