Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Unknown Jews of Southern Russia

Tonight I went to see a fantastic film entitled "Refusenik" which tells the story of the Jews of the Soviet Union who risked everything in order to emigrate to Israel.

Moving, uplifting, and incredibly disturbing, the film made me feel deeply and wish that I had the same kind of passion for Judaism and the land of Israel that its protagonists so deeply feel. I recommend this film to everyone; it is an amazing documentary that I hope everyone will watch.

But the film touched me for a different reason. The film touched me because it personally relates to me, because my mother, alongside Rabbi Avi Weiss, marched for freedom and blocked off Fifth Avenue, because this was her cause and her mission, and part of what makes her utterly extraordinary.

In the early '80s, my mother came to Stern and one of the first things she did was join the staff of The Observer. She wrote a piece entitled "The Unknown Jews of Southern Russia" which the administration was not happy about (like mother, like daughter, it would seem.) You can read it below.

The Unknown Jews of Southern Russia
The Unknown Jews of Southern Russia silvergleam refuseniks, observer

Remember that it is an immigrant who wrote this piece, an immigrant who had lived in the United States a little over a year. Look at her English. Look at how she writes. Look at the passion she has for her cause. See my mother at my age, perhaps slightly older, and look at the beauty that is her soul.

My mother is utterly extraordinary, and I do not have the words to express the love she is capable of showering upon others, especially her fellow Jews. May she be blessed and continue to be blessed, my mother the refusenik, my mother who loved the Soviet Jews.


Anonymous said...

Like mother like daughter is right!

Anonymous said...

Chana,your mother must be a great role model for you. I'm beginning to understand your dedication to many causes and the way you contribute to their positive resolution.Also,tthe articles in The Observer this year are of incredible quality,value and importance.
Kudos and have a good shabbos!

The Talmid said...

My uncle, while at YU, went with to the USSR in the mid-'80's with Judaic materials for the people stuck behind the iron curtain. A couple years ago I found a stack of flyers he left at home saying "Free Anatoly Sharansky, help save 3 million Jews, call... Soviet Mission at 861-4900." If my scanner would work (it doesn't), I'd post it; it's funny (in a good way).

Has anyone written a paper on "The Advocacy of YU Students on behalf of Soviet Jewry: 1980-1991?" Sounds like with articles like your mother's and student's trips to Russia, there should be enough material to gather for a honors thesis.

Some people don't realize how strong the communities in Uzbekistan were - such as the Bucharians (there are many Bucharians in Forest Hills).

And there are Persian families whose Pesach preparations were more similar to your mother's than to ours. We're lucky we don't have to grind up salt deposits from the sea to have salt for Pesach!

Charlie Hall said...

Wow! This is so inspiring!!! Thank you for sharing it with us!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Chana,do you(in your family) still follow some of your mother's traditions regarding Pesach observance?

Anonymous said...

Very nice- but why did the adminsitration not like it? I don't see what could possibly be controversial here.

Anonymous said...

Woodrow, I had the same question. So I contacted Chana's mother. She explained that this article was written around the time that the 30 students (including Chana's mother) were arrested for having the sit-in on 5th Ave. Furthermore, she used some choice Russian words on the megaphone that the Russian consul (who was smoking a Cuban cigar, which she challenged him on) did not like. The administration was not happy with the resulting negative publicity. This article encouraged students to continue protesting, and she said the administration was not happy with her 'enticing'.