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April 02, 1993 - Image 61

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-04-02

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Should Russians Leave?

Soviet Jewry
activists are
facing a moral,
and practical,



ast week's dangerous
political crisis in
Moscow highlights a
growing dilemma for
the Soviet Jewry move-
ment: should groups here
be more forceful in urging
Jews in Russia and the
other former Soviet
republics to leave while
the doors are still open?
For a variety of rea-
sons—including the fact
that some groups were too
eager in the past to pre-
dict impending catastro-
phe— American Jewish
activists today are doing
little to prod a stubborn
Jewish population to get
out while the getting is
But that policy may
have its risks as Boris
Yeltsin wages his desper-
ate battle for political sur-
"In five years, we may
look at this time as a trag-
ic time of lost opportuni-
ty," said one longtime
Soviet Jewry, activist here,
who voiced the fear that if
Mr. Yeltsin fails in his
struggle to maintain con-
trol over the Russian gov-
ernment, reactionary
nationalistic forces may
come to power and undo
the democratic progress of
the last three years.
Richard Wexler, the
new chairman of the
National Conference on
Soviet Jewry who recently
returned from a visit to
Russia, described a mood
of determined optimism in
the face of the mounting
"We were there in the
middle of the economic
and political chaos," he
said. "There are a variety
of personal safety issues
impinging on Muscovites
every day. It was amazing
to us thatJews, like the
political leaders- we met,
do not seem to regard
these matters more seri-
Jews in Russia, he said,
seem to believe that the
changes initiated by for-
mer President Mikhail
Gorbachev and fueled by
Mr. Yeltsin, cannot be
reversed, despite the
growing clamor from
retread Communists and
the ultra-nationalists who
have increasingly been
making common cause
with them.
He also described a
nation in which the every-


Soviet children wait in a railway station en route to Israel.

day demands of survival
do not allow much time for
soul-searching and long-
range planning.
"The complexity of life
there is mind-boggling,"
he said. "And that leads to
a very complex approach
to serious questions about
their future."
He expressed the com-
mon view of Jewish
activists here. "As an
organization and as indi-
viduals, we share a cer-
tain degree of amazement
that more Jew aren't leav-
ing," he said. "It can be
frustrating to watch—but
it's not our role to inter-
fere in their lives."
Another factor in the
decision to remain in
Russia, as well assome of
the other former Soviet
republics, is the surpris-
ing development of a
robust Jewish community
life, according to NCSJ's
director, Mark Levin. "The
growth of Jewish institu-
tions has been phenome-
nal," he said.
"While some Jews are
still leaving, the reality is
that many of those we met
with are already very
involved in Jewish institu-
tional life. The syna-
gogues in many places are
very active; the Jewish
community centers are
thriving. For the first time
in their lives, these people
are part of a living Jewish
community in their own

country. This makes it
harder to break the bonds
that are holding them
The Jews who felt
strongly about escaping
the former Soviet Union
have already done so, for
the most part. Those
remaining, more ambiva-
lent about leaving their
homeland, have found
their ties to Russia rein-
forced by the revival of
Jewish life there. "Short
of picking them up by the
necks and dragging them
out, there's not much we
can do," Mr. Levin said.
This poses another
quandary for Jewish
groups here. Do they
assist in the growing
Jewish revival in Russia,
and thereby help bind
Jews to a country that
could easily revert to its
oppressive ways?

demands of
survival do not
allow time for

"This is a serious ques-
tion.," Mr. Levin said.
"Will our help today put
them in danger in the
future? Do we have the
right toturn our back on
their hopes for a full

Jewish life in Russia?
Those are things we are
wrestling with right now."
Russian Jews, he said, are
not blind to the growing
nationalism and the
increasing threats to
Russian democracy. But
they don't feel singled out
as Jews for special dan-
ger, he said.
"In both Riga and
Moscow, Jews are enjoy-
ing freedoms few could
have imagined only a few
years ago," he said.
"Everybody saw the cur-
rent risks—but for the
moment, they are willing
to accept those risks.
That's one of the contra-
dictions we saw on our
We have to recognize
that absent a major cata-
strophe, Jews will be liv-
ing in the former Soviet
Union for the for foresee-
able future."
But Mr. Levin and oth-
ers worry about what that
actually means. If cata-
strophe does strike, it may
be too late for the Jews of
Russia to escape. David
Harris, executive director
of the American Jewish
Committee and the orga-
nizer of the 1987 march in
Washington that brought
together a half-million
activists on behalf of
Soviet Jews, suggested a
psychological component
in this dilemma.
"There may be a denial

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