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February 02, 1990 - Image 49

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-02-02

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

READY FOR THE '90S?
PROFILE

AIR-STEPPER

Reitblat came, there was a
Jewish dance troupe and a
Yiddish theater, and he
threw himself into Jewish
life.
He joined the dance troupe
and studied the Torah and
Talmud in Russian. He
studied Hebrew, but hid his
books — the punishment for
studying the language was
13 years in jail and
somebody had threatened to
tell the KGB about him.
Reitblat had to look out for
"tails" when he went to
classes.
Reitblat ran half-
marathons and did
bodybuilding and learned
about the Maccabi clubs that
the Soviet rulers had closed
in the 1930s. The clubs
weren't merely athletic
organizations: they had
taught Jewish history and
Hebrew, and Reitblat longed
for them.
Meanwhile, his dance
troupe performed at Jewish
weddings and at one, he met
Rima, a physician who was
the daughter of Vilnius's
leading neuropathologist.
His dance career ended
when the new Mrs. Reitblat
objected to his dancing with
the pretty girls in the
troupe. Instead, he studied
Talmud.
Then, two years ago,
Soviet president Mikhail
Gorbachev announced
perestroika (restructuring)
and glasnost (openness), and
suddenly, it was okay to be
openly involved in sports
clubs, even Jewish ones,
Reitblat said.
Soviet Jewish adults again
had Maccabi Clubs - cultural
centers — to attend and Jew-
ish kids were learning their
heritage, playing athletics
and even meeting and mar-
rying Jews again.
Reitblat, now able to com-
municate openly, began
organizing programs and
soliciting financial support
from Soviet business part-
ners Shulem Zelikovich
who was to compete in the
,Maccabiah — and Mikhail
IRoseitsan. Roseitsan would
become president of the
Soviet Maccabi Clubs organ-
ization, Zelikovich the vice
president.
In January 1989, Reitblat
arranged the historic first
regional Maccabi congress of
the glasnost era, bringing
400 Soviet Jews together in
Lithuania. He even got vet-
eran, pre-Stalinist era Mac-
cabians to attend, including
Chaim Dushkisas of
Moscow, the world table
tennis champion in 1937.
Clubs started springing up
across the Soviet Union.
Reitblat was charged with

organizing the first non-
governmental team from an
independent Soviet Jewish
organization to participate
in the World Maccabiah in
Israel. By June, he had the
team, but there were other
hurdles: for one, Lithuania
has no diplomatic relations
with Israel. But through the
cooperation of Soviet and
Lithuanian authorities,
Arkadij Reitblat, the
modern Moses, led the
Soviet Jewish team into
Ramat Gan Stadium.
For Reitblat, it was "a
tremendous fulfillment, the
achievement of a great
goal." The Soviets took a
silver medal in wrestling
and a bronze in chess, while
Reitblat got a gold medal for
bringing the team.
Back home, at the first
Soviet national congress of
Maccabi, Dec. 17 in Len-
ingrad, Reitblat's talents got
him elected national chair-
man, the one who organizes
all the competitions.
Now in Detroit, Reitblat is
working on improving his
English and studying how
the Jewish community func-
tions, including its fundrais-
ing methods.
The JCCs and their pro-
gramming impress him:
"This is what the Jewish,
culture in the Soviet Union
should aim for," he said.
When he's not working out
at the Maple-Drake Building
or attending meetings to
recruit host families for the
Detroit Youth Games, he's
busy videotaping Jewish and
secular life in Detroit and
Michigan. He'll show the
tapes in Leningrad at the
next Maccabi congress to
build support for sending a
team of Soviet teenagers to
the Games.
Reitblat plans to bring a
team of 14 teens and six
coaches to Detroit next
summer. Included will be
eight chess players (Jews
dominate the sport in the
USSR, and Reitblat's team
is Vilnius city champion);
four wrestlers, one karate
competitor and one table
tennis player.
"So far, the Lithuanian
authorities have been very
cooperative" about permit-
ting the team to come, Jay
Robinson said.
Then, thinking ahead to
the Games' planned grand
opening ceremonies at the
Palace of Auburn Hills, at
which some 20,000 people
are expected, Robinson envi-
sioned the Soviets marching
in behind Reitblat and
predicted, "That will be
something this Jewish
community has never before
seen."



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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

49

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