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December 23, 2011

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 23, 2011 Search by survivor's son leads to global reunion By Elaine Durbach News York Jewish News Marlene Stevens says she gets goose bumps when she thinks that very-soon she will meet the daughter of the sister she lost 70 years ago during the Holocaust. Her sister Frima died in 1984 before they were able to reconnect, but thanks to Marlene's son Robert, a Russian television program and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Frima's daugh- ter Gulnora Jurajeva is due to arrive from her home in Uzbekistan in late December for a long-awaited vihit. "I don't know how to describe my feelings," Mar- lene, now 72 and living in Short Hil!s, N.J., told New Jersey Jewish News. "It's wonderful, but it makes me so sad that my parents and my sisters aren't here to share the joy with me." The saga began in Siberia in 1941 when Marlene, then Malka Lancman, was about 2 years old. Her family, who came from eastern Poland, was being sent by train from one forced labor camp to another. Atone of the stops, seeing his mother's futile efforts to breast-feed her starving baby, 9-year-old Chaim went in search of scraps of food. When he didn't come back and the train was about to leave, 16-year-old Frima went to look for him. The PAGE 15A train left before either of them came back. Later that day the baby died. "Can you imagine, losing three of your children in one day?" Marlene asked. As little as she was, she remembers seeing the candle-lit shadow of a ham- mer rising and falling as her father made a coffin for the baby. Her parents, with their five surviving daughters, did everything they could'to trace Chaim and Frima. The search continued through the war years and after in the displaced persons' camp, and then after the family came to the United States in 1948. In recent years, Marlene's son Robert, the youngest of her five children, made it his personal mission to track them down Robert, who lives in Union County, N.J., and works for a large pharmaceutical company, also is a writer. After trying every channel he knew, he finally made contact with "Wait for Me," a reality show on Russian television that matches long-separated loved ones. Last year, five years after he first contacted them, producers told Robert that a viewer in Uzbekistan had come forward with a story that almost exactly matched his mother's. As Robert explained in a story that appeared in the New Jersey Jewish News in June 2010, there were a few discrepancies. But when the viewer, a 51-year-old grand- mother named Jurajeva, sent photographs from her mother's later years, there no longer was any doubt. "She looked just like our father," Marlene said. It seems that Frima, Ju- rajeva's mother, lost track of Chaim. After the Soviet army put Frima in an or- phanage, she was adopted by a Russian Orthodox Chris- tian family" and stripped of her Jewish identity. She eventually married a Mus- lim man. Frima raised her six children as Muslims in a small, remote village, but shortly before she died, she told them that she was Jewish. Robert, who has spoken almost weekly with his cousin with the help of a friend who speaks Russian, said Jurajeva took the news in stride and told him that she feels Jewish inside. The first call, he said, was "was full of emotion -- lots of tears, excitement, etc." It was the fulfillment of a promise for Jurajeva, as it was for him. "She said she promised her mother on her deathbed that she would find her family." Like Robert, among all her siblings Jurajeva has been the one most commit- ted to re-establishing the family connections. But locating Jurajeva wasn't the end of Robert's struggle. Jurajeva was turned down twice by the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, trying to get a visa to come for a visit. Robert asked his congressman, Rep. Leonard Lance, to help. Lance's office tried but eventually told him that the State Department said that too many people have claimed this kind of connection fraudulently to get into the United States, and that Jurajeva did not have sufficient proof. Robert and his wife, Dara, became parents earlier this year, yet he continued to pursue one avenue after anther. He had his cousin send a DNA sample, and he sent it, along with a sample from his mother, to the DNA Shoah Project, which maintains a database of genetic material from Ho- locaust survivors and their immediate descendants. To his disappointment, he said, after more than a year, the organization still has not been able to provide the completed analysis of the DNA samples. Finally he turned to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid So- ciety for help. Mark Hetfield, the senior vice president for policy and programs at HIAS; immigration attorney Kelsey Breckner; and Mark Levin, executive director of the National Council on Soviet Jewry, all worked their con- tacts, eventually bringing the case to the attention of Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department's special envoy to monitor and combat anti- Semitism. Last month the visa was granted. Robert and-his siblings bought the airline ticket for Jurajeva, and she is scheduled to arrive Dec. 24 for a three-week stay. In an e-mail response to the New Jersey Jewish News, Hetfield said, "This was a very difficult case be- cause consular officers have near-absolute authority and discretion in the issuance of visas. Given Gulnora's situ- ation in Uzbekistan and her ties to the United States, it is understandable that the consular officer in Tash- the Holocaust was a result of their internal fortitude to never give up; the same will was instilled in me at an early age," he said. "I made it so far with the search that I wasn't going to let frustration or roadblocks deter me from doing this for my mother. "I am so incredibly happy that I was able to bring a sense of closure to what was, in essence, a 70-year mystery. I am very excited to meet my newfound cousin and participate in this emo- tional reunion." But the process isn't over. Given how he found his cousin, Robert is hoping word of the reunion might bring about one more mira- cle -- a connection with his uncle Chaim. "We know Chaim survived kent denied the application the war," he said. "I received multiple times before and a record from the tracing after HIAS intervened on her behalf. "However, this is a par- ticularly heart-wrenching humanitarian case and Gulnora has-credibly as- serted that she intends to return home," Hetfield said. "HIAS is grateful that in light of these circumstances, and with the encouragement of ...Hannah Rosenthal, the consular officer revisited the case and overturned the denial." Robert told the newspaper that "giving up was never an option." "My parents' surviving service of the International Red Cross that in 1946 there was a Chaim Lancman who was searching for family in Argentina and the U.S., but we've never been able to find out anything else about him." Robert also wants to help other separated families. To that end, he has established a nonprofit networking website, "I am a link," or The site will enable genealogical searches for survivors and their descendants -- and hopefully bring about more joyous reconnections. ByDvora Meyer Shh! Don't talk about sex at Yeshiva University NEW YORK (JTA)--It wasn't your typical college sex scandal. There were no accusations of molestation, inappropriate faculty-stu- dent relationships or date rape charges. Instead, the precipitating incident was the publication by a student-run newspaper of a female student's first- person account of a premari- tal sexual encounter. But this is Yeshiva Univer- sity, an Orthodox institution where the campuses for men and women are separated by approximately 10 miles, and the story's publication in the YU Beacon newspa- per prompted an intense, open discussion of a topic normally considered taboo in this conservative college community. Following a cascade of negative comments by on- line readers of the piece, titled "How Do I Even Begin To Explain This?" the student council elected to withdraw its funding from the newspaper and several editors resigned. Meanwhile, stories about the clash between freedom of expression and fealty to Orthodox Judaism's empha- sis on modesty appeared in news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Yeshiva University of- ficials issued a statement noting that the decision about de-funding the Bea- con was made by students, but YU officials declined to be interviewed by JTA about sexual health practices at the school. The university's reticence to talk publicly about stu- : dgnt sexual activity extends beyond the pages of student publications. A review of the Health & Wellness section of the school's website found no discussion of contra- ception or other relevant .information, and several students--including the anonymous author--said the school had not provided them with any sort of ori- entation on health issues related to sexual activity. That's not to say student health services doesn't pro- vide students with guidance or resources--it does--but the university's low-key ap- proach to sexual health is- sues stands in stark contrast to the approach of many U.S. colleges. "The information should be available," said Lisa Maldonado, the executive director of the New York- based Reproductive Health Access Project. "If you look at the data of who is having the most unintended preg- nancies, it's young women in their 20s." Sarah Lazaros, 21, a se- nior at YU's Stern College for Women, said it's clear why Yeshiva doesn't have such material available online. Having information .on the website "would go against a lot of what the universitystands for, which is total devotion to Jewish law. A lot of potential stu- dents would see that and not come to the university," Lazaros said. "I think the main reason is that they don't want to encourage these behaviors." Several YU students in- terviewed by JTA said it's a mistake to pretend that the university's students are not sexually active. Thesex essay "addresses something that we don't often talk about in the Orthodox Jewish commu- nity, especially at YU," Simi Lampert, 22, the Beacon's editor, told JTA. The Beacon, an inde- pendent, online newspaper launched in January by students at Yeshiva's men's and women's colleges, will continue to publish, albeit without funding from the student council. Lampert said she saw the story's publication as an opportunity to start a con- versation about sex among YU students. "You have someone like me who went to a coed high school, has had boyfriends and has no intention of waiting until marriage for intercourse," said S.B., a freshman at Stern who, like others interviewed for this story, asked to be identified only by her initials. "I don't think anyone should go around denying that there are students having sex because that is not reality." The author of the Beacon story, a 20-year-old Stern student who asked not to be identified, said her es- say was true. She said she penned the piece, which was published in the liter- ary section, where fiction and nonfiction appear, to help resolve her own com- plicated feelings about the experience. "I was really kind of distraught about the whole thing," she said, her voice cracking. Maintaining the appear- ance of the typical Orthodox Stern girl, the author of the Beacon article said she felt like she could not talk to her friends about her night in the hotel room. "It's not like it was ex- pected of me by how I dress," she said. "I wear skirts. I do that whole song and dance." The author complained that the culture of the Or- thodox institution makes it difficult to take effective safeguards when engaging in intercourse. When her pe- riod was late in coming after her sexual encounter, she said she was worried about pregnancy even though she and her partner had used contraception. Panicked, she went to Stern's Health & Wellness Center, where she said she was counseled nonjudg- mentally and asked for and received a pregnancy test. "They'll have a conversa- tion with you about sex," she said. "They'll talk to you about the risks of being sexually active." Responding to a JTA in- quiry about the contracep- tive and counseling options available to students, YU's senior director of media relations, Mayer Fertig, referred to the website of the Health & Wellness center. The site does not list contraceptives, Plan B or pregnancy tests as an available resource, unlike the websites of other major universities, and students say that Stern College doesn't explicitly inform students that there are preg- nancy tests and counseling about sexually transmitted infection available in the university system. "From what I know, there is no information that has been made very accessible in terms of contraception, rape or pregnancy," S.B. said. A sex essay that appeared in a Yeshiva University student publication has prompted an intense debate about reproduc- tive health, Orthodox Jewish modesty and freedom of speech. Many Stern students hail from Orthodox institutions and thus are unlikely to have picked up knowledge about condom usage, pregnancy or the risks of disease trans- mission from their high schools. Tamar, a senior at Stern who asked that her last name not be used, said she could recall just one event in her three years on campus in which women's sexuality and health was discussed. As for'contraceptives, she said, "It's not something that's talked about." Lazaros, a women's stud- ies major, said that a stu- dent-run women's studies society on campus once brought a sex therapist to the college to speak. She also said the Health & Wellness Center does not provide a broad spectrum of services, probably because of limited demand and the school's small size. While the essay did not go into much detail about the sexual encounter, sev- eral YU students described how their friends at the school attempt to skirt the Orthodox ban on premarital intercourse by being sexu- ally active in others ways. M.H., 27, who graduated from Yeshiva College in 2007, told JTA that he en- gaged in oral sex with girls from Stern and talked with friends about their similar exploits. "I know that they were definitely hooking up--oral sex, kissing, touching," he said. "I found that it was much harder to get a reli- gious girl to actually have sexual intercourse because they place a premium on virginity." In public, at least, the rule at Yeshiva remains unchanged, students say. "I know couples that behind closed doors, they'll cuddle or they'll make out," the author of the Beacon article said. "But when it comes to sitting in the student lounge, they sit five feet apart"