Jewish resistance in the Soviet Union

The Jewish resistance in the Soviet Union was a silent one.

Jewish people in the Soviet Union were not allowed to practice their faith. They were religiously unschooled and isolated from the Jewish community worldwide. Yet, they never forgot their ancestry and connection to Judaism. In this way they established a quiet, yet powerful, Jewish resistance.

A refusenik was a Jew who had decided to leave the Soviet Union, but was not allowed to go. Refuseniks lived a life of harassment, constantly worrying about losing their jobs or being kicked out of school. On top of that, some were assaulted or imprisoned.

How then, did refuseniks maintain their spiritual link?

jewish resistance

Memorial statue of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who helped thousands of Jews leave the Soviet Union while serving as the consul of the Empire of Japan to Lithuania, in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California. CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia

Jewish ambassadors from other parts of the world were vital in keeping the traditions alive. Bob Alper traveled to the Soviet Union to aid this Jewish resistance. He took with him heavy suitcases filled with books, mezuzahs (small, sacred objects containing verses from the Torah) and gifts.

After getting through customs with a bit of humor and luck, he traveled from Moscow to Leningrad (or St. Petersburg, as it’s known today), distributing his contraband.

“As a kid I read about Jewish heroes,” Alper writes, “Now I am meeting them, in person. Real heroes.”

Refuseniks were painfully aware of the possibility that their homes were bugged, that the KGB could be behind the next knock on the door. Yet, they were thrilled to accept Jewish ambassadors into their homes, some even choosing to display a mezuzah in clever ways, such as just inside the door rather than, as is tradition, on the exterior doorpost.

“It is quite possible that our affixing the mezuzah constituted the very first Jewish religious ceremony ever to take place in that home,” Alper writes.

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