Co-authored with Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, CEO of Jewish Federation of Southern NJ
Jewish families are preparing to gather for Rosh Hashana next Friday, but in an otherwise flourishing community on the East Coast, one heartsick family of Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union will be missing their 31-year old son. Their son, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, was seized by the Russians in March, while he was on assignment in Yekaterinburg. He is now languishing in the notorious Lefortovo Prison, used to imprison political dissidents, including Soviet author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Achipelago. With Evan’s pretrial detention now scheduled for November 30, it is critical that we demonstrate our solidarity with Evan as he endures these long months in custody.
Redeeming captives is an essential part of our obligations as Jews. In the Torah, when Lot is taken captive, Abraham mobilizes 318 servants to rescue him. Our sages used this as the basis of a universal Jewish obligation to redeem Jews who are taken prisoner, exemplifying the paramount Jewish value of preserving life at all costs and elevating the responsibility that all Jews have for each other’s safety and wellbeing.
Throughout Jewish history, our community has undertaken extraordinary campaigns to redeem captives. In the 10th century, Jews in Spain, North Africa, and Egypt all contributed sums for the liberation of four rabbinic scholars who were captured while sailing in Italian waters. The renowned 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote open letters to the Jews of Egypt to urge them to redeem captives in the Land of Israel and elsewhere. Jewish communities in Constantinople, Salonika and Venice took up a collection to free 20,000 Polish Jews during the time of the horrific Khmelnitsky massacres in the 17th century. And in the 20th century, Jews around the world and the State of Israel joined together to redeem millions from behind the Iron Curtain.
We are fortunate that the United States government is working assiduously to ensure Evan’s release, along with that of former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was accused—also without any evidence—of spying. Lynne M. Tracy, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, has visited Evan three times in prison, most recently in mid-August, and has reported that he seems still to be in good health and remains strong.
Even as Evan’s case is not in the headlines every day, we have not forgotten him and we will stand behind him, no matter how long it takes until he is released. It is for this reason that we are inviting people of all faiths around the globe to send Evan a Rosh Hashana greeting with a wish for the Jewish New Year. We will deliver one collective letter to Evan combining these messages of hope. We will deliver the full messages in their entirety to Evan’s family to comfort them on the eve of these High Holidays, in hopes that Evan will be able to read them all upon his return home. The more people of all ages who participate in this project, the louder our voice of love and support will be.
A traditional greeting during the High Holiday period is to wish one another to be “inscribed in the book of life” for the coming year. Let us all pray that Evan Gershkovich and all others in captivity be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year, and let us also ensure that the Russian authorities know that securing Evan’s freedom is forefront in our minds, as is the manner in which Russia treats this case.
Please click here to write your New Year’s greeting to Evan.