Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. September 8, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,

Although it’s only been a little over 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, resulting in the mass exodus of Jews to Israel and elsewhere, for many this story of freedom might as well be ancient history. The courageous men and women in the former Soviet Union who risked everything to challenge a totalitarian government’s decision not to let them make Aliyah to Israel or rejoin their families are for the most part a faint memory to most American Jews today.

I write this today because we lost one of the true heroes of modern Jewish history on Wednesday. Masha Slepak passed away at the age of 91 leaving a legacy she shared with her late husband Vladimir that few will ever match.

Together with a small group of other Jewish activists they paved the way for so many other Soviet Jews to enjoy new found freedom in Israel and the West – something they themselves didn’t experience until 1987. The Slepaks took bold action when required, even if it meant incurring the wrath of the KGB. When Volodya was sent into internal exile in Siberia, with Masha repeatedly making the grueling journey to join him, their activism didn’t cease. Masha and Volodya set the standard for the Kosharovskys, Nudels and other refusenik leaders.

Please take the time to read in this week’s update about Masha Slepak’s life and the moving tribute by Natan Sharansky to her. She will be remembered and honored for her contributions to the Jewish people.

For those who are currently in Israel and would like to attend Masha's funeral, the burial is scheduled for 2 PM this Sunday, September 10th at Har HaMenuchot in Jerusalem.

Click here to read yesterday's press release from NCSEJ regarding Masha's passing.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Masha and Volodya Slepak, 1979.
Washington, D.C. September 8, 2017

Maria Slepak, former Soviet refusenik, dies

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 7, 2017

Maria Slepak, a Prisoner of Zion and Soviet Jewry leader with her husband before they were finally allowed to immigrate to Israel, has died.

Slepak and husband Vladimir were permitted to leave the Soviet Union in October 1987, 17 years after they first applied for an exit visa. Their son Alexander had departed for Israel in 1977, joining Maria’s mother. Another son, Leonid, came two years later.

In 1978, eight years after they first applied to immigrate, Maria and Vladimir were arrested for hanging a banner outside their Moscow apartment window that said “Let Us Go to Our Son in Israel.” Vladimir was sentenced to five years’ exile in Siberia on charges of malicious hooliganism and Maria, a radiologist, was given a three-year suspended sentence. But she volunteered to share her husband’s exile, traveling to Moscow periodically in attempts to retain her residency permit.

Read the full article here.

Soviets Shut This Yeshivah 82 Years Ago. Now, It’s Reopening.

By Dovid Margolin

Chabad.org, September 3, 2017

Moscow’s suburb of Malakhovka was long known as a Jewish shtetl. The artist Marc Chagall once taught art there at a home for Jewish war orphans. Yiddish could be heard shouted in its marketplace as late even as the 1980s. Jews prayed in the town’s little wooden synagogue, from its construction in 1932, as Stalin’s terror began to gain steam, until its destruction in the 2000s.

The synagogue (whose original sponsors were arrested and shot by authorities) was burnt to the ground by a local drug addict, but replaced by a brand-new building, Chabad-Lubavitch of Malakhovka, in 2010. Now a yeshivah has opened in the town. Or rather, reopened.

Classes at Yeshivah Ketana of Malakhovka, geared to high-school-aged students, began on Aug. 30. The yeshivah is led by Atlanta native Rabbi Moshe Lerman and offers a personalized approach to students, who are mostly graduates of Jewish schools throughout Russia.

Read the full article here.

In Krakow, A JCC Preschool Signals Hope for Rebirth

By Penny Schwartz

The Forward/JTA, September 2, 2017

Michal Zielinski, a 47-year-old from this city, grew up unaware of his Jewish roots.

Thirty years after discovering that his paternal family is Jewish, following the death of his grandmother, Zielinski and his wife, Elizabeth are active members of the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, participating in programs with their 3 1/2-year-old daughter.

Izabela Kardash, a Polish woman, and her Israeli husband, Avichay, are parents of two daughters — a 4-year-old who speaks Polish and Hebrew, and a 9-month-old. They are also active JCC members. If circumstances allowed, Izabela says she would relocate to Tel Aviv, a city she loves.

Next week, as the school year starts in Krakow, the two families will be among the inaugural group of families at Frajda, the new child care center that will open Monday at the JCC of Krakow.

Read the full article here.

Polish rescuers of Jews during Holocaust honored for ‘true heroism’

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 6, 2017

Thirty Polish rescuers of Jews living in Warsaw during the Holocaust were honored by a foundation that assists righteous gentiles.

The rescuers who met Sunday at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jewry in Warsaw range in age from the late 80s to 101, according to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

Foreign diplomats, religious leaders and community leaders were on hand to recognize the heroism of rescuers deemed Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Read the full article here.

Poland’s Jewish revival is marred by community infighting

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 5, 2017

For close to 30 years, leaders of Polish Jewry have been celebrating what they call the revival of their once-great community from near annihilation during the Holocaust.

On occasions like the opening of Jewish kindergartens and other communal institutions, often held up as the first since the genocide, activists note milestones, contrasting them with the preceding devastation, communist-era oppression or worrisome developments elsewhere in Europe.

“As Europe is becoming more difficult to be Jewish [in], Poland is going in the other direction,” one key promoter of Jewish life in Poland, Jonathan Ornstein of the Krakow Jewish Community Center, recently said in an interview. He invited readers to “see this amazing rebirth of Jewish life.”

Poland, Ornstein noted, has small but growing Jewish communities in 15 cities and dozens of Jewish cultural festivals annually.

Read the full article here.

Defending EU Values in Poland and Hungary

By Heather Grabbe and Stefan Lehne

Carnegie Europe, September 4, 2017

After years of heating up, the EU’s values crisis is close to boiling point. Defiance of core EU principles by the governments in Warsaw and Budapest is turning into a political crisis. The European Commission has taken legal action against both governments for violating specific EU laws and is threatening to go further on Poland. The European Parliament supports this course and is preparing further action against Hungary. But the Hungarian and Polish governments will feel the heat only if political leaders of the EU’s other member states get actively involved.

The EU’s role in protecting values in its members’ domestic affairs has evolved significantly over the last two decades. Initially, European integration was primarily about economic cooperation. The creation of a community of law was fundamental to provide a high degree of certainty and stability to citizens and businesses, and it remains the EU’s great comparative advantage over rising powers and other investment destinations.

The union’s legal framework proved remarkably resilient during recent crises over the euro and migration. But now its foundations are under attack from the inside. National political leaders must join the EU institutions in doing more to defend the union’s core values.

Read the full article here.

Swayed by Israel, Lithuanian minister urges EU rethink on Iran deal

By Raphael Ahren

The Times of Israel, September 5, 2017

Lithuania’s foreign minister on Monday called for stronger cooperation between Jerusalem and the European Union regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, saying his visit to Israel this week has opened his eyes about problematic aspects of the nuclear agreement the international community reached with Tehran in 2015.

“I told [my Israeli interlocutors] that many think the Iranian deal is a way to mitigate the problem [of Iran’s nuclear ambitions] through engagement, but here I heard a lot of criticism of the Iranian deal. We need to put all the arguments on the table and to look at them very carefully. Otherwise it would be very difficult to find a common approach,” Linas Linkevičius told The Times of Israel.

“For me it was a bit new to hear about holes in the agreement, doubts about the implementation, doubts about [Iran] continuing the nuclear program regardless of what was agreed.”

Read the full article here.

Lithuanian FM: ‘Holocaust Memory is Important, but Ties with Israel are the Future’

By Tovah Lazaroff

Jerusalem Post, September 8, 2017

Close Israeli-Lithuanian ties should not be held hostage to the dark days of the Holocaust, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told The Jerusalem Post during his two-day visit to the country this week.

“It is important to remember the past and to know what happened, but it is not less important to focus on the future,” he said during a conversation at the capital’s King David Hotel.

Lithuania has been a staunch diplomatic ally for Israel, particularly at the UN and the within the EU.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Linkevicius at the start of their meeting in Jerusalem on Monday, “You are a friend. Israel has had a long-standing connection with Lithuania – personal and national.”

Lithuania was one of six European Union countries that voted against UNESCO’s resolution disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem resolution.

Read the full article here.

A Reminder to Continue Ukraine Reforms

By Gwendolyn Sasse

Carnegie Europe, September 4, 2017

On September 1, the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) finally entered into force. The moment passed rather quickly, not least because parts of the AA had already been provisionally implemented—the political part since November 2014 and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) since January 2016. This political fudge resulted from the Dutch referendum halting the ratification of the AA on the EU side as well as fruitless talks with Russia about the economic implications for the Russian market. The AA has been long in the making and its history has been more dramatic than any comparable EU agreement to date. Its official entry into force is therefore politically significant, even if the actual implementation and the resulting tangible benefits for Ukrainian citizens will take time.

Read the full article here.

In the Land of the Trident: The Jewish Community in Ukraine

By Jonathan Spyer

Jerusalem Post, September 2, 2017

Ukraine is a territory saturated in Jewish memory – memory both tragic and sublime. In every field of endeavor – religious thought, Zionist and socialist politics, art, music, military affairs, science ? Jews from the territory on which the modern Ukrainian state is located have registered outstanding achievement.

It is the birthplace of Rabbi Yisrael ben-Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidic Judaism, who grew up near Kameniec in what is now western Ukraine; Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, who was born in Miedzyboz in central Ukraine; Haim Nachman Bialik, the poet laureate of modern Hebrew literature, who was born in Zhitomir, in north central Ukraine. Goldie Meyerson, who became prime minister Golda Meir, was born in Kiev. Israeli-born Moshe Dayan, famed fighter and commander, was the son of Shmuel Dayan, who came from Zhashkiv, in the Cherkassy region, central Ukraine. Isaac Babel, one of the foremost Soviet novelists of the mid-20th century, whose “Red Cavalry Tales” remains a classic of 20th-century Russian literature, came from Odessa. Leon Trotsky, born Lev Bronstein, architect of the Russian revolution and founder of the Red Army, came from Yanovka, in the Kherson region of Ukraine. Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, father of Revisionist Zionism, came from Odessa. Solomon Rabinovitch, better known as Sholem Aleichem, came from Pereyaslav, in the Kiev governorate. And so on. The area has played host to an astonishing gathering of Jewish creative energies.

Read the full article here.

NATO Chief Sees No ‘Imminent Threat’ In Russia War Games

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 6, 2017

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said he sees no "imminent threat" from Russia's upcoming military maneuvers with Belarus, but criticized Moscow for not being more open about the drills.

The Zapad (West) 2017 exercise, which Moscow says will involve some 12,700 troops, has caused concern in Poland and the Baltic states.

Lithuania and Estonia say that as many as 100,000 soldiers could take part, though Russia insists the event is "purely defensive" in nature.

NATO has deployed four battle groups -- around 4,000 troops -- to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland in recent years in response to growing Russian assertiveness in the region, particularly after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Read the full article here.

‘Parity is Parity’: U.S. Ambassador Defends Move Against Russian Diplomatic Facilities

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 6, 2017

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Russia has defended Washington's decision to order Moscow out of diplomatic facilities in the United States amid a mounting standoff straining already frayed bilateral ties.

Ambassador John Tefft's comments in a joint interview with RFE/RL and VOA on September 6 came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced what he called "boorish and unprecedented" actions against the Russian Consulate in San Francisco and trade representations in Washington and New York.

Russia has called the takeovers an "openly hostile act" and accused U.S. authorities of threatening to "break down the entrance door" of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco after Washington set a September 2 deadline for the premises to be clear.

Read the full article here.

Trump ‘is not my bride’: Putin wades into diplomatic row with U.S.

By Andrew Roth

Washington Post, September 5, 2017

In biting remarks, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed Russia’s diplomatic row with the United States on Tuesday, saying Moscow could further cut U.S. diplomatic staffing in Russia and calling U.S. searches of a Russian consulate and other diplomatic properties “boorish.”

“It is hard to conduct a dialogue with people who confuse Austria with Australia, but there is nothing we can do about this. It seems to be the level of political culture in a certain part of the U.S. establishment,” Putin said in his first public statements on the diplomatic dispute that has been deepening since Washington announced the closure of Russia’s consulate in San Francisco, as well as diplomatic properties housing trade missions in New York and Washington.

The comments came during a news conference at an economic summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen. Putin repeated boilerplate language about how he and President Trump each defended their national interests, but he laced his remarks with bitter jokes.

Read the full article here.

As Confederate Statues Fall, Russians Remember Their Own Controversial Figures

By Thomas Grove

Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2017

As Confederate statues come down in the U.S., Russia is resurrecting figures from its own thorny past.

Soviet statues tumbled precipitously during the breakup of the U.S.S.R. But under Russian President Vladimir Putin and his project to restore Russia’s status as a great power, monuments to the country’s often painful Soviet and monarchic history have been rising again.

On Tuesday, city leaders in Kirov, about 500 miles east of Moscow, unveiled a statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Bolshevik revolutionary and the founder of the Cheka, the dreaded Soviet secret police, later known as the KGB.

In Mr. Putin’s Russia, memory is selective. Backers see the statue as a tribute to a man who helped build a formidable intelligence service. But it has prompted anger among the descendants of those persecuted: Mr. Dzerzhinsky oversaw the Red Terror, the execution of hundreds of thousands of citizens during Russia’s 1917-1922 Civil War, often without trial.

Read the full article here.

[Link to pdf of full articles]
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Founded in 1971, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.