In 1972 I was living in London as an Israeli who was longing to go home. I joined or actually helped found a group called The Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry commonly known afterwards as the 35’s since it was 35 women dressed in black who had sat for the first time ever, outside the Soviet Consulate in London! We were protesting the imprisonment and threat of capital punishment of the group known as the Leningrad 12 who had tried to fly to freedom but were caught by the KGB.
Added to our dedication to the cause, apart from being seen on the streets or in open trucks dressed as prisoners even toting a grotesque mask of Brezhnev the President of the Soviet Union at the time,some of us were engaged in the sending of books. This project had been started by June Jacobs z’l, Andrew and Jean Balcombe, now living in Israel, and others.
A few brave or sometimes headstrong individuals within the British Jewish community, offered to go to Moscow. They would visit those who had become almost our family. We had set up an adoption programme and started to write personally to families. This however, on the understanding that many of our letters would never reach their destination since the KGB intercepted all mail and parcels from the West.. Some of the prominent activists in the struggle, such as Vladimir Prestin and Prof. Benyamin Fein considered education and knowledge of Judaism,Religion and the Israeli way of life essential to realize, the dream.The waiting time for a visa was open ended.Indeed most of the first batch of Refuseniks only arrived in 1987.Some were released earlier, but I will not delve into those.
So it was Volodya Prestin as I knew him, who asked me in one of our fractured telephone conversations to please get potential visitors to the FSU to bring in the paperbacks of the writings of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, which had been mass produced.
That was the first time I had heard about that particular Rabbi.
Since Volodia had already asked me if indeed I was a relative of Thomas Harris who had written “I’m OK,Your OK” and I had found his, books and sent them on, I immediately acceded to his request and hundreds of the great Rabbi Steinsaltz’ books were in time distributed to our isolated friends.
Unfortunately I never had the honour of meeting him but in his passing I want to say how grateful we should all be to him for his wisdom and influence and pray that the Israeli public as a whole be inspired by his beliefs. Baruch Dayan Emet!