Powered by WebAds

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A few courageous people

The Medrash tells us that when the Jews stood at the edge of the Red Sea, with the sea raging in front of them and the Egyptian taskmasters chasing behind them, they screamed out to God to save them. And God said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them to move ahead." The Rabbis liken the position of the Jewish people at that time to a dove on the edge of a cave. The dove is being pursued by an eagle and the cave is its only place of escape. But inside the cave lurks a poisonous snake.

One many moved ahead and went into the sea. And when that man - Nachshon the son of Aminadav - was neck deep in the water, God split the sea and the Children of Israel went through on dry land. Then the Egyptians tried to follow and were drowned.

I thought of that Medrash as I read this story (which I had long forgotten) of a small group of Soviet Jews who were arrested for trying to hijack a plane to freedom 40 years ago this week. The Jews were trapped like the dove in the story - they could not practice Judaism in Russia, they could not leave, but because their internal passports were all stamped "Jew," many of them also could not work. And so, they were trapped on all sides. Forty years ago this week, a small group of them decided to do something about it. Their actions caused the first tear in the iron curtain that eventually led to millions of Jews leaving Russia.
LATE one summer night 40 years ago this month, Yosef Mendelevich, a young Soviet Jew, camped with a group of friends outside the Smolny airport near Leningrad. The next morning, they planned to commandeer a 12-seat airplane, fly it to Sweden and, once there, declare their purpose: to move to Israel, a dream they had long been denied.

Most in the group were pessimistic about their chances — but none more than Mr. Mendelevich. He felt sure they would get caught, but to his mind, a group suicide was preferable to a life of waiting for an exit visa that would never arrive. Even a botched attempt, he figured, would at least attract the eyes of the world.

Early the next day, as the plotters walked onto the tarmac, they were, indeed, caught. The K.G.B. had known of their plan for months. And the two leaders were later sentenced to death.

But Mr. Mendelevich was also right that their desperate act would make their demand for free emigration impossible to ignore. Now largely forgotten, this planned hijacking, and the Soviet government’s overreaction to it, opened the first significant rip in the Iron Curtain, one through which hundreds of thousands would eventually flee. With great drama, it undermined Communist orthodoxy. After all, if the Bolsheviks had built the perfect society, why would any well-adjusted citizens want to leave, let alone risk their lives to do so?

The essential weakness of the Soviet Union was exposed: to survive, the regime had to imprison its own population. This would be the beginning of the end.
Read the whole thing.

The picture is one of Yosef Mendelevich in 2006.


At 2:05 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Soviet Communism was afraid of human freedom. It could not allow any one to think what they wanted, do what they wanted and go where they wanted. A few courageous Jews started a movement that launched a chain reaction that brought about its ultimate end. Yosef Mendelevitch and his small group of fellow Jews risked their lives to be free. And two decades later, millions of Soviet Jews were finally free. Standing up to evil has personal, national and spiritual rewards even if the price to fight it can be quite high. That is a lesson worth remembering for future generations.

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mendelevitch's autobiography, in the original Hebrew, is called מבצע חתונה - Operation Wedding.


Post a Comment

<< Home