THE JEWS OF HOPE by Martin Gilbert
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The fate of Soviet Jewry is an emotional issue, and Gilbert's tales of ""refuseniks""--denied permission to emigrate to Israel, persecuted yet undeterred--are emotional too: an open appeal for Western help, for pressure to reopen doors closed in 1982. The stories follow a pattern: application to leave and immediate loss of job; subsistence on menial work as janitor or furnace-stoker; the difficulty of meeting application-requirements (an invitation from a ""close relative"" in Israel, approval by all Soviet relatives), and regularly renewing applications; rejection on spurious, arbitrary grounds (usually ""security""); dogged study of Hebrew, of Jewish culture and history, under constant harassment and threat of incarceration; isolation--and strength in adversity. Oxford historian Gilbert, grandson of East European Jews, met with refuseniks on a 1983 visit to the USSR. From their perspective, he gets around to the question that quickly arises in the reader's mind: what of the mass exodus of 1972-82, when increasing numbers of the Israeli-bound (as required by law) decided in Vienna to come to the US? Some refuseniks see this as the reason emigration was stopped: other Soviet citizens might try to do likewise. (A few, we know, may have.) The refuseniks advocate direct flights to Tel Aviv--let the emigrants at least see Israel, let the ""national purpose"" at least be tacitly served--and believe, as one, ""that the distaste for going to Israel is. . . in large part a result of Soviet anti-Israeli propaganda,"" but also due to lack of exposure to Jewish culture within the USSR. Gilbert quotes one refusenik's criticism of American Jewish organizations for financing immigration to the US--but he treats this delicate issue delicately, preferring to focus on the staunch, self-gained Jewishness of the long-time refuseniks. All attest, also, to a common impetus: the threat of Israeli annihilation in the 1967 Six Day War (trumpeted in the Soviet press), followed by Israel's smashing victory-against-odds. The accounts of books confiscated, Hebrew-study sessions broken-up, activists framed and imprisoned, are intensified by report of worsening conditions: more overt anti-Semitism, all-pervasive repression (the dissidents having been quashed), some ""permanent"" refusals. (""In Moscow it is openly said: 'The last train has left the station.' "") Meanwhile individual stories have a humanitarian grip: the Polishborn survivor of every WW II horror who begs to spend her last years in Israel; the father who lived ""like a Marrano"" in postwar Lithuania and now, in Jerusalem, begs for reunion with his son, a Moscow religious leader who rediscovered Judaism on his own. And Gilbert, able to step on a plane, repeatedly confronts his own freedom and powerlessness. This book, though repetitious and eulogistic in conventional terms, thus resonates doubly as testimony.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 1984
Publisher: Viking