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May 31, 1985 - Image 19

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-05-31

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Friday, May 31, 1985

refuseniks, no matter his academic merits.
"We look alike," brunette Vera remarks
to Norma Berlin. Yes, a bad passport pic-
ture might enable Vera to pass for Norma.
"I wish I could take your passport,"
Vera says, only partly in jest. "I wish you
could fit me into your suitcase."
I find myself wishing that I could fit lit-
tle Mishka into my suitcase.


. I he conversation over Helena's
table crackles with intellectual
electricity. One thinks of it as
Helena's table, not because her husband
Arkady is a less formidale intellect — he
possesses two PhDs in the social sciences,
and was one of the leaders of Moscow
seminars on Jewish culture and history —
but at the table, hers is the dominant per-
sonality. He customarily bows to her auth-
ority on matters of the table.
First of all, this plump, round-faced lady
in her early sixties has a reputation as a
superb chef. Her kitchen, as tiny as others
we will see, is nonetheless a model of the
latest Soviet culinary technology such as
it is: orderly, spotless, this is obviously a
laboratory of serious cooking.
Helena turns out a 16-inch prune-stuffed
hamantaschen that melts in the mouth.
She works wonders with eggs, cheese,
pickled cabbage and beets. A fresh cab-
bage cannot be acquired all winter in
Moscow, she observes. We - have seen
crowds queuing for a shipment of oranges
and apples. Helping herself to some exotic
California dried fruits and nuts we have
brought as a gift, Helena remarks how she
has heard of them but never before tasted
Arkady also bows to Helena in health
matters. She made him go home when they
were demonstrating outdoors because his
asthma requires periodic medication or
he'll suffer. So she was the one arrested,
herded into a drunk tank, and placed under
house arrest.
It's when the subjects of anti-Semitism
and Zionism enter the conversation that
Arkady challenges his wife.
The Berlins engage Helena in one con-
versation while Arkady explains to me
that she is from Baku, the Azerbaijanian
capital, where the Turks and the Arme-
nians, forever feuding, both historically
courted the Jews as potential allies. Her
parents were university intellectuals. She
received the best education, became a
specialist in European and English litera-
ture. She associated anti-Semitism with
pogroms, he said, overlooking the subtler
aspects of it. Their daughter, Naomi,
despite the excellence of her grades, had

been denied admission to a sociology pro-
gram at Moscow University.
"Still," Helena interrupted, "she does go
to the university."
"The night division," Arkady insisted,
"the only Jewish girl studying manage-
"It is Zionism that inspires the desire of
Jews to emigrate," Helena insisted. "The
wish for repatriation, reunification . . . "
"At least she was supposed to be the
only Jewish girl in her class," Arkady
went on. "After a while," he said, "she
learned that there were several others. A
couple of them had been 'adopted' by non-
Jewish families so that their internal
passports would no longer be stamped
`Jew.' Others were half Jewish and sup-
pressed their identity.
"That is anti-Semitism too," Arkady
"Still, Naomi does attend the universi-
ty," Helena insisted.
When we gave Helena our visiting cards,
she took out a shoe-box-sized file of similar
cards, arranged not only alphabetically
but by country. Many American senators
and congressmen had visited her over the
years. She has been a speaker on human
rights — in absentia — at many Jewish
and international women's meetings. She
has never been allowed to go to them in
person; she has sent tapes and statements.
She is a forceful, eloquent speaker, a
fierce adversary in a debate, one suspects.
Just a year ago she wrote:
" . . . My personal concern is not that my
only child, my daughter Naomi, cannot ful-
fill her intellectual and professional poten-
tial here because she is the daughter of ten-
year refuseniks, but only because she can-
not realize her dream to live among her
own people, to share the faith of her own
Jewish countrymen . . . We have tried
every possible form of struggle for our
right to live in Israel, but all in vain .. .
When all means of struggle to emigrate
were fully exhausted, we came to an awful
and cruel decision to ask for exit visas on-
ly for my daughter and me, and my hus-
band volunteered to stay alone, to save at
least our daughter's life . . . Top level of-
ficials told me that they did not see any
obstacle for Naomi's and my leaving, for
I am a specialist' on European and Ameri:
can literature and, thus, have nothing to
do with any state secrets. Both promised
me a positive solution to my problem .. .
four or five years ago. I am still here.
" . . . Naomi applied alone . . . she was im-
mediately refused because of her father's
former 'secret' job. Now it is 12 years since
Arkady left his so-called firm where his job
consisted of gathering information for

Continued on next page


As each of 22 guests at a Moscow Purim
celebration gave a toast, participants drank
vodka or white Georgian wine to get into the
festive spirit of things.

The Kagan children, Vadim and Clara, with
their frisky poodle, shown with their mother,
Svetlana, a teacher of computer
programming. Vadim was expelled from his
institute without reason after hospitalization
for bleeding ulcers.

The Riboya family — Vladimor, Ora and Lena
— hosted a Purim party for Refuseniks in their
Moscow apartment


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