Man is occupied with what he expects will make him happy,
But his greatest happiness consists of being busy.
There are three reasons for becoming a writer. The first: you need money; the second: you want to tell the world something important; third: you don’t know how to keep busy during the long winter evenings.
In general, we are all perpetual motion “engines” within the measure of “eternity” allotted us from on high. The movements of our lips, hands, lungs, digestive tract are perpetual, but on that basis, what individuals could be termed “perpetual engines”? For that honorable title, one must possess a different, powerful energy, the energy of the soul, constantly be in the center of events (or be the center of events oneself), be a source of incessant ideas, deeds, speech, in other words, a “burning,” [boundless enthusiasm] that is not accessible to many others.
Just think – a brief, desperate clash with the KGB in Sverdlovsk, an almost immediate entry into the Moscow refusenik elite – he perpetually was hurrying somewhere, was whispering with someone, was writing letters, signing letters, was present at all important meetings with foreigners. He endured administrative arrest five or six times (he himself no longer remembers exactly); he managed the monetary fund for olim [aliyah activists], cooperated secretly with Nativ [Hebrew for the Liaison Bureau, the Israeli agency that, for the most part, clandestinely dealt with Soviet Jewry issues]; in several months (!), he mastered English, somehow inconspicuously became one of the best Hebrew teachers – the unforgettable Yura Shtern studied Hebrew with him; he headed the Hebrew teachers’ seminar; and he headed the little know coordinating center for problems of Aliyah and strategies for the Zionist Movement, “Mashka.” After his arrival in Israel, he managed: to work for a while in the newly developing cable television sphere and in the Jewish Agency (Sochnut) and to head the first political Russian olim party, “Da,” which, incidentally, lost in the elections, but then he overwhelmingly defeated his rivals for the right to the “Russian spot” in the Likud party. Indeed, he did not manage to make it into the Knessetas he was too far down on the list; he almost became Israel’s ambassador to Russia. He tried to set up a free economic trade zone in Israel but it, too, did not succeed because of the Israeli establishment’s opposition; he organized his own firm; helped olim scientists find work, in particular in technological “hothouses”; unexpectedly, he became chairman of the Israeli section of the World Congress of Russian-speaking Jewry, but quickly left that position in order to dedicate himself completely to literary work….
Although not everything went smoothly in this kaleidoscope of deeds and events, he never broke down. He never despaired; he kept going, and I am sure that in his 67th year, he has not said his final words … if writing won’t become his life’s work.
As it is in mine, for example.
That’s not all. He has awards: the award of the All-parliamentary Committee for the Liberation of Soviet Jews, the Jerusalem Prize for educational activity in the Diaspora, the pennant of the Institute of National Security, and, as he modestly adds, “many others”….
The settlement of Beit Aryeh, where Yuli Kosharovsky lives, was all of a twenty-minute ride from my Petah Tikvah, some fifteen kilometers! The ride along the unfettered, lively curving Highway 446, flying downward then upward, was unusually pleasurable. Yuli’s house is at the edge of the settlement, on an elevation; the view from the porch is, of course, breathtaking.
The settlement was founded in 1981 and belongs to the settlement network of the Herut movement. It is named in honor of Aryeh Ben-Eliezer (1917-1970), one of the prominent leaders of Herut. At present, I hope, many more than 3150 people ((at the end of 2006, precisely 3149 people were living there) are living in Beit Aryeh.
Yulik (no one calls him Yuli; no matter how well-known he is, Yuli is too imposing a name for him; it doesn’t permit one to slap him on the shoulder, or even to talk on familiar terms with such a name), Yulik, our peace lovers don’t plan to make a gift of Beit Aryeh to the Palestinians?
Yuli: (without any pathos, as always, reasonably and calmly). I don’t think so. It protects [is close to] the central airport of the country and the underbelly of Gush Dan, it looms over Lod, over the airport. It is a perfect strategic point. An army base is right nearby. The army and special units frequently visit us in order to see what is going on below.
From the porch of his house, one can easily see our airport, the airstrips glistening in the sun.
A few words from an interview in 2006 given by then defense minister Shaul Mofaz: “Israel maintains control of the settlements of Ofarim and Beit Aryeh, which are now on the Palestinian side of the security fence. I stress once again that the detailed list of settlement blocs that will be retained after the second wave of evacuations from the Gaza strip and Northern Samaria will include Maaleh Adumim, the Jordan Valley, Ariel, Kedumim-Karnei Shomron, Gush Etzion, Reikhan Shaked, and Beit Aryeh. These are major places and if the need arises, we shall move the security fence to surround all these territories.”
Amen, as it is said.
Yulik’s house seemed small, even though it is two stories and has six rooms. The small garden is neglected. I understand that a writer’s affairs don’t leave time to deal with anything else but writing.
Yuli (after the first reading of the interview, with a slightly offended tone of voice): Not really. The house is not small at all. It comprises over 300 square meters, of which about 200 are living space. It was built with a family of six in mind, and now there are only two of us – Inna and myself. For two, it’s not so bad. Even very “not so bad.” It’s already hard for my wife to clean it. And the garden isn’t so neglected. I’ll even allow myself to note that the garden is normal. It contains twenty trees that I planted and many decorative plants that Inna planted. It does not distract from work but helps. Everything that should flower flowers; everything that should bear fruit bears fruit. Under every plant is a dripcock for irrigation that I put there. There is no green grass in order to save water, and in general, I prefer earth under my feet rather than grass, which has to be watered almost twice daily in our climate. You could reproach me because the courtyard was not cleaned because now it is August and the pine needles are falling from the trees.
This is not the city with constant street noise, the burning smell of cars, and smog. Here one writes well and with pleasure. And there is where to go and where to enjoy a fig or tangerine. So you unfairly….
I am not being ironic about a writer’s work. Yuli Kosharovsky is writing a four-volume (for now!) history of the Zionist movement in the Soviet Union. The general title is We Are Jews Again. The first volume appeared in 2007; the second and third are forthcoming. The fourth will come out in 2009. Just an enumeration of the bibliographic items that he used in the book causes me to tremble. Not to mention the numerous interviews.
I must admit, however, that I don’t like the title We Are Jews Again. We were always Jews. No one yet succeeded in reattaching the little tip of skin that was snipped off; no one yet succeeded in replacing his Jewish mother (it did happen that people renounced her); no one yet succeeded in not being afraid of our God. It is another matter what kind of Jews we were. I would call Yuli’s book The Return to History; there would be no mistake there. History with a capital letter. Although these words that pierce my heart belong, alas, not to me but to Vili Svechinsky.
In some sense, Yuli and I are in competition. We often interviewed the very same people, and despite the fact that I was basically interested in the spiritual impulses of my heroes from cradle to prison and from prison to deserved old age, and also their wives, children, grandchildren, and their attitude toward Meir Kahane and Yossi Beilin, whereas Yuli was interested in their Zionist exploits, some of our interviews have a lot in common, and I can’t imagine how to divide the fame.
If we could combine our books, eliminating the repetitions, what a six-volume opus that would be!
Yes, but who would read it, other than our heroes? I am not even speaking about buying it….
Despite the above-mentioned competition, our relations are friendly, humane although slightly ironic, and Oscar Wilde’s words, “The basis of literary friendship is mixing the poisoned bowl,” does not apply to us at all. The interview with Yuli thus proceeded most smoothly.
The photo on the following page, which I took during the interview, inclines me more favorably to Yulik than would a respectable view of him, accompanied by his clear, confident speech – you will become familiar with it in the course of the interview – and the slightly proud smile. At that moment, everything was his own, and familiar – the frequently scratched, completely formed middle-aged spread, and Yulik’s adoring dog, who was happy because she was permitted to rest on her master, who was tenderly patting her gleaming hide that was almost trembling from his touch.
All of Israel was swimming in heat, but we enjoyed a light breeze, quiet, and a free-flowing conversation.
Yuli: My family name Kosharovsky derives from the settlement of Kosharovka in the Pale of Settlement. Everyone who came from there became Kosharovsky. I have found many people from Kosharovka and all of them, to some degree, are my relatives.
I was born on November 22, 1941 into a completely assimilated family of civil servants. The process of my birth was rather complex: I was conceived in Kiev and born six months after the start of the war [World War II], in the settlement of Novaia Lialia, three hundred kilometers north of Sverdlovsk. My younger brother Leonid was also born there a year and a half later. My older brother Daniel was born in Kiev in 1938. He was a strongman in comparison to me: he grew on Kiev fruits whereas I grew on evacuation breads. All three of us brothers moved to Israel. And all their families are here. But my older brother Daniel died in Israel.
My parents met in Kiev, where both were studying at the Kiev Technological Institute in the specialty “all phases of paper production.” After graduating from the institute, my father, Mikhail Nisonovich Kosharovsky, worked at some papermaking plant. Before the war, during a boat trip, he was involved in an accident – he was sitting with his feet dangling over the side of the boat and was struck on the feet by the side of a motor boat that rushed by. For three years after that, he went on crutches. Naturally, this prevented him from being conscripted into the army. Later, it all passed but left its traces…. Father was a noticeable, solid man, what is called burly.
At the start of the war, the plant in which he worked was evacuated to the Urals, to the settlement of Novaia Lialia, where the plant was supposed to be reconstructed. Papa and many other of the workers were evacuated in cars; mama, however, was sent by train, and it took her several months to reach the place. The train was exposed to bombing several times. Upon arrival, we received a small room. There was a lack of food, but I know about this, naturally, from the stories of my elders.
Mama, Sima Markovna Galinskaia, left her profession of papermaking, found work in a bakery, and we at least had bread.
A romantic love story circulated in mama’s family. Her grandfather was a petty businessman; apparently, he had his own shop. His daughter Hana, my grandmother, fell in love with a poor tutor whom her father had hired. Because of her willfulness, she and her beloved were driven from the house. Exiled, they happily spent their entire life together, and one of their three daughters became my mother. All three daughters received an education, and one of them, at the age of 97 (Yuli spits over his left shoulder three times), is now living in Chicago.
We lived in Novaia Lialia for seven years. After the war, when they started to rebuild the papermaking industry in the west of the country, my father would be sent every year and a half or two to a new plant; it would become established, and we would move on. Because of their ecological harm, paper combines were located far from large residential areas. As a result of these moves, I went to school in four different workers’ settlements, I can’t report anything good about my middle level education, although I received a silver medal and even used to win when I participated in regional Olympiads in chemistry and math. The last town, Kondrovo in Kaluga region, was situated two hundred kilometers south of Moscow, which made it possible to visit Moscow frequently in the ranks of various local tourist groups.
There was an enormous combine in Kondrovo at which about 7000 people worked – almost the entire town. Father, as usual, held the position of chief engineer of the combine. We stayed in this town for five years. At some point, my father became bored with life in workers’ settlements and work in a factory, and we moved to Sverdlovsk, where he found a job in a design office. After a little while, he began to teach at the Sverdlovsk Forestry Institute; he then became chairman of the department, and, subsequently, dean and even secretary of the institute’s party organization.
Mama worked at the same enterprises as Father but as a bookkeeper; she could not work in a technical job, even indirectly, in which she would be subordinate to her husband. As I have said, the family was completely assimilated. The only elements that mama brought from her father’s house and that was imbibed with her mother’s milk was the prohibition on mixing meat and dairy products and the desire that her sons marry Jewesses. Father and Mother spoke easily in Yiddish but did not teach it to us. Our home contained a marvelous library – both literary and technical.
When I was still a child, because of an incident that occurred when I was in the fifth grade, my father diligently weaned me from any manifestation of dissidence. The parents of some of my schoolmates who came from neighboring villages did not have passports and thus were unable freely to move around the country. Once at a history lesson, our history teacher – who was simultaneously our homeroom teacher, a former partisan and ardent patriot who, incidentally, treated me very well – started a conversation about the radical improvement in the life of the peasantry after the Great October Revolution. And I asked, out of purely childish curiosity, very sincerely, I assure you, with absolutely no desire to expose anything, how come before the revolution, the peasants were able to go wherever they pleased and could sell their produce wherever they wanted to, but now they do not have passports and they are seemingly again attached to the land as they had been under serfdom. She replied that the state needs bread, and if the peasants wandered around the cities, then the country would remain without bread, and, therefore, this system exists now. To which I answered to the effect that it means that their situation now is worse than before the revolution; yet you assert that life has become much better. When I said this, a deadly silence hung over the class. And instead of answering me, the teacher almost burst out sobbing. Then she began to scream that she had fought, she was a partisan, all this was sacred to her, and she could not understand how one could say such things as I had said, and she left the class in tears….
In the evening, my father returned from work with a despondent look. I tried to justify myself, “You yourself taught us to ask the teacher.” I sensed that it was unpleasant for him to talk about this. “There are issues that must not be discussed with outsiders,” my father finally said.
He explained to me at length that this was a political question; I still did not understand a lot of things and I should first ask him: “Children usually don’t come up with such questions; they could think that it came from the family and we all would suffer as a result.”
It was 1952 and signs of the new antisemitic campaign that would culminate in the infamous Doctors’ Plot of 1953 were already in the air.
“You shouldn’t stop thinking and observing,” he added. In technology such inconvenient questions don’t exist…; it’s better if you occupy yourself with it and don’t do anything foolish.”
In general, my parents tried to inculcate in us an interest in the exact sciences. My father assembled an excellent professional library. Occasionally, he would take us to the factory and show us the enormous paper manufacturing machines, which extended several hundred meters. The paper manufacturing process was fascinating: the liquid mass was poured onto a vibrating, lattice-like table that extracted the excess moisture and distributed the mass equally along the surface. In the next stage, a system of numerous shafts, drums, and webbing processed the material over a length of several hundred meters, and in the end, the finished paper emerged from the machine in huge rolls. The noise level was so high that it was difficult to hear someone nearby.
(Excerpt from Kosharovsky’s book, We Are Jews Again, vol. 1, chapter 15)
Yuli: Undoubtedly, after that conversation, I ceased to consider the humanities a worthy discipline for study. I studied them only out of necessity…. I maintained that approach up to the 1967 Six-Day War. When that war broke out, I suddenly understood that I had become a kind of intellectual slave, selling my brains for money.
I recall my father in 1956, similarly despondent and disturbed but entirely uncommunicative when the newspapers scourged Israel for “aggression” against “freedom loving” Egypt. At the time, I had little understanding of how this related to us….
My father did not look very Jewish; because he was often taken for “one of theirs” in a Russian milieu, he knew the true attitude toward Jews very well. After I graduated from school, I wanted to enter a Moscow institution of higher education but my parents did not let me leave them, and in 1958, I entered the Sverdlovsk Institute of Railroad Engineering in the faculty of automation and telecontrol. (maybe telecommunications) – preferable Steffi
Lvovsky: Was Sverdlovsk a closed city?
Yuli: The city and region were closed to foreigners. The citizens had no problem with movement inside the city or departure from it [to other parts of the USSR]. There was no anti-Semitism in Sverdlovsk as indeed existed in Moscow. The Jews’ reputation in Sverdlovsk was not as negative as in other regions of the country because a significant segment of the Jewish intelligentsia had been evacuated from the western regions of the USSR, and they brought in technology, knowledge, and new factories and continued to work in the city after the war. There was no blatant discrimination. A general Russian context existed, of course, and in order to enter the institute, I had to show that I was better [than the others]. Just then, they changed the rules where medal winners needed only to pass an oral examination. They had to take an exam on general principles. I scored 24 out of 25 possible points on the exams.
I studied at the institute for four and a half years and understood that this was not my field. And I did not do a diploma defense. If I had done so, then I would have been assigned to some railroad for three years, but I had been at those places and I didn’t like it. In general, it was relay circuits and all that, but it was not that complex and it was uninteresting. Electronics and radio engineering were very popular then, and I transferred to the radio faculty of the Sverdlovsk Polytechnic Institute, where my younger brother Leonid was already studying. I was accepted to the fourth year. The specialization was “707,” electronics of aviation apparatuses. It was a very fashionable course with good prospects. I graduated in 1964.
I was assigned to an institute that developed guidance systems for strategic missiles – a major firm and interesting work. Only later on did I understand to what punishment this could lead. In that company, we made guidance systems for Soviet Polaris missiles with atomic warheads. They were able to travel an enormous distance and could be launched from land, water, submarines, from swamps – from wherever you wanted. I defended my diploma and worked there for three and a half years. Until the Six-Day War, I had a second-level secrecy classification, but it turned out that I was working in a complex division, was the senior engineer of the group, and then directed a brigade for setting up complex [missile] stands. In general, there were hundreds of documents with my signature. We worked liked dogs; you won’t believe it – for twenty hours a day. We were paid like ministers – one salary in the institute itself, the second salary at the plant, where in accordance with our plans they made the “metal,” and each month a prize equal to a monthly salary. We worked under the constant entreaties of high-ranking officials who would come to us and say: “Guys, we must overtake America! Work hard and you will receive whatever you want! Just deliver results!” And we worked like dogs….
Lvovsky: Were there many Jews in your institute?
Yuli: Almost all the lab directors were Jews. There were Jews in many key positions. For this work, they selected the best, no matter what the nationality. There was a serious arms race, a real arms race. I must tell you that our missiles were no worse than the American ones in accuracy, strength, or in distance….
Lvovsky: How did you know about American missiles?
Yuli: What are you talking about! In the first division, there was everything! (In case anyone forgot, that was the name of the division where secret documents were stored). You could go and take what you needed. And this curiosity was greatly encouraged. Of course, their hardware components were different, but we solved principal questions in the same way.
The main directive was to outflank the Americans, to make a breakthrough into space before them. In general, on paper, everything looked very solid and lovely.
I did not participate much in public work – I was elected once to something but that’s all.
Well, of course, we also took vacations. Tourism was very well developed in our institute, and we were oriented toward local places. I covered many routes with the fellows. On one of the trips, I met my first wife, Sonia. Remarkably, even before our wedding in 1965, I told her that if something happens to my people, I shall be with them. It’s unlikely that I just tossed out those words. Something was already lodged inside me. Sonia, who was not Jewish, replied that she would always be with me. Alas, that did not happen…. But about that later on. We had a daughter Ania, who is living in Sverdlovsk even now. From her, I have three wonderful granddaughters, seventeen, fifteen, and two years old.
Lvovsky: Then came 1967.
Yuli: No, nothing happened “suddenly.” Although I did not especially feel antisemitism directed at me personally, I sensed it rather acutely in the background. Once father told me that the head boss in Moscow rebuked him: “This one with you is a Jew, and that one is a Jew. Enough; don’t you dare take any more of them! They will make a revolution at your place! It’s that kind of a people….” Father’s appearance misled many people.
I remember on the eve of the Six-Day War how I was struck by the words of a television broadcast that “Israel is a foreign body in the Middle East” and, judging by everything, “Israel won’t last in the Middle East.” This was about three months before the war. Then, in general, the picture darkened sharply with malicious to hateful commentaries on Israel becoming more frequent.
Once something strange, almost mystical, happened that left a deep mark on me. It occurred when, deep in thought, I was walking along a noisy street and my head was buzzing from lack of sleep…. Suddenly, everything around me vanished, it became quiet, and the passers-by and cars disappeared. A bright light illuminated my consciousness and I saw with piercing clarity who I was, where I was going, and what I wanted. I knew that this was not a fantastic trick, that I was seeing my path…. It was a divine beacon to my atheistically educated soul.
I don’t know how long this lasted but then once again the street became noisy and the cars were moving.
This ended all doubts.
Until my departure another long twenty-two years would pass. It would be difficult and unbearable—fear, pain, exhaustion; there would be children who would grow up in the midst of all this….
At the most difficult moments, I would return in my mind to that spark of consciousness, to that clarity … and my strength would return.
(From We Are Jews Again, “Personal Reminiscences”)
Yuli: On the eve of the Six-Day War, as a professional radio operator, I set up an antenna on the roof – I was then living with my wife in her parents’ apartment – directed it to the nearest “jammer” and tried to catch Israel [Kol Yisrael, the Israeli radio station]. It didn’t work that well; in Sverdlovsk, the jamming was very powerful. At night, I would sit near the receiver. At the time, moreover, I did not know any language other than Russian; I had studied German at the institute but could not understand it at all when spoken.
My wife’s family sympathized with me. If I had gone to walk with my daughter and it was nearing time for the broadcast, my Russian mother-in-law would go out to the courtyard and say, “Let me walk with her! And you go listen!”
The war broke out and reports told of the number of downed Israel planes, about the march of the victorious Arab armies, about the inclusion of ever more Arab states to the united front of struggle against Israel. I could not work, could not think of anything else – how many more planes did Israel have left? The internal pain burst forth to the outside, and I began to talk about it at work. Suddenly, on the fourth day of the war, when, according to Soviet data about Israel, nothing should have been left, Israel was declared an aggressor and occupier! The transition was so sharp, so cynical, so obviously false…. The world in which I was living crashed with unbelievable speed. I understood that I was living in a country permeated with falsehood, in a country that was the enemy of my people; I understood that if I would continue to live that way, nothing human would remain of me.
Later, it became clear that the USSR had prepared the Arab countries for war against Israel. The Soviet Union had almost no doubt about the outcome—equipped with Soviet arms, their clients ought to be victorious. The Arabs’ victory would also solve the problem of Soviet Jews’ loyalty, making them more industrious while further deprived of rights. Even if the outcome was not decisive, then the Arabs would constantly need to purchase Soviet arms and seek economic and political support from the USSR. A total defeat was completely unforeseen. Encountering it, the Soviet leadership lapsed into hysteria, which it tried to conceal with clamorous and primitive anti-Israeli propaganda. For me, however, the victory was a triumph, as it was for the other Jews and many Russians.
(From We Are Jews Again, “Personal Reminiscences”)
It was a sharp turn in my life that quickly led me to Zionism. I was sure that I was not the only one but that many Jews were churning inside….
Soon I handed in a statement resigning from my missile company. They released me only after eight months.
Lvovsky: Did you share your feelings with your father?
Yuli: Not very much…. You understand that the regime had managed to instill fear in their hearts; after all, they lived and were formed under Stalin. My father soon died, in 1968. He was all of 57 years old. A heart attack…. All his life, he had lived like a Russian, but he died like a Jew – because of the antisemitic behavior of one of his subordinates. There was a state funeral. The coffin lay in the foyer of the institute. There was a cavalcade of seventy cars and this entire cortege set out for the … Jewish cemetery. At the Jewish cemetery, my grandfather – his father – insisted on following the Jewish ritual. They made a tear in my grandfather’s suit and in the shirts of us three sons; they lowered the coffin into the grave and recited Kaddish [the Jewish prayer for the deceased]. I remember the faces of the party big shots, the surprised whispering behind our backs….
It was a well-tended Jewish cemetery with stone gravestones, metal fences, and tall trees. Next to it was a Russian cemetery with crosses, birch trees, and low fences.
After they set up the gravestone, Sonia and I went to put the grave in order. Just then, an inebriated party of eight people emerged from the Russian cemetery. “Look at those Jews,” one of them called out. “When they’re alive, they suck our blood and after death … look at the mansions they build.” They stopped about ten meters from us and began to taunt us with antisemitic jokes. I was filled with anger and humiliation.
“Go away, he just buried his father,” Sonia cried out. “Well, now, let’s put the little Yid next to his little papa,” wheezed one of them in a sailor’s vest and he moved toward us. Sonia stood in front of me, but I pushed her aside, knocking her over. My ears were ringing, a red glaze covered my eyes, my hair stood on end, and my hands merged with the shovel into one whole. A savage cry burst forth from my throat: “Two will lie with me….”
Then something unexpected happened. They stopped suddenly. Fear froze on their faces mixed with astonishment. “Well, you know, chap, yes, we didn’t mean anything bad….” One of them stepped forward and extended his hand in reconciliation. “Yes, forgive us…,” but I couldn’t separate my hand from the shovel. They hurried away and for some time I heard, “Forgive us, fellow….”
I leaned over toward the gravestone and slowly slid to the earth. Weakness and emptiness washed over my body, and I began to shiver. It took me a week to recover.
From that time, I think, Sonia understood conclusively that I must not stay in that country.
(From We Are Jews Again, “Personal Reminiscences”)
I began looking for work and sought like-minded people. I found a medical scientific research institute – the Institute of Hygiene and Professional Illnesses. It had a laboratory that developed instruments for studying at a distance the functions of the human organism. It was not a closed [classified] institute and therefore the salary was meager. An outstanding scientist, Vladimir Viktorovich Rosenblat, was head of the laboratory. Everyone was working on their dissertations under his guidance. At the time, about twenty graduate students were working under him.
Having just started my new job, I took a test for graduate study, mainly so that tongues would not wag about my transfer from the prestigious missile institute to the far from prestigious medical one. It should be clear that I transferred in order to write a dissertation. A new selection of graduate students was underway just then, and I had seven (!) days to prepare and pass three exams for the minimum candidate’s degree – in professional material, dialectical material, and a foreign language. Only by passing could I become the director’s graduate student. The specialty was not difficult; dialectical materialism was a little worrisome, but I could pass by recalling the chapter titles; language, however, was a big problem. I had studied German in the institute but almost never used it at work and thus had thoroughly forgotten it. I left four days out of the seven for preparing for the language exam.
In order somehow to compensate me for the decrease in salary, Rosenblat gave me additional “hackwork” repairing and maintaining in good working condition all the electronic equipment in the institute. It was not hard for me, especially as I was able to do this during my working time. On occasion, I would have to adapt the apparatus to the needs of a particular experiment. I thus developed good relations with almost all the laboratory heads and doctors of science. I kept company with them and clarified many useful matters concerning the functions of the human organism, in particular the brain. This was very useful in my future activity as a Hebrew teacher. It seems that the brain has many memory systems that handle various functions of the organism. The brain has zones responsible for aural memory, emotional memory, memory for mimicking, touch, taste, smell, color, remembering hand movements; you know, sometimes, in order to remember a word, people write it in the air; in short, our brain has several very independent memory systems. Why are they independent? Because, if one of them is injured as a result of trauma or illness, the others continue to function normally. The effect of remembering is reinforced by simultaneously operating as many different memory systems as possible. This is very important for work with language. I went to an instructor in German to reach an agreement with her about [language] practice, but when she listened to me, she merely broke out laughing: “People study with me for a year for the graduate exam and you want to do it in four days! Who do you think you are?!??? I don’t take those kind!” I had to organize a call from a respected person from our institute, who told her that I had interesting ideas about the unusual possibilities of remembering; that caught her interest, and she decided to try. For the first meeting, she spoke about grammar and gave me four hundred lexical units to remember. I recorded all this on a tape recorder, and then at home, I recopied and recorded this again on the tape recorder but in a certain manner, with correct intervals, a certain amount of repetitions, various intonations, emotional tones, and so forth, in order to activate varying memory systems. On the next say, this material “jumped out of my teeth”; even I was astonished!
In short, in four days, she and I restored my German, which, in effect, I had not used for seven years. And she did not even take money from me!
I passed the exam with distinction. And from that moment, I acquired, if you can call it that, linguistic chutzpah.
Incidentally, I wrote a dissertation on the topic “Measuring at a Distance the Functions of the Brain’s Filling with Blood,” but I did not defend it in connection with the stormy events that followed.
A group of like-minded friends gradually formed, and in 1969, we numbered ten families, including Valeri Kukui, Volodia Markman, Boria Edelman, Liuba Zlotver,(Stefi – Luba spells her name Luba) and others. The fellows were interesting. The life of the group was Boria Edelman, a hospitable, upbeat Romanian Jew, whose family had been arrested and sent to Siberia after the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia. They were released only after Stalin’s death.
Lvovsky: The desire to emigrate united all of you?
Yuli: Naturally. You could leave without thinking about it. But none of us knew at the time how to do it, especially as our region was a closed zone, and in principle, we had no notion how one could go abroad. Later on, we found a family who had relatives in Israel, and we found out some things. Moreover, Kukui was in touch with Eitan Finkelstein, who had moved from Sverdlovsk to Vilnius, and we also received some information from him. Gradually a picture [of what was needed] formed: an invitation [from a relative in Israel], assembling the necessary documents, submitting them to OVIR…. The main task was receiving an invitation from Israel.
The emigration began in 1968….
At Kukui’s place, I found Shlomo Kodesh’s Hebrew textbook, avidly seized it, and on my own covered seven lessons. I somehow immediately turned into an ardent Zionist. I was not interested in the plethora of dissident literature at Kukui’s. Valeri himself had been involved in dissidence for a long time. He was drawn to the humanities. His parents were musicians.
The ground was favorable for dissidence in the country – a disintegrating country in which the people lived according to several truths: the radio spoke about one kind, at work, there was another, in the family – a third, and so forth. I was simply uninterested in all this. And, besides, there was no time for it. Zionism was an entirely different matter. We constantly met, discussed matters, and drew up plans. We generally met on Sundays at Edelman’s place. My wife always attended these meetings.
After awhile, I began to feel that our get-togethers had spent themselves out. We had already discussed everything possible, and an interest in spending time together was weakening. I then proposed that we study Hebrew. It would serve our emigration, consolidate us, and bring us closer to our goal….
I read somewhere that man is a machine oriented toward a definite goal. If you do not have a goal and actions directed toward it, you don’t feel normal, all the more so, you don’t feel happy. We thus lived this way until the Leningrad Trial of December 1970.
Our connection to Riga was via Eitan Finkelstein, and one of the fellows had a connection with Moscow. This was a big secret – a Zionist link with the capital. We heard that something bad was happening – arrests and searches. Then we heard about the terrible sentence of the “hijackers.” And then there was a nighttime phone call from Kukui, asking me to drop in; we were neighbors. He told me: “They reported from the center that they expect a protest letter from us against the sentencing of the hijackers. We decided that each one would write his own version; then we would combine the best parts. At night, I poured out my soul in a letter of several pages. In sum, they used my letter as the basis. Kukui added a few spots and edited it. The letter was sent to the then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Nikolai Podgorny, and the Supreme Court of the USSR. We sent a copy to the president of Israel at the time, Zalman Shazar. We both felt as if we were authors of the letter and Kukui suggested flipping a coin to see who would sign first. Honestly, it was a bit frightening, but the coin selected him. We signed, affixed our addresses, telephone numbers, and in the evening, all the others of our glorious “ten” signed the letter.
Here is the letter (with some cuts):
We, Jewish residents of Sverdlovsk signed below, under the unforgettable impression of the just-ended Leningrad trial in the case of an attempt to hijack a plane from Leningrad airport, consider it necessary to declare the following:
We are convinced that the sentencing of two defendants, Dymshits and Kuznetsov to the death sentence and long prison sentences of from four to fifteen years for the other defendants is unjustifiably harsh and inhuman. This sentence impels many in the world and in the Soviet Union again to recall the black years of the cult of personality, the period that brought to many thousands of families incurable suffering and spiritual wounds, from which we, too, are not free, people of differing ages and backgrounds.
Among the convicted in the Leningrad Trial there were no criminals hiding from Soviet justice. They were not armed and could not represent a threat to the life of the passengers or plane crew. Their action was aborted at the very beginning and, in essence, there was only a plot but not an attempted hijacking, not to mention a hijacking itself.
The sole reason inducing these people to consider hijacking a plane and flying it abroad is the absence of any real possibility for departing by legal means. …
International legal norms long ago recognized the right of a person of any nationality and citizen of any state freely to resolve the question of a choice of residence….
Each person has the right to leave and return to his country. This is stated in the “Declaration of Human Rights” adopted by the UN and ratified by the Soviet government.
Those who ultimately wound up on the defendants’ bench in the Leningrad Trial were crudely denied their legal rights.
Without justifying in principle the method of resolving the question of emigration by hijacking a plan and forcing the crew to change course we consider that such measures are acts of despairing people who were impelled to try it because of the authorities’ failure to observe their own country’s laws. One can imagine the impasse into which people are driven by the authorities’ acts and the accompanying circumstances, to what deeds individual people might be driven by such the regime’s inadmissibly arbitrary interpretation of its own legislation….
We are not surprised that the majority of defendants in the Leningrad Trial are Jews. Millions of Jews around the world and in the USSR harbor sincere sympathy for Israel and consider it the symbol and realization of the Jewish people’s national revival. We consider that the Jewish people’s awakening of national consciousness after 2000 years in dispersion, together with the numerous tragic, bloody excesses, fits in with the general stream of national liberation movements around the world.
It is not difficult to imagine the psychological state of the Jew, who with all his being, is striving to participate directly in the historic process of his people’s national revival but is refused an exit visa to Israel by official authorities of a UN member state, which recognizes human rights and considers itself a flagship in the struggle for the full legal development of all peoples in the world and one of the first that recognized the State of Israel in 1947.
In the light of all the above, the court’s sentence sounded completely barbarous. Two death sentences, prison terms from 4 to 15 years…. Taking the life of two young men.
What does the regime want to attain? Intimidation or a just solution to the problem? Does it want to drive the disease inward or eliminate its causes?…
Implementing the court sentence will inevitably leave a permanent stain of cruelty on the official garment of Soviet justice….
We resolutely appeal to you, executors of the supreme power and legality of the Soviet state to revoke the death sentences of Kuznetsov and Dymshits.
We demand full adherence to the constitutional rights and guarantees of Soviet citizens, including offering those who wish it the immediate opportunity to depart….
Neither physical destruction of those desiring to leave, nor long-term deprivation of freedom, nor humiliating human and national dignity can avert the repetition of such incidents as the Leningrad one. The problem can be solved only by complete adherence to the guarantees proclaimed in the Declaration of Human Rights.
We are aware that many such appeals by Soviet citizens to the highest representatives of the regime of the USSR do not receive any response, which leads us to assume that they simply do not reach their destination but lie in offices. We therefore considered it necessary to send a copy of this letter also to the government of the State of Israel with a request, if it considers it necessary, to inform people worldwide of its content.
Signatories: Valeri Kukui, Yuli Kosharovsky, Boris Edelman, Vladimir Aks, Liubov Zlotver, Boris Rabinovich, Vladimir Markman, Anna Kertsnus (addresses and phone numbers appended)
Yuli: The following night, Boria Rabinovich, concealing the letter, left for Moscow. Then, that was a sacred act….
Without exaggeration, one can state that the consequences of this letter were fateful….
Very quickly, the letter was broadcast over the radio – in fact, in excerpts – and a few weeks later, we heard a rustling on our telephone lines, strange cars appeared near our homes, and “tails” appeared. … We understood that the regime was starting to work us over. Honestly, we thought they would arrest us….
The director of the institute then summoned me and said that an article would soon appear in the central Sverdlovsk newspaper, and it depended on me whether I would be mentioned in it. If it mentioned me, then he would be unable to help me at all; if I desisted, however, then everything that had happened would not reflect on my career, my dissertation defense, and so forth.
I replied to the director that the national feeling that was alive in me was much stronger than me myself, that I myself had not expected it to burst forth with such force, and that there was nothing I could do about it.
“Can I do anything for you?” he asked at the end of the discussion.
“If it is in your power,” I answered, “it would be good if the resolution of the collective of the institute would propose expelling me from the country.”
A few days later, an article appeared in the paper entitled “Where is the Land of [one’s] Ancestors?” and the article pounced on me and Kukui. Only the two of us. The next day, Valera and I woke up famous. Interestingly, the article concluded with the suggestion to expel us from the country, with the notable ending: “It will be cleaner in our common home.” The newspaper was the organ of the regional CPSU committee, and, I think, they truly would have been happy to expel us from the country, but my missile institute held on with a deadly grasp. Our friends, who had signed the letter but were not mentioned in the article, started to call and congratulate us. Valera replied that with their greetings, they would lead us to prison. And that was correct because the KGB men could become convinced that we were not becoming isolated or inspiring fear of getting together; rather, people might become happier and even envy our possible expulsion to Israel. I thought that this general attention toward us after the article could hinder Valera’s expulsion from the country….
We started getting summons to the KGB for long “conversations” that lasted for twelve or more hours.
At these “conversations,” they basically demanded that we sign obligations not to engage in anti-Soviet activity, and the conversation continually circled around what constituted anti-Soviet activity. Why did we have to sign some kind of papers if we did not engage in any anti-Soviet activity? Moreover, the death sentences against the “hijackers” had been revoked, and we had objected precisely to that sentence in our letter.
One of us, I don’t remember who, signed such an obligation. Kukui and I never signed anything.
Then a meeting took place at work. The director kept his word, and the resolution of the meeting contained a demand to expel me from the country. At the end of the meeting, I, too, was given the floor. I tried to say something about Zionism….
At Kukui’s place of work, the meeting adopted a resolution to bring him to court. We were upset that this was an excellent pretext for the authorities to open a criminal case against him.
It should be noted that in the newspaper, it was written that we ourselves were not submitting documents for an exit visa but only pressing others to do this. We decided that we immediately ought to submit documents for an exit visa. I had an idea that I told the other fellows: “This newspaper is the official organ of the party regional committee, and it suggests expelling us from the country. Perhaps the OVIR thus will accept documents from us for an exit visa on the basis of the official position of the party?”
On March 10, 1971, we went to OVIR. I entered the inspector’s office first and showed him the article: “We are ready to be expelled and ready to present all the documents necessary for departure. In this case, won’t you accept the article instead of an invitation?” Would you believe it, they accepted our documents!
OVIR accepted everyone’s documents! Ilia Voitovetskii (now an Israeli prose and poetry writer living in Beer Sheva) joined us at the last minute. In one day, he made up his mind and submitted documents along with us.
Unfortunately, I submitted documents alone, without my wife. She could not go to Israel. In fact, she was willing to leave, but just before we went to submit our documents to OVIR, we went to her parents to ascertain their attitude toward their daughter’s departure. When her mother said that she gave us her blessing, she fell into a deep faint. Fortunately, Boria Edelman, a doctor, was with us at that moment. He revived her and then said: “Guys, leave her alone. You will kill her.” My wife was the youngest, beloved daughter, and she told me that she could not leave her mother in these circumstances. We had to divorce formally. Otherwise, I could not submit documents for an exit visa.
Seven days later, I was arrested and sentenced to fifteen days in jail. They held a fake trial with some witnesses who claimed that I cursed in a public place. It was all very simple – they came for me in the morning, brought me somewhere, convicted me, and sent me to prison, sticking me in a cell that was a punishment cell for administrative prisoners… Into this cell, they flung everyone who did not have any documents, who broke the rules of the administrative detention regime, refused to work, and so forth. Half of them were hardened criminals. When the policeman opened the door of the cell, the stench was so pungent that I reeled. The prisoners in this cell were not led out for a walk. The room was overflowing. It was impossible to breathe. At least thirty men were in a cell of about twenty square meters. The bunks were on two levels. Because of the lack of space, people lay on their side, squeezed up to each other. The “cream” – the professional criminals who had already been in labor camps – set themselves up on the upper planks. They smoked and prepared and drank chifir: they cut up tee shirts into strips, burned them and boiled water in an aluminum mug, and brewed their chifir in the boiled water.
I immediately declared a hunger strike; this was a completely spontaneous decision.
They dragged me from the cell to an interrogation in connection with Kukui’s case and threatened me; in general, there were many unpleasant things. Kukui had some old files connected to his dissidence. In a search at his place, they had scraped up a lot of “kompromat” (allegedly compromising material) such as Bulgakov’s novella The Heart of a Dog. Valera was arrested three days after my arrest and placed in a preliminary detention cell.
At the interrogations, I “couldn’t remember” anything. I did not know what Kukui and the others had said during interrogations. “I don’t recall such a thing” was my main answer to almost all the KGB’s questions. This approach, which turned out to be the most reasonable, was the basis of all my subsequent conversations with the KGB.
Soon a KGB officer summoned me and declared that my cellmates testified that I was conducting anti-Soviet propaganda in the cell. He showed me two signed declarations. “This,” he said, “tends toward Article 70” [anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda].
This happened on the tenth day of my hunger strike.
Article 70, indeed, is frightening. Crushed, I returned to the cell and told one of my cellmates about my difficulties. He was a husky young fellow in a vest with whom I had shared my warm coat as bedding on my first day of imprisonment, and he became my friend and protector. “Matros” [sailor] thought for a minute and then spoke with a few fellows and then declared so all could hear: “Men, they are fabricating a new [political] case against Mikhailich. There is a pair of lowlifes among us who agreed to cooperate with the ‘garbage men.’ Shall we help?” And they all agreed. In fact, the criminals were truly anti-Soviet; one did not need to propagandize them; they themselves could be excellent agitators. I, to be sure, behaved very cautiously.
The fellows found a scrap of paper and a pencil and gave them to me: “Write! And we’ll sign.” I wrote that the charge of anti-Soviet propaganda directed against me was completely false, which my cellmates confirm with their signatures. Twenty-eight men signed, affixing their addresses and telephone numbers. They were not afraid. I hid the letter in a handkerchief during a frisk and I was able to breathe easier – 28 witnesses against two!
Lvovsky: What about the hunger strike?
Yuli: I stopped it on the twelfth day after the visit of the head of the preventive detention facility. He asked me to halt my hunger strike because, he said, I was stirring up his entire facility, and it had become impossible to maintain discipline there. He looked solicitous, sympathetic, simply “a sweetie.” In his joy at my listening to him, he brought me a lot of soup, and I, the fool, ate it all…. I did not know then how one is supposed to end a hunger strike. And then the same “sweetie” added on another twelve days for violating the rules – a day for every day of the hunger strike.
On one of the days of the added detention, Boria Edelman visited me. He had just received an exit visa and had declared that unless he could visit me, he would not go anywhere. Boria’s family was one of seven families that received exit visas in accordance with the “newspaper invitation.” Yes, Sverdlovsk was not Moscow….
At the meeting, in the presence of the KGB officer, I told Boria that they were trying to fabricate a new case for me under Article 70, and I gave him my “saving” piece of paper with my cellmates’ signatures. The KGB officer, however, seized it. The main thing, though, was that Boria, who was leaving for Israel, now knew everything about my situation. I was not alone. I felt some relief….
I later learned that at this time, Israeli radio reported my arrest. I think that they let Boria see me solely so that he could verify that I was alive and well. You understand, I simply had disappeared without a trace. Nothing was reported to anyone. Like a hidden dungeon. Even Valera Kukui, who had been taken on a more serious pretext that threatened him not with administrative arrest but prison, received a visit; everyone knew where he was and what was happening to him, but I had simply disappeared….
They released me after 27 days. I went out; I was staggering; they led me. My wife and Boria Rabinovich, who met me, had to hold me up.
Three days later, I again received a summons to the KGB. Two KGB men were in the office. First, they declared that they had the paper that my cellmates had signed – in their words: “That way it will be safer,” and when necessary, they would give it back to me. “You see, after all, that a case was not opened against you,” one of them added. Then they moved on to Kukui’s case. They suggested that I “think it over,” “come to my senses,” and so forth. Then they began to threaten me… At one point, apparently, I became very pale. One of the KGB men jumped up and quickly ran over with a piece of sugar and glass of water. I ate the sugar, drank it with the water, and suddenly I vomited terribly, right on the table. I stood up and was reeling. They grabbed me, led me to a couch in the office, and lay me down. Strange things began to happen to me: spasms began in my fingers and toes, then I felt them cramping my internal organs – the liver, intestines, chest, and then my face; I was so cramped up that I could not say a word. I felt as if the spasms were reaching my heart and it had less and less space. At some moment, I saw myself from above, doubled up in an indescribable convulsion; I distinctly remember my white nose…. I saw everything from the side, from above…. I saw the frightened KGB officer running around the office and repeating: “I swear, I didn’t do anything to him!” I did not experience any fear, just the sensation that nothing depended on me.
Lvovsky: That is, you were going…
Yuli: Yes, I think that I was departing…. The thought flashed through my mind: “That would be something if I give up the ghost here… What would they do?”
Then a man in a white jacket leaned over me and injected a huge syringe, a full glass of some kind of brown liquid, first into one hand, then into the other. I remember asking the doctor: “What are you injecting into me?” That means that I could already speak! He replied that it was a tranquilizer. Then I started to tremble; each organ vibrated at its own frequency. Gradually, I came to myself. I remember that the doctor said to the KGB officer: “It seems that we succeeded in time.” They dragged in a stretcher, but I declared that I wouldn’t be carried out of this institution on a stretcher. I stood up, but my legs buckled; they grabbed me under the arms and conveyed me – my feet disobeyed me – to an ambulance. Attached to an intravenous drip, I was taken to the hospital and placed on a bed in a space surrounded by a curtain. A doctor from the hospital leaned over me … it was Dina, wife of Volodia Aks, one of our group of ten. She checked me with many instruments and various probes, and finally declared that I must have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. She had not found any irreversible damage. She could not explain exactly what had happened to me, but probably, according to her, I had undergone an extremely strong hypertonic crisis. “I don’t even want to tell you what the consequences could have been. You need about two months to rest and get away from everything,” was her verdict.
In short, at ten o’clock in the morning, I arrived at the KGB office, and at eleven o’clock at night, I left, but from the hospital. At home, of course, there was a terrible commotion. I related what had happened. The next morning, a train sped me to my older brother Daniel in Svetlogorsk in Belorussia. I went by myself and slept the whole way.
My brother treated me royally: full pension. I strolled like crazy through the forest and ran a lot. After three weeks, I recovered fully and returned to Sverdlovsk; Kukui’s trial was starting.
Valera received a three-year sentence on the basis of Article190, Section 1. He served his term in Novaia Lialia – the place where I had been born. His camp was located near the same papermaking factory where my father had once worked, and it supplied the factory with unpaid workers. I knew the director of the factory but did not dare to speak to him about Valera. The factory directory was hardly able to control the prisoners at all.
I returned, continuing to lead a rather active life, already that of a refusenik, as I and several others fellows received an official refusal to grant us exit visas to Israel at that time. We wrote letters and declarations. I had been fired from my job with a “wolf’s ticket” [i.e., put on a blacklist] “in connection with the lack of trust of public organizations.” That formulation meant that I could not even think of finding a job as an engineer. I worked with Iliusha Voitovetskii as a loader….
The KGB did not leave me in peace. Several times they detained me and with the police brought me in for “a conversation.” Once one of the KGB officers said to me: “You understand, Yuli Mikhailovich, we would be happy to throw you out of the country, we don’t need you here at all, but your institute will not let us do this. It stands like a wall, and we can’t do anything about this. You will be in refusal for many years. And you are not leaving us another alternative other than arresting you for a long time. This is our final warning. We shall not converse with you again. An investigator will conduct the next conversation with you.”
You understand, my long acquaintance with the KGB had developed in me an animal-like instinct of danger. I understood very well when the danger was ostensible and when it was real. And I understood that this conversation was serious. I understood that I was on the threshold of prison…. This was at the end of 1971.
I talked with the fellows. Aks advised me to leave Sverdlovsk; I would be arrested in this restricted city. If I didn’t want them to wring my neck before my arrival in Israel, I had to leave, just as Eitan Finkelstein, who had initiated Zionist activity in Sverdlovsk, had left in the 1960s. He had moved to Vilnius. Where should I go? Of course to the Baltics or Georgia. They say that in Georgia you can get out with a bribe….
Mama simply begged me to leave. My wife also did not object to my departure; she saw in which direction things were heading.
I thus left for Georgia, to some distant relatives. My route went through Moscow. In Moscow, I knew the names of three families: Slepak, Polskii, and Prestin, and I very much wanted to meet them. I decided to stop in Moscow for a few days.
I went first to Viktor Polskii. (Stefi Viktor spelled his name Polsky) He was very business-like, as befits a genuine leader. He immediately gave me a task: “Go to Georgia via Kiev. Before your departure, drop by and I’ll give you some assignments in Kiev.” Fine. I went to Volodia Slepak. A flock of people was there; finally, it was my turn.
“What do you mean, Georgia?” thundered Slepak. “You will stick out there like a black sheep. It might be even harder for you to leave for Israel from Georgia than from Sverdlovsk. In Moscow, there are plenty like you. Together we shall break through more quickly. Stay in Moscow!”
“But I heard that one could leave Georgia with a bribe.”
“Not people who did classified work such as you.”
“But how shall I manage here? How will I get a registration permit?”
“You don’t respect our movement! Come back here this evening!”
I arrived in the evening. Volodia already had found a way of fixing me up in Moscow.
“There is a girl who agrees to a fictitious marriage. Tomorrow I’ll acquaint you with her, and if she doesn’t ‘reject’ you, then consider yourself a Muscovite.”
What a generous, warm-hearted person is Vladimir Slepak! I arrived from Siberia to an enormous city such as Moscow. Who was I? After all, refusenik life in Moscow was very difficult and built on trust. Maybe I had been sent to infiltrate?
I arrived in Moscow with only a briefcase. In fact, I had money that I had earned working as a loader; moreover, I had received three certified transfers of 150 foreign currency rubles each. At the time, that was a lot of money. That was enough for living a whole year in Moscow. I had had a “charming” conversation about those transfers with the KGB in Sverdlovsk.
“Look,” the KGB official said to me, producing three notices about the transfers, “your Zionist masters sent you money for your work. Of course you will refuse it?”
“If it’s illegal,” I replied, “then why are you asking me? Send it back and write that it’s illegal. But if it’s legal, then do you really think that I would insult people who know what you are doing with me by refusing their support? That won’t happen!”
I was thus relatively rich.
Volodia acquainted me with a remarkable woman, Nora Kornblum, a charming, intellectual, and active person. And she did not “reject” me. She merely said that I should clearly understand that this marriage was fictitious and that she could not offer me any living space. As I told you, at that time, I was already divorced so that there were no obstacles to my new “marriage.” Slepak and Polskii were my witnesses at the marriage registration bureau; I didn’t know anyone else in Moscow.
When I went back to Sverdlovsk, and told my wife everything, she was upset, even though I had fictitiously divorced and remarried!
Thus, a month after my visit to Slepak, I became a Muscovite, and my Moscow odyssey began….
For the first two days after my return from Sverdlovsk, I spent the night at the railroad station – after a month of lying on the wooden boards in Sverdlovsk, I was able to fall asleep very easily in horizontal and sitting positions, independent of other conditions. Volodia Slepak asked me whether I had a place to live, but I felt uncomfortable about burdening him with that problem, too, and I replied that it was all right. Then Valera Korenblit took me in for a week. I slept on a trestle bed in his kitchen. Valera then found a fellow who had obtained keys to a cooperative apartment but for the time being, did not plan to move there. I spent about three months in that completely empty apartment. My overcoat was on the floor – and that’s all. I didn’t have even a teakettle. Nora later found me an apartment where I lived for about a year.
I spent the entire first year in gaining familiarity with “refusenik” Moscow. A mass of new acquaintances appeared (you needn’t doubt Yuli Kosharovsky’s sociability). Almost every evening, I attended farewell parties for the fortunate ones who had received exit visas; in the daytime, there were meetings, conversations, letters… An endlessly active and exciting life.
Afterwards, I lived at Boria Tsitlenok’s place, then eight months with Nadezhda Markovna Ulanovskaia. This remarkable woman was one of the best English language teachers; she taught only graduates of the Foreign Languages Institute. She was a brilliant teacher; I have never met anyone like her in my life. She generally refused to help those who were starting to study English, but I found a way to approach her and she relented: “All right, let’s try,” she said. I told her that I wanted to study according to a specific system and she agreed.
She showed me things that I did not even think about asking. I studied not only language but also the art of teaching it with her. She sensed language, breathed it.
I used the methodology that I had mastered in studying German. I recorded everything that I needed; then, using a special system, I played the recordings before going to sleep and in the morning.
I “did” the language in three months. She declared that she had nothing more to give me, that I should advance further on my own.
She conducted a real salon in which the dissident elite would gather; at her place, I met Galich and artists from the Bolshoi Theater; many of her guests had served prison terms. It was a different world….
I rather quickly tired of hanging out, and I began seriously to study Hebrew.
Lvovsky: How did your refusenik affairs advance?
Yuli: I can tell you that in terms of the level of harassment, Moscow life, in comparison with that in Sverdlovsk, at first seemed like a resort. No one was especially hiding; they met out in the open. In Sverdlovsk, we would often meet at night.
At first, I did not especially try to be noticed. If I was summoned, I came. But I was never insolent. Nevertheless, I rather quickly was drawn into Moscow refusenik life. Twice I got stuck in detention for fifteen days – they took us from a hunger strike at the Central Telegraph Building and from the reception room of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR; I participated in a demonstration next to the Lebanese embassy. Chekists hit us [at a gathering] in the forest. But, I’ll tell you honestly, I was wary; I’d been through it all before.
I submitted documents for an exit visa at the Moscow OVIR without any problem. All my Sverdlovsk relatives were in favor of my departure – my mother, wife, and mother-in-law. I obtained an invitation for Nora and myself, but only she received an exit visa. I received a refusal because of secrecy considerations. In order for her to leave, we had to “divorce.” She left at the end of 1973. After her departure, the apartment, which was registered also in my name as a result of the “marriage,” was left to me. I did not, however, hinder, any attempts by her parents, who remained in Moscow, to exchange the apartment [for another]. In fact, it did not work out for them.
I visited my first wife several times in Sverdlovsk. She continued to work at the missile institute; in general, the picture was hopeless, and in 1975, I married, for real, my present wife Inna. We have been together for over thirty years. She has a son from her first marriage. Her first husband was a mathematician with a candidate of sciences degree (equivalent to a Ph.D. in the West). Inna is also a mathematician; she worked in the laboratory of Academician Kolmogorov. We have two sons –Elik and Motia.
With regard to refusenik matters…. For me, the invitation to the scientific seminars that Professor Aleksandr Yakovlevich Lerner was conducting was essential. I even delivered a report at one of them. Lerner’s home was very prestigious; one could not simply drop in from the street. It was a new milieu for me with a new system of relationships – scientists, important and intelligent people, each with his or her own ego. For the first time, I found myself in the company of people such as corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences Veniamin Levin, Professor David Azbel and many, many others. In Sverdlovsk, it made no difference whether one was a Ph.D, candidate of science, or simply an engineer. Here this was very significant.
At first I was drawn more to the “kulturniki,” although I had great respect for the views and behavior of the “political” A. Lerner.(use Aleksandr) When the nonsense with the split in the movement began in connection with Sasha Lunts’ proposals to the KGB, it was difficult for me to distance myself from the “politcos” Slepak and Lerner (who in principle approved of Lunts’ moves). I thought that although morally Lunt’s move was distaseful, in no way was it worth a schism in our movement. Instead of discussing how we should reach our common goal of departure, we kept discussing who did what, who went where, and who said something.
Lvovsky: As I understand, you did not participate much in these “brawls.”
Yuli: Yes, there was a multitude of much more important matters. For example, the attitude toward “neshira,” [the drop-out phenomenon] the departure of Soviet Jews on an Israeli visa to the U.S., Canada, or wherever, just not to Israel. I, for example, felt bad physically because of this. They established a Jewish state and how could Jews by-pass it?! Now I can relate to this more calmly. In the West, in the free world, such problems do not exist on the political level. You go and buy a ticket to wherever you want to go, where they will receive you. In the West, the drop-out problem is more of a moral one, depending on upbringing and education. In the Soviet Union, however, it was a political problem that threatened the very essence of aliya. We wrote letters about this. Around that time, I myself began to write letters and gather signatures under them. I remember that Viktor Polsky was actively opposed to neshira, whereas Volodia Prestin reacted more calmly to it.
Polsky was the chief coordinator with Nativ [Liaison Bureau or Lishkat hakesher]. In general, the “kulturniki’s” relations with Nativ were stronger that those of the “politicos.” The latter were oriented more toward independent Western organizations that had been formed for the defense of Soviet Jewry. These organizations did not acknowledge the establishment, the cautious activity of Nativ, or the Israeli government. One can direct a lot of criticism at Nativ, but in the larger plan, it conducted a deliberate, pragmatic policy. Its strategy was correct. Simply, many refuseniks in the USSR wanted loudly to declare their rights and loudly to express their demands; they risked their freedom and were prepared for great sacrifices. They thought that Israel was showing cowardice, whereas, in my opinion, it was showing a wise approach to this unbelievably complex problem. In those conditions of anti-Zionism and anti-Israeli feeling, which very easily turned into antisemitism, any request, any demand, any move that originated in Israel evoked the opposite reaction from the Soviets. They did everything they could to harm Israel in any case, and it was not worth giving them an extra annoying motive to do so. The reason for the Soviets hatred of Israel is simple: first the complete fiasco in the Six-Day War, which the Western world perceived as the failure of the entire socialist camp, whereas the U.S. debacle in Vietnam as seen as only an American failure. Thus, the Americans, having lost in Vietnam, took revenge on the Soviets with Israel’s help. Second, the Soviets realized that in their struggle to leave, the Jews were destabilizing the domestic situation These two very important factors created a situation in which any demand by Israel would have produced a counter-reaction. Israel therefore conducted its struggle via Western Jewry, Western public opinion, and Western politicians. Nativ not unsuccessfully tried to engage the united force of the West in the struggle for Soviet Jewry. At the time, it well suited the Cold War policy, and the struggle for Soviet Jewry was thus extremely advantageous to the West because it delegitimized the Soviet Union’s claims of being a moral paragon. The West was on our side because we refuseniks were patent, flagrant evidence of the failure of the Soviet nationalities policy and destroyed all the dogmas of Soviet propaganda. In this sense, Israel’s policy is convincing. You understand, Israel tried to organize the struggle on our behalf by mobilizing forces equal to the Soviets’ in military might and much superior economically; and this struggle was very advantageous to those forces themselves.
Lvovsky: When did you manage to learn Hebrew so well?
Yuli: For around two months, I studied Hebrew with Alesha Levin, then around a year with Misha Goldblat. Then I began to teach. I read a pile of books on methods of teaching foreign languages; many of them were in English. Gradually, I formulated my own teaching system. I declared to my students: “Guys, forget how you studied a foreign language in school. You must become children again. We shall play, continually changing roles – now you are the passenger but in a few minutes you will be the driver; now you are the soccer player but in a few minutes you’re the coach, and so forth. You will have to play all this, using mime, gestures, playing with maximum expression. Like an actor on stage.” This was necessary to activate the maximum number of memory systems.
I forced people to move, play, think, live situationally. You understand, a word in and of itself means nothing; the situation determines everything. You can know a language yet not know what to say when you land in an unfamiliar situation. When a person manifests situational activeness, using not individual words, but phrases, then he rapidly activates his conversational language, his stock of words. He “grasps” the language, like a child. Moreover, one must combine all kinds of linguistic work. A person quickly tires with one type. It is very important to involve emotions. At my lessons, it seemed like bedlam, but it was a calculated bedlam. It was important that everyone participated in it. And complete liberation, complete absence of self-criticism, only game playing. And of course, songs, plays, active discussion of current events, and so forth.
I was a popular teacher. I had about 50 students at one time. Many of my students became Hebrew teachers.
Lvovsky: Did you bring Yuli Edelstein up to such a fine linguistic level?
Yuli: No. Yuli is a long-time linguist. He knew English very well before Hebrew. People who have already mastered one foreign language are on a completely different level; it is a different category of people. I don’t know how much it helped him to participate in the Hebrew teachers seminar that I organized and led and at which we conversed only in Hebrew, but his level of Hebrew is entirely his achievement. I think that his Hebrew is richer than mine. After all, I am a technological not a humanities person, although forty years of Zionism placed its humanitarian imprint on me. In the books that I write now, the most important thing for me is analysis – what derives from what and how. Matters of linguistic polish or a play on word do not mean much to me.
Lvovsky: I understand that you found your niche in the refusenik milieu in teaching and disseminating Hebrew.
Yuli: Exactly so, although that did not at all exclude participation in all other aspects of the struggle, from writing letters and continually meeting with foreigners at the highest level up to participation in demonstrations.
One of my main accomplishments was organizing a seminar for Hebrew teaches in 1976. This seminar played a major role. Many teachers began to attend it and foreigners often visited. There were also simply students, of course. Then I began to help teachers from other cities, to organize intercity seminars, and to send teachers to other cities. This sharply expanded the geography of Hebrew; moreover, it had become difficult in Moscow to find students for all the teachers. Then Sasha Kholmiansky appeared and proposed making this a broad project. We then began to work systematically in that direction. We gradually “dropped” this considerable amount of work on him, and he became entirely involved in the cities, while I continued to run the seminar.
In 1980, the authorities began to exert heavy pressure on Hebrew teachers. In that year, I had planned to conduct a Hebrew teachers seminar in Koktebel for teachers from nine cities. You can imagine, we took up all of Koktebel.
In the mornings, I liked to run to keep in shape. In Koktebel, I kept up this habit. Generally, I did not run alone, but once, for some reason, I was alone. As I was running, I noticed that some seemingly drunk citizen was moving toward me; when I ran past him, he staggered in my direction, and a bottle of vodka fell out of his hands. He began to yell at me, and immediately an “accidentally present piano,” i.e., policemen jumped out of the bushes and took him and me and jailed me for 15 days. As if at the wave of a wand, the “drunk” disappeared.
That was an unpleasant imprisonment because in the cell they tried several times to provoke me to start a fight. They could have mauled me terribly there. I sat in the preliminary detention cell of the city of Sudak; the guys brought me food.
Lvovsky: Yulik, what kind of work did you do for the Central Children’s Theater?
Yuli: That was some work! In 1980, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Iron Curtain clanked down again. The Soviets did not care what would be said about them in other matters because the criticism heaped on them in connection with the invasion into Afghanistan surpassed any other criticism. The West’s stand-off with the Soviets became considerably more acute; in this context, how significant was the harassment of one of the world’s least favorite minorities? At this time, in order somewhat to diminish the refusal phenomenon, the authorities started to hint that refuseniks could return to work in their specialty. The KGB men at the time began actively to squeeze me out of leadership of the teachers seminar and Hebrew teaching in general. It got to the point that physically, it became impossible to teach – sometimes they would detain me several times a week. I began quietly to leave teaching; the time had come; once, a friend, my student came to me and said that the director of the Central Children’s Theater Natalia Sats was looking for a person able to run an independent TV cable system in the theater. It was important for them to follow the performances and rehearsals. It would be possible to film and then review performances and rehearsals. They had bought equipment in various countries, apparently where it was cheapest, and they were looking for a specialist. They received me warmly, and I began to work.
To test me, they asked me to redo Soviet televisions into monitors for a West European television system. I did it; earlier, Yosif Begun and I had finished a course on television repair. How Yosif loved to study!
Lvovsky: How did he manage between imprisonments?
Yuli: You can imagine; he managed! One could find time while in refusal. I, for example, worked as a janitor in a kindergarten. Half an hour’s work a day and that’s it – just as long as it was clean. I even got hold of a color television! Thus, for several days, I reworked the Soviet television sets, and they began to receive broadcasts of the imported television cameras, although in black and white. Do you remember the Yunost portable television sets? They valued this in the theater and, in fact, the work was not difficult. Soon everything was working. My job now included expanding the system and assuring that it worked reliably. Then they purchased a powerful screen and we set it up in the foyer. The theater was very proud of this system. They treated me well; whenever the top boss would come, however, they gave me time off. Natalia Sats knew everything about me. I was at her home and fixed her television. I worked in her theater for seven years, almost until my departure.
Lvovsky: Did they grab you for parasitism?
Yuli: Like everyone else. After each 15 day lock up, after detentions, after a lengthy interrogation, when because of that you could not appear at work, they would fire me. Several days after that, a policeman would appear with the demand that I find work within two weeks.. A familiar vicious circle. But that was before my arrangement at the theater. After that, I was relatively free, and moreover did not serve any more 15 day terms.
Let’s return to the 1970s; I remember that in 1974, Volodia Prestin had perforated cards with data on refuseniks He collected them from refuseniks; sometimes the KGB men at interrogations or in “conversations” would state the number of years that one or another refusenik would have to sit and wait. Interpolating the data that he had collected, Volodia concluded that he had to wait for many years….
After our return to Moscow from Koktobel, the pressure to force us, especially me, away from the Hebrew instruction system continued with greater intensity. A very difficult period began; they often detained me on my way to a lesson; the KGB officers began to come to my classes, where they would copy down the names of the students and take away the text books. They began to threaten those who were studying in institutions of higher education that they would be expelled from their institutes. I understood that I had to hand my groups over to less “prominent” teachers. In fact, they went after those teachers whom they suspected of organizing instruction in the various cities; they went after me, in addition, for running the seminar of Hebrew teachers. After two years of struggle, I had to hand this seminar over to Yuli Edelstein and Lev Gorodetskii. In any case , I was already involved in many other matters and connections – with Israel and other countries. Many of these matters were not for public knowledge; others were almost open. Our printed material circulated in suitcases – Volodia Mushinsky organized an entire underground printing press; he began to work also with Volodia Prestin, and in my time, the enterprise grew enormously. It was really big, with complex material and technical back up. They printed books, brochures, contemporary Hebrew teaching methods…. The instruction in the cities was truly a big Zionist project. The regime struck at it in 1984 with the arrest of Edelstein and Sasha Kholmiansky in Moscow, Yasha Levin and Mark Nepomniaschy in Odessa, Yosif Bernshtein in Kiev, Lenya Volvovsky in Gorky (1985), Roald Zelichenok (1985) in Leningrad, and so forth. Something would happen every week –once they would round up all the teachers and imprison some of them; another time they would confiscate literature, and in the best case, they would simply interfere with the teaching.
Lvovsky:Why didn’t they touch you? After all, you headed all this.
Yuli: I was at the head of various matters, but I left active teaching in 1982, that is, they simply pressured me out of it. Each direction of my activity was entirely autonomous. In any case, they [the authorities] clearly could not get a general case. Why didn’t they arrest me? My dear Mark, you are posing some questions…. Let’s start with the fact that to a considerable degree, this was Russian roulette. They could arrest me. Many times they were on the verge. Having already experienced the Soviet punishment cell in Sverdlovsk, I realized how awful it was, and I tried to avoid it. The pressure in Sverdlovsk developed in me some kind of animal flair for danger. I could sense when they were bluffing or when they were prepared to switch to real actions. And I, as Vysotskii said “braked on slippery turns.” I “braked” several times: when I moved from Sverdlovsk to Moscow; when I handed over the teachers seminar to the other fellows; and when, for a time, I stopped teaching Hebrew. By giving over the seminar, I enabled it to keep going for some time, to be more exact, in the case of Yulik Edelstein, for two and a half years. Lev Gorodetskii continued to conduct the seminar without interruption. Had I been arrested, they simply would have dispersed the seminar.
I left. They pressed – I left. At the same time, however, there were many other matters that had converged on me: teaching matters and links with foreigners, and links with Nativ, and the preparation of accounts on the situation of the Jews in the USSR, and so forth. Then [around the end of 1983] I decided that it was necessary to establish some coordinating organ that could monitor the situation in connection with the majority of our matters; we thus founded “Mashka,” from the Hebrew word for a drink (mashkeh). The name arose because our meetings were set up as a birthday party or some other event connected to drinking; that is, there was always a plausible story justifying our gathering. Camouflage. Don’t forget the nature of those times. The first members of Mashka were Alik Yoffe from the scientific community, Vitia Fulmakht from the samizdat community, Yulik Edelstein and Lev Gorodetskii from the leadership of the teachers seminar, Mika Chlenov as the representative of the intellectual elite (he did not plan to leave but he always was with us), Volodia Kislik and Anatolii Khazanov, also as representatives of the academic seminars. And this Mashka lasted until 1991!
We would meet once a week, each time in a different “secret” place. What did we do? It was a difficult time. Arrests began and we had to react. Monetary aid began to arrive and we had to distribute it. In general, we had to help people in distress, organize seminars, continue the struggle for departure, work with foreigners and with Israel. Work with other cities. Many people came to Moscow for help and support. Can you imagine how many real problems there were with aliya?
Lvovsky: Aleksanr Lerner didn’t participate in Mashka?
He couldn’t. After Tolia Sharansky’s trial, they besieged him. He had used up his resources. In 1979 they also closed his seminar. You know, I recall him with particular warmth. In those difficult years, when we had to make difficult decisions and I did not always know what to do, I would go to him, and he was always an attentive companion and wise adviser. He would place a bowl with food on the table and we would converse for hours. Each time, after I left him, my head was clearer. Thus, he was always with us.
One could always talk with V olodia Prestin.
Not everything, of course, but a certain central stream of our movement was truly concentrated in Mashka. And the meetings with foreigners never ceased. After the start of perestroika, the quantity grew immeasurably. We already were not trying to meet every arriving foreigner, but they were seeking us out. In 1986, Edward Kennedy arrived at the head of a congressional delegation; the meeting with him took place at Lerner’s apartment.
Lvovsky: I was also present at that memorable meeting, but not because I was an outstanding refusenik, but because I had the fortune to be married to Professor Lerner’s niece. A long time ago, I wrote a comic description of this meeting, giving the refuseniks code names that any child from a refusenik family could decipher. But many years have passed, much has been forgotten, and therefore, dear readers, I shall tell you who was who: The Great Scientist Refusenik, alas, is the already deceased Aleksandr Yakovlevich Lerner; the Great Military Refusenik – alas, the also already deceased air force colonel and war hero Lev Ovsishcher, and also the Great Talking Refusenik, – Yuli Kosharovsky, and the Great Thinking Refusenik, – Volodia Prestin (may they each live until 120). Here is a shortened version of the tale:
“The long awaited meeting of refuseniks with the representative of the famous American family began an hour later than planned in the home of the Great Scientist Refusenik. Mr. Kennedy arrived in Moscow in the daytime; he had slept poorly on the plane; a meeting in the Kremlin was scheduled for the next day; everything had to be considered properly; therefore, the American looked tired and even a bit annoyed.
“The Great and Outstanding refuseniks, however, were not upset by such trivial matters. Their eyes were burning, and unusually forceful and original thoughts, in both English and Russian, literally were exploding in their heads. It should be mentioned that not all the Great and especially Outstanding refuseniks were assembled for this meeting, because in the course of perestroika, the number of both Great and especially Outstanding refuseniks grew at a frightening rate, and, naturally, no Soviet apartment could fit all of them; and, moreover, the relations among them were not always smooth, although nevertheless, they were completely gentlemanly.
“Too bad, that it was impossible to assemble together all this intellectual might. Just think what they could accomplish! But, alas!
“The wise men said that the lack of smooth relations among them was the KGB’s fault although there was no firm proof of that. The differences began with little details, for example, whose signature should be first, or at worst, second on an important letter? Could you alternate the numbering of the signatures? And what if there are a lot of letters and some Great Refusenik gets stuck for several weeks in the second dozen? You could go out of your mind!
“Or let’s consider a cultural question. Should one expend all efforts so that the average Jew would be able to distinguish Jesus Christ from Joshua ben Nun or should one exert all one’s efforts so that he could leave the country more quickly? And how could we arrange it so that the Soviet Jew went where he or she ought to and not where he or she wanted to go? And how can we get the American Jews to start moving? And the Chinese?…
“Great people – great deeds. Great deeds – great disputes. But I repeat – the relations were always gentlemanly.”
[the remaining two pages of Lvovsky’s satire were omitted]
Lvovsky: How did you relate to the symposium on the regime? Why didn’t you participate in it? (I remind you that refuseniks and foreign correspondents gave considerable attention to the symposium, which was organized by Emil Menzheritskii and Volodia Prestin and took place in 1987.)
Yuli: You know, regime matters are problematic. Do you remember Tolia Sharansky’s trial? One of the basic charges was that he transmitted alleged data about secret enterprises. Moreover, at the time, I was busy with so many things, so much was concentrated in my hands, that I was not drawn to participate in yet another undertaking. What was behind that symposium? The desire once again to rub the authorities’ nose in the dirt? Or to find a solution to the truly basic problems of secrecy? The first was not interesting – at that time only a lazy person did not lie to a weakened regime; the second – revealing the mechanisms of unfounded examples of claiming access to classified material, providing examples and locations – was a serious and dangerous matter…. But take into consideration, as I already said, this is a view from the sidelines.
The years 1989 through 1989 were very difficult for me. There was a lot of work and work under great pressure. The KGB could be very harsh in qualifying the matters that I was engaged in then.
Lvovsky: What matters?
You know, I would prefer not to go into some issues. Don’t demand an accounting….
In March 1989, exactly 18 years after I had submitted my documents, I received an exit visa for Israel…. My former wife had remarried around this time. Earlier, she asked that I meet her future husband. She said that if I only hinted to her that this person was not suitable to become the father of our daughter, she would not marry him. We had remained on excellent terms. She never betrayed me, never went against me even though the KGB had often provoked her to do so, and they know how to do that!
I flew to Israel on March 11, 1989 with my wife and three sons. We flew via Bucharest; they gave us a day to rest there and put us up in an excellent hotel. The Israeli ambassador received us; in general they treated us like VIPs. The plane to Tel Aviv was two hours late, and we landed in Lod [Ben Gurion airport] at 1:30 at night. In the airplane, of course, we had begun to celebrate so that I was what is called “warmed up.” Moreover, night arrived…. And suddenly Yasha Kedmi [the head of Nativ] enters the airplane and says: “You are not exiting with everyone but on a separate ramp.” He patted me on the shoulder and added in Hebrew: “Welcome to Israel.” How many years had I been waiting for those words! I descended the separate stairs, and I saw then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and five or six – I no longer remember, ministers, Yulik Edelstein, and friends. They separated me from the family. I was very excited: at night, a person of such a rank, and suddenly they are meeting me. I was not prepared for this emotionally – I was tired, a little tipsy, dreaming only about rest, and here once again I have to speak and it must be intelligent…. Directly at the airport, the minister of absorption gave me my identity card. A press conference took place right away, at which I finally was reunited with my wife and children.
Then – it was already 2:30 in the morning – they brought us to Tel Aviv, to some building where refuseniks had gathered – my companions in the struggle. The sky in bejeweled with stars, complete confusion in my head. They squeezed me in embraces, delivered speeches. I also said something… Then they took us to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall….
Lvovsky: Did you cry? Are you sentimental?
Yuli: It happened. At my present age of 67, it is very difficult to draw out a tear from me. Yes…. After the Western Wall, at 4:30 a.m., they brought us to Alon Shvut, where until recently the Edelsteins were living; Yulik or rather his wife Tania, rented a furnished apartment for us for the beginning.
In Moscow I had had guests from this settlement and we had become friendly. They treated me wonderfully. There was, of course, also a gathering in Alon Shvut. At six in the morning; can you believe it? A lot of young people gathered and they organized a small festival in our honor. At 7:00 a.m. I collapsed into sleep, but at 8:00, correspondents arrived from the newspaper Maariv.
That was the beginning of our hectic life in Israel. They didn’t let me live for the first several weeks – they brought me some place; I met with someone; spoke, spoke, and spoke. Of course it was happy and crazily difficult…. Then I began to feel that they were toying with me; that I was nothing more than a holiday goose on someone’s table.
I was invited to the U.S. And there I spoke and met people….
Lvovsky: There were no problems with Hebrew?
Yuli: Not at all! I had been teaching Hebrew for many years – I simultaneously led seven groups! I led a Hebrew teachers’ seminar and we conversed only in Hebrew. It was a strict rule. Moreover, I often spoke with Israelis, spoke with them a lot on the phone. I read many books in Hebrew, and I studied the language very seriously. When I started my first job in Israel, everone (everyone) who spoke with me thought that I had been living in Israel twenty years – not that I was born in Israel or was a “sabra,” but that I had been living there for twenty years. My Hebrew was a bit bookish, not everyday, a bit elevated but very understandable and elaborate. Here in Israel, it gradually descended to the everyday level, became more grounded. How else could it be? With all my Hebrew knowledge, at first I did not know how to use a caspomat (automated cash machine), how to find necessary items in the stores, and so forth. Tolia Sharansky proposed that I join the presidium of the Zionist Forum. Initially, I refused, telling Tolik that I first needed to adapt and then decide what to do in public life. Moreover, I wanted to return to technology.
A month after this festive commotion, friends at Nativ told me that I needed to cease doing all this. They said, “Here, everyone has his or her interests. They will take you along with them as long as you are a novelty. All these public figures are interested in you only because thanks to you, they wind up in the press. Then, they will drop you. You will become an unhappy person. Go work!” They proposed several jobs to me; I chose a private company that dealt with the setting up of cable television in Israel, especially as, if you remember, I had some experience in this field. They hired me for an engineering position. There was an interesting proposal from the Center of Technological Education, where I could have continued my research in the field of foreign language teaching, but they did not have any money, and they thought that I would raise money for them. I realized that they wanted me as an international “shnorrer” (fundraiser in Yiddish) and I refused.
I had hardly begun to work when I realized that I was the only person in this company who understood anything about cable television. They treated me very well. They took me to all the meetings and paid pretty well for those times – $2000 a month. The most difficult thing about my work was the trip from Alon Shvut to Bat Yam where the firm was located. It was a very tiring trip, taking at least an hour and a half each way.
Lvovsky: Did you buy a car at that time: Did you know how to drive?
Yuli: While still in Sverdlovsk, I drove my brother’s car. I had my own motorcycle. When I married Inna, I brought their old “Moskvich” car to Moscow. Here I soon bought a car, a Citroen with air suspension. It was a remarkably unsuccessful purchase; the car was impractical; no one knew how to fix it. I had a lot of problems with it.
I worked like this: twelve to fifteen hours at work; three hours for travel. There was no time left for rest. It was exhausting. It got to the point where I would not drive home after work but would drive to friends from Sverdlovsk who lived in Kiron and would spend the night with them.
Moreover, many activists who had arrived after me turned to me with all kinds of questions, thinking that I was already an expert on Israel. At work such conversations could occupy me for several hours a day, but the management, to give it its due, was very tolerant of this. Absorption….
Had I slowed down and lessened the burden, I could have remained at that company for a long time. Incidentally, my effort to place several Russian-speaking engineers there was not successful; they preferred Israelis who had been in military units. They believed in them, and I must say, they adapted rather quickly.
After half a year, we rented an apartment in Holon, a ten minute ride from work, and a competely new life began. We lived in Holon for a year, and in 1990 we acquired land here, in Beit Aryeh. Remember, it cost $22,000, including the basic cost of preparatory work: terraces
needed to be constructed on uninhabited hills…. During the construction period, we lived in a caravan three hundred meters from here. The six of us lived together – Inna and I, the three boys and mama, who came to us. She arrived in Israel with her youngest son Leonid. He also had worked in the missile industry. It was a whole operation to get him out. This was just the time that I was working in the Sochnut (Jewish Agency). We obtained a ticket for him to a socialist country, and the Jewish Agency there brought him to Israel. His family was already here. It was good that it was 1991; things were a total mess in Russia and no one had time for such minor matters. My older brother Daniil (Daniel) came in 1992; he died eight years ago. Yes….
We picked this place somewhat accidentally. You couldn’t call it an ideological act. I did not consider that I must live in the “shtachim” (territories); it did not, however, evoke negative emotions in us because it was called territories; it even flattered my pride. The main thing was that I wanted to live near my work.We traveled and searched; it was summer and hot as an oven. It is hard for Inna to bear the heat. No matter what they showed us, she rejected it. Suddenly, one of our friends advised us to look at this place – active settlement was going on at Beit Aryeh at the time. Inna simply revived and began to breathe easier when we arrived here. And I was used to settlements from my childhood. And in general, I did not ike (like) the city – too much bustle, empty, unnecessary meetings. At that time, masses of people turned to me, hoping I could help them, when I really could not and this created a certain discomfort. Here, at some distance, where it was hard to reach me without a car, it was much calmer for me. Now people who either had matters that required serious attention or were truly close would arrive.
It was very expensive to build according to an individual plan, and we ten families chose a standard model within which we could do what we wanted. This was much cheaper. We found a “kablan” (building contractor) who built our homes. During the construction, we would come to look and on the spot would decide problems that arose. The construction took approximately a year, and then it took a long time to finish the inside – stairs, porches, utility rooms, and so forth.
But let’s return to my work. Somehow it happened that without noticing it, I became an adviser to the then chairman of the board of the Sochnut, Simcha Dinitz – he convinced me. I was still hesitating and had not yet given a final answer, but he suddenly declared that he was designating me as an adviser. At that time, I joined the presidium of the Zionist Forum. It was awkward that while being an adviser to Dinitz, I would refuse to participate in the work of the Forum. Keep in mind that all this occurred during the time I was working on cable television.
At that time, the presidium of the Forum was not elected. It was an elitist organization represented by well-known refuseniks: Sharansky, Edelstein, Slepak, Voronel, Prestin, Abramovich, and others. Lieberman was also there. They would meet once a week. Sometimes I did not have the time or energy to travel to these meetings. Life was crazy…. While I was in refusal, such a life style was habitual; there I knew what to react to and how to do so. Here there was an entirely different cultural milieu; communication was conducted in three languages, and at times, I did not understand the nature of the matter under discussion. I did not understand what the Sochnut was, what the Forum was, what they were able to do and what they wanted to do. I did not know the structure of these organizations. I learned everything in the course of things… Moreover, they demanded from me some expert conclusions abouat(about) the still existing USSR and that was not a simple matter. And don’t forget, I had responsible work to do at the company.
Lvovsky: Did Dinitz pay you?
Yuli: What are you talking about? They don’t pay olim. They only exploit them. They plied us with juice and bourekas at the meetings. They did not even pay for the way. It’s true, for some time, they gave me a car.
At that time the Sochnut began to go into Russia seriously, and Baruch Gur, with whom I had met several times in Moscow and at this time headed the CIS and Eastern Europe division of the Sochnut, tried to convince me to come to them. He even came to me at work for this purpose. At some point, he convinced me. I kept on asking Baaruch Gur:
“Well, good, I’ll connect you with local Jewish activists, I’ll do something else in that spirit, and what after that? What will I do?”
“You’ll figure out what to do!”
“And what will my salary be?
“How much did you get at the cable television?”
“Well, we are not a private company, we are governmental, we will give you 3500… shekels, providential fund, management insurance, and rank 14 (a very high ranking).” It’s enough to tell you that 15 was the highest ranking.
This is how he convinced me…. And I had begun to notice at work that my endless extraneous matters were beginning to weary my bosses. They had not yet fired me but their patience was wearing thin.
And so I became a Sochnut worker. From Holon I started to travel to Jerusalem, also not wonderful.
They gave me a room and an assistant.
Baruch Gur had a deputy – Alla Levy. I, still very naïve and inexperienced, went up to her and asked, “Alla, do you know what the salary is supposed to be for rank 14?” The very sympathetic, amiable woman suddenly became cold, and in an icy tone she replied, “I don’t know. I have worked at the Sochnut for twenty years and my rank is only 12.” I understood what an unforgivable mistake I had committed, what tactlessness…. I don’t know whether that played a role or that I did not fit into this “cemetery of frustrated politicians,” but when this Alla took over Gur’s place, I had to leave.
Lvovsky: Tell me more about the Sochnut.
Yuli: If the World Jewish Congress calls itself the representative organ of the Jewish people, then the Sochnut, or the Jewish Agency, sees itself as the Zionist representative organ of the Jewish people. The Sochnut was established in Palestine in 1929 as the basic instrument for building a Jewish national homeland. With the formation of the State of Israel, part of the management of the Sochnut joined the Council of Ministers of Israel. The Agency has missions in dozens of countries, and now its basic task is Zionist education in the diaspora and aliya, that is settlement of the country.
The board of the Sochnut, like the governmnt itself, is a patchwork formation, created in accordance with the situation in the Knesset, that is, proportional to the number of mandates received by the parties in elections. There is a clear-cut separation between the government and the Sochnut – the government deals with the population inside the country, and the Sochnut deals with the diaspora. (Diaspora)Sometimes, however, the Sochnut allocates funds for certain domestic projects, generally those that concern educational or fact-finding programs. The Sochnut’s money, basically, comes from the U.S. The United Jewish Appeal collects funds, and every year, according to a certain formula, it allocates money to the various Jewish organizations, including, of course, the Sochnut. The Sochnut’s annual budget is several hundred million dollars.
My work in the Sochnut was not strictly defined. At the time, there was a certain Jewish dynamics in the CIS countries that required analytic surveys with regard to this dynamic and also surveys about the situation of the immigrants who had arrived: what was hindering normal absorption? What prevented people from coming to Israel? What should be done to make Israel more attractive to the olim? And so forth. I read newspapers, listened to the radio, and met with several activists living in the CIS. This was the era of “wild” perestroika, when dozens of Jewish newspapers and bulletins from many cities appeared and all this arrived at the Sochnut in order to assure moral and material support. One fifteen-minute conversation with Mika Chlenov, however, provided me with more analysis than all that reading. There was a massive aliyah, the Sochnut was on cloud nine with happiness. Missions were opened in major cities, and the Sochnut came to be perceived around the world as a major expert on the Soviet Union. At the time of the August 1991 putsch and the subsequent collapse of the USSR, Reagan himself phoned Dinitz and inquired about his opinion on the dyamics of events and the situation of Jews in the CIS. At the end of 1991, I went to Russia for two months as a deputy director of Carol (maybe Karol Stefi – a man)Unger, director of an official Sochnut delegation. We rented an office and conducted talks with the authorities. Moscow repelled me. Part of this was, of course, that I had suffered plenty there, but in addition, there was the terrible cold, the miserable food, and the malicious eyes of people in search of food…. I asked [Avraham] Burg to send me back, and after two months, I returned home. My unexpected election as chairman of the party “Da” facilitated this, but more of that later.
Aliya proceeded at an unbelievable rate. In1990, 230,00 (!) Jews emigrated from the USSR and the majority went to Israel. It was a stream. It was flight from there. It was not just a matter of a lack of food. Antisemitic organizations such as Pamiat appeared. Jews of the former USSR were not accustomed to this. They would clam up in fear if one [antisemitic] word appeared in the newspaper Pravda, but now there was such a stream of abuse, threats, dirt – I still think the KGB was behind this game – that when the gates opened, the Jews simply rushed through them. At that time, the Americans set an entry quota of 40,000 Jews per year, and thus, the Jews, for the most part, flowed to Israel. The potential Russian aliyah was colossal. In fact, even more would have left that year, but the number of emigrants was limited by the custom’s technical limitations. What we had said earlier proved true – a considerable segment of the Jewish population of the USSR wanted to leave the country. It is another matter that, if America had been open, a significant part would have flowed there; had Switzerland been open, they would have flowed there.
In 1990, over 180,000 arrived in Israel; about 150,000 in the following year. It was too much for a small country and led to many problems. In general, emigration always brings problems. It is like being born again, living yet another life. A totally different cultural milieu, a new social milieu, new technologies and instrumentations. Moreover, having arrived in Israel or the West, the immigrants began to realize that their former homeland was a rather backward country, despite its powerful army and decent system of theoretical education.
One of the main problems in absorption was the need to compete. I, for example, could not do this. I was prepared to share my knowledge with anyone; I did not hide anything. But others acted differently toward me – they were quite willing to listen to me, to learn something from me, but sharing some information with me was a problem for them. I saw with amazement how each one was struggling for his or her place and wanted to look good in the bosses’ eyes. There was none of the Russian openness to which I was accustomed. The same thing, to a larger degree, occurred in the Sochnut. Everyone was competing. My elated noncompetitive attitude disappeared ten years after my arrival…. I very slowly abandoned my elation.
Lvovsky: Was it cooked in the Forum and the party “kasha” in parallel?
Yuli: The Da party. You understand, in the Forum there were several fellows who were ready to realize their potential. For example, people who arrived in the 1970s understood that the Israeli governmental system reacted only to those who were prominent on the social plane, and it reacted to the greatest degree to those who raised their hands in Knesset voting. The Israeli political system is a very interesting one, very competitive, in many ways balancing between different population groups that at times are highly isolated from each other. Israel was formed by waves of immigration, and each wave has its own two-thousand-year old traditions, each “imbibed all the pollen of the flowers upon which Jewish feet trod,” as Grigorii Rosenshtein wrote (a well-known refusenik, deeply religious, he died in Israel in 2002). And they all imagined Israel “in their own image.” Traditions, conflicts, and the discussions of past centuries were brought together on this clump of land. Thus, the first settlers from tsarist Russia were socialists and atheists, but the local population was almost entirely ultra-religious, living, mainly, on charity. Hostility rose immediately. The socialists began to work and despised those “who don’t work but eat.” And thus wave after wave arrived in Israel – Jews with contradictory mentalities: Rumanian, Bukharan, Moroccan, Yemenite, Soviet, Ethiopian, American Jews and so forth. Political parties ably exploited this situation. That is why there are so many parties and each must prove that it is figting for the interests of its electorate. Thus, secular schools are more poorly equipped than religious ones because the religious parties attain more money for this purpose. A politician is highly regarded if he can assure benefits to his sector of Israeli society, and it is not at all important how this affects the country as a whole. In our former homeland, they constantly drove into our heads the idea that what is good for the state is also good for me. In the West, under democratic conditions in general, it is the opposite: what is good for me, the individual citizen, is also good for the state.
It became clear that if, in this supercompetitive space, no party is oriented toward Soviet Jews, or as they aften(often) call them, Russian Jews, then no one will listen to them. Everything will be at their expense. The local elite, of course, was not againsst the arrival of immigrants into the country, even in such numbers. The danger consisted of the possibility that these immigrants would organize into a compact group threatening the elite’s authority and would “steal” the country from them. And there was something to fear – there were so many of us, we were so educated and so different from the locals, so ambitious. Naturally, the local elite tried to keep us as far away as possibile from infiltrating into power. They succeeded for some time, but it was evident that a “Russian” party’s time had come. Tolia Sharansky at the time was not opposed to establishing a party, but as a person who had been there longer than we had and better understood our possibilities, he considered that it was still too early to form a party. Most importantly, he understood that to do so one needed money, lots of it. In Russia, we were used to doing everything on the basis of enthusiam. Here, you had barely declared the establishment of a party when they started demanding on all sides pay, pay, pay…. Before, they would run after you and beg for an interview, but the moment that you declared you were entering the political arena, no one would take an interview for free. You now were the interested party. The press was not using you but you now were using the press.
I tried to convince Sharansky to head the party. Of course, he had thought about creating a party before I did, and here comes someone who tries to convince him of what he himself had thought about for a long time. There was a group of people, about ten – Volodia Glozman, Boria Volokh, Sema Azarkh, Yura Stern, and others active in the Forum – but not just them, who firmly, independently of Sharansky’s position, decided to form a party. No one chose them; they chose themselves. At first, they actively tried to convince Sharansky to head the party, but Tolik kept hesitating. And elections to the Knesset were supposed to take place in just four months. At that time, as I mentioned, the Sochnut dispatched me to Moscow. Suddenly, when I was in Moscow, dreaming about returning to Israel, [Boruch] Gur came up to me and said, “Look, in Maariv they are writing that you were chosen head of the party.” I read and, indeed, at some organizational meeting, they elected me chairman of a party called “Da.” It was – I won’t hide it – pleasant, but I was sitting in Moscow, and the elections were in three months!
I flew back at night, and in the morning, I was invited to Beit Sokolow, where there was supposed to be a press conference about founding our party, which would run for the Knesset. Nothing existed yet, not even organizational structures. There was hope, however, that at some point Sharansky, Edik Kuznetsov, and some other people who were known on the “Russian street” would join us. I met constantly with Sharansky at this time. He adopted an incomprehensible position. Then the organizational congress took place and Sharansky and Yosif Begun were invited. A proposal was made to choose Kosharovsky as chairman of the party. My good old friend Begun, who I myself had invited to this meeting, stands up and declares: “I also want to compete for the position of chairman!” He wants, that means we have to vote for two candidates, but I was elected; Begun received one vote. After some time, Tolik Sharansky suddenly declared that he, too, was joining the political campaign – not with us but with some separate group. In short, people who were prepared to give me money for the election campaign decided to give it to him; his fundraising possibilities were much greater than mine. As a result, he spoiled the little fundraising that we had managed to organize, and after two weeks, he left the struggle.
We scraped up a little more than $80,000 for the election campaign. Funny money. Together with my other party candidates, we went to meetings, went on the campaign trail, and tried to get into the newspapaers. It was difficult, even in the Russian newspapers. Each of them had an owner, and the minute you make a proclamation about your party, it turns out, you are advertising, and that means you have to pay. I did not understand it that well then. The more experienced Yura Stern and Volodia Glozman helped me. Yulik Edelstein declared that he would go only with Sharansky. As you see, he was not mistaken….
According to the polls, we were close to three to four mandates. Our attitude was good but we did not have money for election day nor sufficient activists, and we did not have transportation for voters. The ballots were in Hebrew. The representative of our party would come, for example, to an absorption center or “hostel” to campaign for our party and they would say to him: “Yes, yes, we will vote for you!” On election day, however, Russian-speaking representatives of other parties arrived, handed over sample ballots and said, “Yes, yes, these are the ones for whom you want to vote.” The parties spend half of their money on preparations and half on election day! You have to monitor each one who says that he or she will vote for you, and if necessary, bring him or her to the polling place. On election day you mobilize everyone, including papa, mama, wife, and lover. Serious professionals work at elections. A particular fierce struggle for the “newcomers” takes place because it is easy to manipulate them.
The basic argument against our party was extremely simple: “Well, what can they do for you?” And this was said entirely sincerely.
We lost the elections. We received about 14,000 votes, whereas each seat “cost” 20,000 votes. I returned to work at the Sochnut. Baruch Gur, whom I respected, soon left the Sochnut; that was in 1993. Alla Levy was appointed her(his) successor – you recall my relations with her were not the best. Simcha Dinitz, whose adviser I had been, also left; his competitors found some kind of minor breach of financial conduct and he had to leave his post as chairman of the board of the Sochnut. After that, there was nothing for me to do at the Sochnut.
Alla needed workers with a clerical mentality who were used to carrying out certain work, sometimes rather complex – keep in mind that in those years, 60,000 Jews were arriving in Israel annually. I found clerical work boring – putting together papers, instructing, writing reports…. Moreover, Alla began gradually to sideline me; at some point she even stopped inviting me to discussions. Her entire attitude showed that I was superfluous there. Then she simply told me directly: “Doesn’t it seem that you have nothing to do here?” And I left…. Left for freer pastures.…
For a long time, several of my friends had been suggesting that I implement some techological ideas. I had an empty storeroom in my hourse that I offered them. We just needed to start a company. And I started it. It was called Tekol, the technology of olim. This company, incidentally, exists to this day. I worked in it for many years.
In addition, I joined a project to create a Free Export Processing Zone in Israel (FEPZ). As part of the party program of Da, we had proposed the creation of such zones designed to solve the employment problems of qualified olim from the former Soviet Union. A group of American companies were also interested in carrying out this project. We found each other and worked with them for several years. The proposal called for billions in investments, new technologies and market outlets. It could solve the employment problem of olim, many of whom were in cities that in general had few working places, such as Arad, Yokneam, Ofakim, and others. In principle, it was difficult to imagine that Israel itself could find suitable work for so many newly arrived immigrants. Free economic zones could be a good solution for this problem, especially for scientists. American companies tried to set up two such zones – scientific technological and industrial. The first zone, a so-called “park” that would be environmentally friendly and the industrial zone – modern industrial enterprises that would produce goods mainly for export. As for market outlets, it was proposed to utilize the markets that these investing companies were already utilizing. In fact, markets are the most difficult part.
These ideas seemed very effective: instead of unemployment payments, people would receive a salary, and this would reduce the colossal social tension, not to mention the future tax payments that the government would receive. Several such zones could be established. All that the state had to do was to adopt a law on tax privileges for the first twenty years. This is usual in such cases. Say, for the first ten year, complete freedom from taxes; then partially, and so forth. The chief advantage of the zones for Western investors was the freedom from Israeli bureaucracy, which is politicized and therefore unobjective. The zone was supposed to be self-managed. Goods that would arrive and depart were supposed to pass through customs in two to three days. Without labor unions and workers’ committees ready to strike at any time to halt the country; that is not how world business operates….
We suggested that one such zone could provide work for 20,000 people. When we prepared the program for our party Da, we already mentioned free trade zones. We saw how many states grew stronger thanks to such zones – South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and others. China is now on the upswing thanks to such zones. Even Russia has begun to form such zones.
The Israeli establishment, however, was sharply opposed. Local industrialists, not without foundation, feared that they were unable to compete with powerful Western capital. They did not care that new work places would open up or that the country would develop rapidly. The main thing was their profit. And I could understand them….
They employed their political levers, the law was “put on the back burner” for several years in the Knesset, and it was ultimately buried. I think that the country lost a lot from this. It was upsetting. The struggle lasted for about three years.
Lvovsky: On what did you live during those years?
Yuli: I attracted attention as an organizer of the struggle for these (free trade) zones, as I advocated for it in the newspapers and over the radio; at some stage, I was hired as a paid adviser by a company that was opened here to implement the project. The company included representatives of several large American companies.
As in parallel they were interested in the olim scientists’ ideas and technologies, I helped them search for such ideas and technologies and simultaneously began to work also with other investors to advance the interest of olim projects. Then this started to operate on a commercial basis.
Technological incubators were opened, the so-called “hot houses,” for the purpose of giving entreé to the creative potential of the arriving scientists. This was already a government program, and I also worked in this program. About thirty “hothouses” were opened. The chief scientist invited me – I don’t know who recommended me – and said that there was a feeling of disconnect between the leadership of the hothouses and the scientists working in them. He asked me to visit all of the hothouses and write a detailed report. I worked on this for several months. I made the rounds of all the hothouse, spoke with many scientists, and wrote a long report. I was paid for this work. New, feasible ideas arose in the process of my conversations with the scientists. I began to look for investors for those projects that were not part of the hothouse plans. Some things worked out and others did not. For several years, I was involved in this project in the framework of my Tekol company. Interestingly, the “Russian” scientists were very suspicious of everything that concerned their ideas. They were afraid that they would be stolen. God forbid, if some scientist would explain the basis of his or her idea, immediately someone would run up and give it away totally. Here it is the opposite – you have to yell about your idea in the public square, without, of course revealing the essence in order to get someone interested, so that someone would want to buy the idea and pay its elaborator. Sasha Lunts once said something to the effect that “in the area of marketing, the ‘Russian’ scientists do everything that can harm them.” They did not know how to sell themselves….
In 1995, I was invited to join the Likud Party. At that time the Yisrael b’Aliya party was getting started, and in 1996, it acquired an organizational form. Tolia Sharansky was already entirely involved in party matters. I was among those who actively took part in discussing matters in the new party. Tolia, evidently, had his own notions aboaut (about)the party list, and he did not ask me to join.
Bibi Netanyahu was already the head of Likud; [Avigdor] Lieberman was the director general of the party – we celebrated his appointment to this high post on the huge roof of Edik Kuznetsov’s home in Motza Ilit. Incidentally, before his appointment, Lieberman used to attend meetings of the Forum as a member of the presidium.
It was a happy atmosphere and we had grand hopes. True, one already sensed a growing rivalry between Sharansky and Lieberman.
Lieberman proposed that I compete for the place of the Russian-speaking representative in the Likud list for the Knesset. After thinking it over, I agreed. The Likud’s political and social program completely suited me. Zeev Geizel and Volodia Shkliar also competed for this place. Lieberman recommended a good assistant for me; the competition amongst us was honest – each of us without interference was able to use all his opportunities, and we traveled around the country, met with new immigrants, and attained the support of local Likud cadres. This was a serious political schooling for me. At first, all the competitors associated with each other, but then the dirty PR began, and relations became strained. After all, you are not fighting alone, there is a whole team with you and the situation of the teammates depends on your success or lack of it. Sometimes the outcome is even more important for them than for you because in the case of victory, the team members count on a close connection with you, sometimes on some job. If you lose the election, they lose doubly. You can still get set up somewhere, but you won’t be able to help them at all. The responsibility for your team rests on your shoulders. It is thus all very tough…. Every move of the opponent is folllowed (followed)– their words, hints, program; the opponent’s team is studied painstakingly; is it possible “to trip up” someone? Municipal elections were taking place at that time and you involuntarily become a participant because you promise to support some candidate or other, and he promises to support you. You soon begin to understand how to be competitive in this cruel game, and you begin to think and act as if you are the best of the contestants….
I won by a large margin. I became the official Likud candidate for the Knesset. I had a competely real, reserved 32nd place. Why is the seat reserved? Because an oleh has no chances of getting a good seat in general party primaries. It seemed like things were going well. But then the Tsomet party and another one joined the Likud, and according to the agreements with those parties, my oleh place was moved back to the 45th position. I tried to protest; women with reserved places also tried to protest; the Druze tried to protest but nothing came of it.
Lvovsky: Did you have an opportunity to associate with Bibi?
Yuli: I did. The first thing that strikes you is that he is absolutely loyal to the country. He was the best Israeli representative to the UN. He is a very educated person. Very charming and pleasant. He has the trappings of a leader; he carefully attends to that; he must always create the impression of a competent, important, and serious person but at the same time know how to be, when necessary, simple, amiable, and so forth. In short, he knows when and how he should look. He precisely and confidently formulates his ideas. When he came to power, he excellently demonstrated his positive qualities. He easily circumvented all the Likud “princes.” They believed in him. The people sympathized with him. And, indeed, those elections of 1996 came at a difficult time. First, Rabin’s murder and all other wrongs were blamed on him, up to mounting the photographs that compromised him plus the notorious “Baron-Hevron affair.” Labor [Party] waged a merciless struggle against Bibi that disregarded all niceties. However, the cyncism with which they depicted Bibi as almost the murderer of Rabin backfired on them, and in the end, Bibi won.
In forming his government, however, his negative qualities manifested themselves. First, it’s not clear why he undeservedly “butted” Arik Sharon, who had invested so powerfully in this election campaign, and this gave Sharon a bad aftertaste. I was in touch with Sharon quite frequently. I translated a lot for him from Russian to Hebrew. A very pleasant person. He got along with the olim crowd. He could call me at home and ask me to prepare some data and examples from the everyday experience of olim.When he received the post of minister of national infrastructure, I hoped that through him, I could advance my free trade zone project. Lieberman helped me bring this issue to his attention. Unfortunately, in the ministerial post, Sharon was a different person. “I have little understanding of this,” he said to me, “speak with my professionals.” I met with his director general and some other experts, but they gently dragged it out and in the end, froze the project.
Yes, and to continue about Bibi. First, he quarreled with all the Likud “princes.” He tried to manage things American style – he got rid of all his potential competitors. He turned out to be a rather poor organizer. After a short time, his team treated him as a high jumper who too quickly jumped from the post of deputy foreign minister to the prime minister’s chair. He had no real experience in setting up a collective that was capable of working.
At the first meeting after the election victory, Lieberman declared in front of everyone that I would become Israel’s ambassador to Russia, and he asked whether I would object if my former rival Geizel became Bibi’s adviser on aliyah? I did not especially want to become an ambassador, did not want to leave Israel, and did not think that I was such a representative figure, but I agreed. Time passes. Geizel is already working as Bibi’s adviser and nothing happens with me. A half year passed, a year…. Lieberman began to evade answering, said that something was not working out regarding the position of ambassador…. In general, I understood that they did not want to utilize my “talents.” I was still making the rounds in the Likud; the thing was that I had written a program for aliyah that had been signed by Raful, along with me and Klaiman, former co-chairpersons of the Russian staff in the Likud, and by Netanyahu himself. But after the elections, no one was interested. Of course, I could have fought to get meetings, but the “oxygen” was coming to an end. When you represent a social force, they take you into account and treat you well; but when you ask something for yourself personally, it’s an entirely different matter….
There is a person in the Likud, Miki Eitan, a Knessest deputy, very interested in all sorts of electronic matters; when he would come to a Knesset session, something would always beep or ring; he always would pull out his portable computer and so forth. He was interested in the issue of Israeli competence in the area of information technologies. He wanted to open some division that would deal with bringing Israel into the technological era. He connected me with another enthusiast, a good organizer, Emmanuel Wahrhaftig, and we began to deal with this matter. It was paid work. We formed a good collective; I traveled around the cities and villages, organized courses to prepare senior citizens and olim for the information revolution – computer literacy, working at a distance from the office – let’s say, living in Ariel, you can work in Tel Aviv. It was very popular then, that while at home you could do productive work such as translating, programming, and so forth. I succeeded in organizing such courses in several cities. At the time, Miki Eitan prepared legislation for this. We worked for about two years until the Likud lost in the next early elections. Then our division was dismantled. Despsite the Labor Party victory, I was hired by the Science Ministry, which was headed by Matan Vilnai, to do the same work. I worked there for a year, after which they gently told me that there were no more salaries, which meant that my work was over.
I did not, however, remain unemployed for long. I received an offer to head part of a public organization called The Zionist Majority – Citizens for Equal Rights and Freedom of Religion. I worked there for a year – we promoted a law on civil marriages and worked on the definition of who is a Jew from the viewpoint of the Law on Return. You are familiar with this famous contradiction: you have the right to return, you receive Israeli citizenship, but you will not be considered a Jew unless some great-grandmother on your maternal line was a Jew.
Lvovsky: I don’t believe that it will ever be possible to pass a law on civil marriage It’s not only that the religious parties will always grab any coalition by the throat, I am not sure that in Israeli society itself there is a consensus on this issue. You know, it’s strange somehow, in a Jewish state to marry a Goy, consciously, without undergoing conversion; in the opposite case, he would not need any civil marriage….
Yuli: But I am confident that sooner or later such a law will be adopted. The state cannot refuse to offer its citizens basic services. And then, what is the meaning of a Goy? What Goyim come to us? Members of Jewish families who did not turn away from us when we were living in the Diaspora and suffered our ordeals with us. If they had turned away from us then, they would not have come with us to Israel. After all, assimilation in Russia was almost 50 percent! Why must we tear apart families? I know how sharply Israel reacted to the uncovering of Russian gangs, rather, not gangs but organized young street hoodlums. The question is not how did these Russians appear in Israel but why did they turn into hoodlums or, if you want, gangs? After all, they came here as members of Jewish families, but something repelled them; who pushed them away from us so much that they began to organize into gangs? It is known that olim always resent those who receive them. These are objective hurts and insults. But these fellows were often insulted without reason; the locals showed them that they are alien….
Lvovsky: Yulik, we were distracted….
Yuli: It is a sore topic; there is nothing you can do about that….
The public organization The Zionist Majority, where I also worked, soon ran out of money. The Zionist Majority fought for the modernization of the country so that every community in our country could live freely and declare and implement those ideas that were either intrinsic to them or they considered correct but without treading on the toes of another community, in other words, civilized co-existence with mutual interaction. And without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. Each should receive a basic amount of services from the country, enter the field of competition, and show his or her worth.
How do public organizations operate in the West? They appeal to citizens not to expect favors from the state but to work on the most difficult problems. For that, it’s true, you have to know to whom to turn and how to do so. These organizations know how to do this, and they exist for this purpose. And if the person to whom a serious public organization turned does not justify its trust or advance its ideas, then at the next elections, he will not get many votes. And this works fine….
The money ended at both places in 2003. For half a year I worked on municipal elections – I was called by Shinui, or rather, friends from the Zionist Majority who proposed that I work for pay to supervise the Russian street in the municipal elections in Tel Aviv. I agreed. My consent was based not only on my material needs but also, for the first time, I saw an election campaign not from the viewpoint of someone fighting for a slot on the list, but from that of a hired worker. I became friendly with Tommy Lapid and several other interesting people. I worked for half a year and left with a feeling of growing distaste. I did not want to deal with these matters any more.
Earlier, my old friend, Professor Sam Zilberg of the Hebrew University and my good old friend Enid Wurtman, the first American whom I met in Russia back in 1973, with whom I used to speak in English – now she lives here in Israel with her family – would press me: “How long can you be involved in this silly nonsense? Sit down and write your memoirs about what happened. People are passing away and whole layers of history disappear with them. And truly, the struggle of Soviet Jewry was a very serious cause!” In fact, I myself had thought that when I would retire and have nothing to do, I would put my papers in order and write something based on them. I understood that I did not have the appropriate education and experience, that quite a few years had already passed, and whole layers of life in Israel overlaid old memories. On the other hand, we indeed had done this…. Who but we could explain the who, how, and why? At the time, I had already turned 62; there was nothing deserving attention on the horizon….
Lvovsky: What about your pension?
Yuli: I don’t have a pension. I have been in Israel for nineteen years, but worked only eight years at work that entitles one to a pension! The rest of the time was free lance…. And I wanted it that way!
Lvovsky: How will you live?
Yuli: You are asking good questions, mainly, easy ones…. I always felt that I would work as long as I had the strength, and I like to work, and then – we were not in the most dire straits in refusal, and we won’t be here either. There is national insurance, something remained, gradually, we shall earn something more. My wife thinks the same, and she is still working….
In short, when our Zionist Majority collapsed because of a lack of money, I was no longer buoyed up by that stream of life in which I managed to stay afloat while simultaneously trying to resolve problems; I thus had an opportunity to stop, look around, and seriously ponder what I should do. For the first time in my life, I seriously felt that I was less in demand; a relative vacuum had formed. In other words, I had some time to sit, go through my papers, and genuinely to think about what I should do and how I could earn a living…. There were a few options. Enid Wurtman was very insistent, saying that I had unique experience as a refusenik, I was able to express my thoughts clearly, and I ought to write a history of refusal for the coming generations. When we met in 1973, she was a successful American. She asserted that my eloquence had convinced her to make aliya.
“Put it down on paper!” she exhorted me.
“But I have to earn a living!” I replied.
“I’ll take care of that,” she answered. “I can apply for a work grant (maybe just grants) for you”
“It requires serious research.”
I’ll help you.”
“It will need technical support.”
“We’ll solve that too.”
When she managed to raise the first, small sums of money, I understood that she was very serious. I bought an inexpensive portable Acer computer (it weighed six kilo) and got down to work. I did not need much….
However! At the age of 62, a person suddenly sits down to write his first book! I did not dare to do it in Hebrew, but I had already begun to forget my Russian.The starting conditins (conditions)were not the greatest….
I realized that first I had to do research. I would begin to write only when the assembled material would, so to speak, start pouring out, when I could no longer keep it inside.
For a start, I needed to build a picture of what had occurred. I wanted to reach a decisive capacity of say, one hundred events a year, that is for twenty years in a row, around 2000 key events that I had to analyze, organize, and evaluate their significance. Not only in the Soviet Union, but globally, as the struggle was global.
Lvovsky: Only events connected with aliyah?
Yuli: I obtained a rather broad panorama, from which I chose events related to aliyah in some way. I am a Zionist, was, and will remain a Zionist. I consider it my good fortune to have participated in these matters. Perhaps now that sounds popmpous and silly, but that is what I am. I fought for a long time to be that way, to be myself, and I like that….
From my youth, I was accustomed to working with massive amounts of information – in my day, I worked with missile complexes, which entails a sea of information; our movement encompassed a similar sea of information. And the larger the “sea,” the more pleasant it was for me to work. I began work on the future book by collecting material. Rather quickly, I became absorbed in the work. Enid Wurtman helped. It’s a pity that she does not know Russian; then she would have been priceless. She is a completely tireless, indefatigable person. There was no hole in the wall to which she would not go with me for the sake of a scrap of paper, photographs, or for digging into dusty and abandoned folders. I sorted everything that I had collected, entered it all into the computer in such a way that one could quickly find any document. I have a bad habit – if I am looking for something more than ten seconds, I feel an uncontrollable wave of anger and annoyance. In other words, I had to arrange a system on the computer that would enable me quickly to retrieve the necessary material while working.
Lvovsky: To tell the truth, when I asked Yulik to find me the old collective letter about the Leningrad Trial from his time in Sverdlovsk, it took him no less than ten minutes. While I sat next to him and laughed at his “unusual” speed in finding the necessary material, he growled that he simply forgot his keyword. Evidently, we need yet another computer program that would remind us of keywords that we need to find by means of those keywords that we are supposed to keep in our memory, but, alas, we don’t remember, and therefore, we need a program for them, and so forth, and only in that way shall we overcome that vile old fogey Alzheimers.
Yuli: Having read over this, Mark, I must note that you are mocking me in vain. I did not design a universal catalogue or search instrument. I worked separately on each chapter, on each topic. While working, the program was available. And now several years after work on the chapter is completed, when many layers have formed over the earlier material, sometimes a search will take more time, but all the same, a lot less than by the traditional method. So it’s still early to throw in the towel.
Lvovsky: What really impressed me was Yulik’s quick typing of the Russian text on a keyboard without Cyrillic letters! The letters were only in English and Hebrew! He remembered the placement of Russian letters so well that he could type them blind! I knew many typists who could type blind, but, nevertheless, the letters of the Russian alphabet were in front of them and their eyes ran over them! Here, there was nothing. A remarkably capable man this Yuli Kosharovsky….
He said that there were over 5000 photographs in his computer!
Yuli: For fourteen months, I did nothing but gather material. During this time we scanned over 10,000 pages of various documents and about 5000 photos. We spent a lot of time transferring manuscript documents into Word documents and printing up the recordings of some telephone conversations. As a result, we obtained a decent documentary base.
Our second direction was interviews with aliyah activists. I did not consider myself brighter than others, especially in the context of the amazing people whom I met in our movement. In the missile company in Sverdlovsk and in the medical laboratory, there were many capable fellows, but I never encountered anywhere else that combination of personal characteristics and concentration of intellect as among the refuseniks. I spent eighteen years in refusal and had plenty of opportunities to know these people very well. Moreover, as I was constantly in the thick of things, I know who did what and how. I understood that, in describing one or another direction of activity, I had first to speak with those who initiated this direction or one of the key figures in it. I sketched a list of activists. It included about 100 people. As I advanced in this work, the list expanded. As of today, I interviewed 180 people. There are still several dozen more on the list.
I had to learn to type blind in three languages because it is too tiring and time-consuming constantly to shift your gaze from the screen to the keyboard. I immediately decided that I would type correctly, with five fingers. I was already able to do this somewhat because I had written articles and letters. But that had been episodic. I needed the minimal time between the thought and the word on the screen. It worked after several hundred pages. The problems were only the shifts from language to language. The brain needs time, a few minutes, to readjust. (readjust)Now I type in Russian like a professional typist, but I dream of finding a program that transmits a voice directly into text. It exists, but so far only in English.
After fourteen months, I saw that the edifice had been built, and I was beginning to drown in the sea of information. I needed a way out, and I began to write. In principle, it was not complex, you go through the constructed building and describe what you see, like a traditional bard. But that was not it. I had to organize the information, time, and space correctly or else it would be a formless heap of words. In order to structure everything properly, I had to think things out as a whole.
At first the going was tough. Several times, I reworked the conception of the entire book, painfully went through the chapters, with difficulty reorganizing the conception of each chapter. As soon as the key to the organization of a chapter was found, however, further work went rather smoothly and quickly. Interestingly, with regard to issues of our movement, I rather quickly felt that I understood them more deeply and subtly than the explication in the majority of works that I encountered, particularly works of Western origin. On the other hand, I soon discovered my cultural and historical illiteracy, particularly with regard to general Jewish and Western realities. In order somehow to overcome this, with Enid’s help, I compiled a decent bibliography on the topic and began to work with the books. I never read so much before.
Lvovsky: When do you plan to finish the entire book?
Yuli: The second volume will come out this year, in 2006, in September; the third in the beginning of 2008 [the publication date is 2009] and the last in 2010 [the publication date is 2012].
Lvovsky: Honestly, do you believe that it will be read?
Yuli: I hope so, and I will do everything dependent on me for that to happen. Several thousand read the first volume, which, they say, is not so bad, and I have even received favorable reviews. It would have been enough even if only my children read it. In truth, for that, it would have to be translated into Hebrew. My sons, who were born while in refusal, do not read Russian. My oldest child Anya [who lives in Russia] read the first volume, and I received the most touching response from her.
At first, I was most interested in the purely investigative aspect – I myself wanted to sort it all out. We, in fact, were living in the dark behind the Iron Curtain. We did not understand how the Jewish world worked or how Israel works. We lived with myths. We did not understand how the Soviet pressure machine worked. Under those conditions, we had to make decisions, sometime very painful ones, on which hung the fate of people, their freedom and health. I also was in that situation, and sometimes I stopped to think that I was making some decision without sufficient knowledge or analysis of the situation, and sometimes this hurt a lot. In working on the book, I wanted to figure out how it really was . Now I have more time to analyze, to become familiar with sources and the research of others, and to connect the facts. When I succeeded in solving some riddle, I was in seventh heaven from happiness.
Lvovsky: Yulilk, can I write about everything that you told me?
Yuli: Of course! But then I’ll edit it a bit if you don’t mind….
And with a happy laugh, the interview with Yuli Kosharovsky ended.