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Two Pen-Pals and the Struggle to Free Soviet Jewry

As a teenager in a New Jersey suburb, Jonathan Feldstein heard about a program to “twin” young American Jews with Soviet Jews of the same age, but was disappointed to learn he was too old to participate. Already devoted to the cause of aiding the Jews of the USSR, he contacted the program’s sponsoring organization and soon found himself corresponding with a young Muscovite named Kate (Katya) Shtein whose parents were refuseniks. Feldstein recounts his quest to get Shtein—and those like her—to America:

While others spent early adult years focusing their spare time on far more mundane things, my life revolved more and more around freeing Soviet Jews. I read [Leon Uris’s novel] Exodus around the time of my becoming a bar mitzvah, and it moved and inspired me. But preparing for my bar mitzvah, and reading from the Torah about the Exodus of our people from Egypt, stirred something deeper in me. As I got to know more about the plight of Soviet Jews, all these came together. . . .

In my first letter [to Kate], I wrote about mutual friends who told me about [her and her family], of wanting to correspond and learn about their lives, and my interest in the Soviet Union. All things tame enough, and the first letter was able to pass the extensive Soviet censorship. After a while, it became hard to tell which letters had arrived and which letters had not. But at the same time, as much as it would have been nice for all the letters to arrive, the Shteins knew I was writing, and the people charged with stopping the letters from getting through knew as well. . . .

I [soon] took a page out of my own family history, in which relatives would leave Eastern Europe through the “legal” means of a fictitious marriage; my grandmother and two of her siblings owed their escape from Hitler’s inferno to such marriages. If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. I planned to marry Kate in a Soviet civil ceremony, and then do whatever necessary to free “my wife” from the USSR, taking her case to the highest legal, diplomatic, and political spheres possible.

Although the two pen-pals finally met in Moscow in 1985 (Friedland had arranged a trip there on the occasion of the International Youth Festival), no marriage took place. And in 1987 the Shteins were granted the freedom to emigrate.

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More about: American Jewish History, History & Ideas, Leon Uris, Soviet Jewry

Germany’s Bid to Keep Israel off the UN Security Council

March 21 2018

The Jewish state has never held a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. For the first 50 years of its existence, it was denied membership in any of the UN’s regional groups, which control candidacies for these rotating seats. Then it was finally admitted to the Western European and Others Group, which promptly agreed to wait another twenty years before approving Jerusalem for a Security Council candidacy. Now, Benny Avni notes, Germany is poised to block action:

As a good-faith gesture, the Western European and Others Group promised Israel that it and Belgium would run uncontested for the two open 2019-20 [Security Council] seats. Then, in 2016, Germany announced it would also run—even though it already served as a council member [multiple times, including] as recently as 2011-12. . . . [U]nless Belgium yields, Israel’s hopes for UN respect seem doomed for now—and maybe for the foreseeable future.

Why? Diplomats have been telling me Israel violates too many Security Council resolutions to be a member—as in the one passed during the last weeks of Barack Obama’s presidency, which marked Jewish holy sites as occupied Palestinian territory. But is building a porch in [the West Bank town of] Ma’ale Adumim really such a huge threat to world peace?

How about, then, a report released last week by UN experts on the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions? It found Germany violated a council ban on sparkling wines, exporting $151,840 worth of bubbly and other luxury goods to Kim Jong Un’s cronies. Or how about, as the Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal reports, German companies exporting to Iran banned materials that were later used in chemical attacks in Syria?

Never mind. Germany (and Belgium) will surely benefit from the UN’s habit of magnifying Israel’s violations beyond all proportion. Thus, Israel’s petition to join the most prestigious UN club will likely be rejected, thanks to a late entry by a shameless [and] cynical German power play against the Jewish state.

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More about: Germany, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-German relations, United Nations