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October 5, 2012

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS,OCTOBER 5, 2012 By Rafael Medoff Much of the struggle for Soviet Jewry was waged by picketers, marchers, and lob- byists in the United States. But a lesser-known part of the battle was waged by individual American Jews who journeyed to the USSR itself. Forty years ago, a Manhattan rabbi helped ignite a SimchatTorah celebra- tion in Moscow thatwas heard 'round the world. Under the leadership of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Con- gregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Manhattan's upper east side was one of the first major synagogues in the U.S. to take an active interest in the plight of Soviet Jewry. As early as the mid-1960s, Kehilath Jeshurun sponsored petitions, organized rallies, and was one of the first synagogues to institute the practice of adding a "matzo ofoppression" to Passover seders to raise awareness of Soviet Jewry. In 1972, Rabbi Lookstein decided to take it a step further. At the urging of the Rabbinical Council of America, he and his wife Au- drey agreed to enter the belly of the beast--to undertake a mission to the Soviet Union itself. Posing as tourists, their goal was to smuggle in Jewish religious items, meet with refuseniks, facilitate Sukkot and Simchat Torah celebrations, and bring back an eyewitness report on the oppression of Soviet Jewry. On Sept. 20. two days before Sukkot, the Looksteins landed in Leningrad, their suitcases stuffed with religious books, sets of lulavim arid etrogim, and enough canned tuna fish and soup cubes to last them two weeks their primary source of kosher food during their time in the USSR. The rabbi later told me that he and his wife each lost 15 pounds by the time the trip ended. After word spread of the Looksteins' arrival, more than 1,000 worshippers jammed into the Leningrad synagogue. Barred as a tourist from deliv- ering a formal sermon, Rabbi Lookstein devised a round- . about way to bring a message of encouragement. Instead of reading that week's scheduled haftarah portion, he read the vision ofthevalley of dry bones from the book of Ezekiel, con- cluding by announcing in Yid- dish-which he hadstudied in preparation for the trip---"Like those bones, you thought you were dried up, finished, but God says, 'I will bring you out of your graves and plant you on your land. I promise and will do it.'" In the Synagogue's suk- kah after services, the rabbi and rebbetzin taught the congregants holiday songs that focused on the ingath- ering of the exiles. Among those present was 96 year-old Mikhail Abramovich Lokshin. He introduced himself as the brother of Rabbi Lookstein's l~randfather, who had left Russia more than 50 years earlier. The surprise reunion was "an incredibly emotional experience for everyone," the rabbi recalled. After meeting with refuse- niks in Leningrad and Kiev, the Looksteins, trailed at least part of the time by a KGB agent, proceeded to Moscow for Simchat Torah. An estimated 1,500 peo- ple twice the normal ca- pacity-filled Moscow's main synagogue on the first evening of the holiday and pilled out into the surrounding streets. As the final prayers were ut- tered, Rabbi Lookstein, who led the service, exhorted the crowd to rejoice with the Torah scrolls. A Washington Post cor- respondent' described the scene: "Inside the temple, the singing and dancing was encouraged by an American rabbi, Rev. Haskel Lookstein of New York City. He repeatedly tried to arouse the congre- gation to sing more loudly, remarking that Jews in New York were trying to sing loud enough to be heard in Russia and asking the Moscow Jews to reciprocate in kind." They did. For long hours that evening and again the next morning, enormous crowds of Soviet Jews exuberantly embraced their roots through song and dance. "They were waiting for a [Jewish] experience," Rabbi Lookstein recalled. Fifty years of forced assimilation by the Soviet authorities had not eradicated their yearning for Judaism. Shortly after he and his wife returned to the U.S., Rabbi Lookstein submitted a 14-page, single-spaced report to the Rabbinical Council of America on how future em- issaries could operate most effectively within the harsh environment of the USSR. The reportremains one of the most remarkable documents of the Soviet Jewry struggle, cover- ing an extraordinary range of concerns: Keep customs officials from uncovering smuggled mes- sages by engaging them in long conversations about exchanging currency, "so that there is very little time left for the examination of baggage." Memorize the text of the ketuba (the religious marriage contract) in case a wedding ceremony needs to be conducted under unusual circumstances or severe stress. Ifonewants to use the Mbscow synagogue's mikveh to per- form a conversion ceremony, "a few rubles will go a long way" in persuading nervous syna- gogue staffers. When there are two emissaries, such as a rabbi and rebbetzin, they can maximize their interaction with Soviet Jews by walking separately to and from the synagogue, thus conversing with twice as many people. Most of all, he emphasized that while the Soviet Jewish struggle had to focus primarily on the Jews' right to emigrate. it also needed to be recognized that since "they do not know when their ultimate goal of aliyah will be reached." their Jewish spiritual needs should not be neglected in the mean- time. "They want to deepen their Jewish experience beyond the purely national and social," he wrote. "They hunger for God and religion; we must help to satisfy their hunger." The Simchat Torah celebra- tions of September 1972 un- doubtedly were an important step in that direction. Dr. Rafael Medoff is direc- tor of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Stud- ies and author or editor of 15 books about Jewish history, including "Ray Chesed: The Life and Times of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein." By Linda Gradstein The Media Line In the United States, you need a passport to travel abroad, and a drivers' license to cash a check. In Israel, you need an ID card just to cross the street. "The law is that everyone must have an ID card," Jerusa- lem police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Media Line. "Incidents can take place, whether it's a traffic accident or if someone needs to be questioned for security purposes, and we need to have their details." Just to make it more com- plicated, there are different ID cards. Israeli citizens. Jewish and Arab, carry [D cards in a blue plastic folder. Inside, the card itself lists the bearer's nationality as "Israeli." Some 20 percent of Israel, s citizens are Arab, and legally they are entitled to full rights, including voting rights. The current Israeli parliament has 16 Arab members out of a total of 120 parliamentar- ians. Many Arab citizens of Israel. however, say they feel discriminated against and that municipal budgets for Arab towns in Israel are lower than those of Jewish towns. The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee recently released a report charging that there is a shortage of 6100 classrooms and 4000 teachers for the upcoming school year in the Arab sector. Palestinians who live in the West Bank carry their ID cards in a bright green folder. Called a"hawiyye" in Arabic, Palestinians who want to enter Israel need both the ID card and a special army- issued permit. Those permits can sometimes be easy to get. For example, Israel al- lowed than 300,000 Palestinians to enter Israel during the recent holiday that ended the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Once in- side Israel. many made their way to the beaches along the Mediterranean coast- a treat for landlocked Palestinians. Where the ID cards get even more confusing is when it comes to Jerusalem. Latest figures show that Jerusalem is home to 508,000 Jews and 293,000 Palestinians, making a total population of 801.000. The vast majority of Jews who live in Jerusalem are Israeli citizens, as Israel offers au- tomatic citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent. Some Palestinians, like Mou- fid Batarseh, a 57-year-old Palestinian taxi driver, are Israeli citizens as well. "About ten years ago I decided to become an Israeli citizen." he tells The Media Line while traveling on Jeru- salem's light rail train that traverses both Arab and Jew- ish neighborhoods in the city. "I used to travel to Europe and it was just easier to have an Israeli passport." In 1967, when Israel ex- panded and annexed east Jeru- salem, it offered Palestinians citizenship. Most declined. saying that east Jerusalem must eventually be the capital of the Palestinian state. They insist that accepting Israeli citizenship is equivalent to accepting Israeli control over Jerusalem. Even today, only about five percent of east Jerusalem Palestinians have Israeli citizenship. "Israel has had a policy of restricting the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem to maintain the demographic balance." Sarit Michaeli. the spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group Btselem A Se,ier Liviq Commun where ) j ed-:Uvi , Rehabitit ion ar-d Skilled Care :! ,of A nt Suite S ections, some with Lake /mws or 1301 W. Maitland Blvd. Maitland, FL 32751 407-645-3990 Assisted Living Facility License No. 8447 Skirled Nursing Facil~ License No. 16350,96 ~'~v~Lio~; told The Media Line. "If they leave Jerusalem for seven years, Israel can take away their residency permit, and that has been done in hun- dreds of cases." Palestinians agree that holding on to Jerusalem residency is important for their freedom of movement. It also gives them access to Is- raeli social security and health care, widely considered one of the best systems in the world. Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem have ID cards that look almost exactly like those of Jewish citizens. The main difference is that they are permanent residents, not citizens. In the ID card. the line that says "nationality" is blank. Hiba Sanduqa, 27, a social worker who has lived with her Jordanian husband in Dubai for the past three years, says that must change. "I have a blue ID card, but my husbandwho is Jordani in doesn't have one so he can't come here very easily," she told The Media Line at the Qalandya checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank. "Look at my ID card. My nationality is blank. I am a Palestinian. Why don't they write that in my ID card?" Sanduqa has come to visit her,family in Jerusalem and was on her way to other rela- tives in Nablus. Her trip brings up one of the ironies of the current situation. The West Bank is divided into three areas -A, B, and C. Area A, which includes about 18 per- cent of the land of the West Bank but 55 percent of the Arab population, includes cit- ies like Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem, and is under sole Palestinian control - admin- istrative and security. Area B, about 21 percent of the West Bank is under joint Israeli and Palestinian control; and Area C, about 61 percent of the land including all of the Jewish communities on post- 1967 land, is under complete Israeli control. . PalestinianJerusalemresi- dents like Sanduqa can enter all three parts of the West Bank. Jewish citizens of Israel can enter only Areas B and C. In fact, at the entrance to Palestinian cities such as Ramallah there are large signs saying "it is forbidden for Israeli citizens to enter." Israeli officials say it is not safe for Israelis to enter areas under sole Palestinian control. In 2000, two Israeli soldiers who mistakenly en- tered Ramallah were caught and "lynched". In dozens of cases since then, Palestin- ian securil y officers have stopped Jewish Israelis who either made a wrong turn into Ramallah or came to visit and turned them over to Israeli police. At the same time, many Israelis do visit Bethlehem and Jericho. usu- ally very quiet areas. Sanduqa's sister Rafiqa is finishing her degree in phar- macy in Jordan. "I have the blue ID and 1 can go everywhere', Arab or Jew- ish," she told The Media Line. "I am proud to be Palestinian. I am a Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem." On Salaheddin Street east Jerusalem, Hall] Hijazi, 25, spends long hours squeez- ing oranges, carrots and pomegranates into fresh juice. He opened the business just a few months ago, and hopes for a better life for his wife and young daughter. "With the blue ID card, I can go anywhere and this week we took a trip to Akko (a seaside mixed Arab-Jewish city in the Galilee)," he tells The Media Line. "My problem is notwith getting around. It's that everything is too expen- sive. I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Jerusalem's Old City and between rent and property taxes I can't even make ends meet." High rentand taxes are two things that everyone living in Jerusalem - citizens and residents, Jews andArabs, can easily agree upon.