Sunday, December 08, 2013

Hope to See a Hero Soon

Hopefully, during the Limmud event, I will meet Michael Sherbourne.

Michael, who I last saw two years ago,

personally instructed me and the late George Yevnin (Evnine) on the eve of our trip to Moscow in November 1976 when I was in London and even provided some kopecks for phone calls.

Who is Michael?

When I'll let him speak for himself:

"I am reasonably well considering my advanced age  --  I am 96 and shall be 97 in February.  I wear two Hearing Aids, have only one eye and that has Glaucoma, Arthritis in both legs and I walk with a stick, but my heart is sound, my brain is still working well, and, what is most important, my spirits are as high as ever. Unfortunately, however, I am unable now to fly (the airlines won't accept "an old cripple") so it is most unlikely that I shall ever visit Israel again, which I deeply regret !!!

...I had personal contact [with refuseniks] during the twenty or so years that I made my (approximately) 5,800 telephone calls to the USSR.  Yes, that's right, (five-thousand-eight-hundred).  I didn't keep a record at the time, but shortly after Gorbachov threw open the gates I worked it out as about 5,800 calls.  I was given a free hand by a wealthy, deeply-Jewish-at-heart man, named Cyril Stein, who died only recently in Israel, who paid all my telephone bills during those hectic years. Otherwise I could not have done it.  Did you know that I also coined the word "refusenik" (as a translation of the Russian "otkaznik") in early spring 1971.

...My dear wife Muriel, died of cancer in Israel in 1995 and life has not been the same since then.  Even now, after more than 18 years, I feel the pain as if my right arm has been pulled off. And my three brothers have gone "the way of all flesh", as well as ALL my old friends, but I am fortunate in having good neighbours.
I could go on and on and on,  but I don't want to bore you."  

In another bigraphical note, Michael wrote this:

I became a convinced Zionist at the age of 16, in 1933 and I joined an organisation called "Histadrut Hechalutz B'Anglia" on my 18th birthday in 1935.  At the time there was a lot of unemployment in England, so when I left "a good job" in the Civil Service to go to the Hachshara Farm in Kent, to train for Aliyah, in 1937 when I was 20, I had a terrible row with my family, who thought I had gone raving mad, and (you may find this incredible) but 20 years later in 1957 my mother said to me "I've never forgiven you for what you did to me in 1937 when you left home to go to that farm".  !!!!!  And she never did forgive me till the day she died.

Two years later in 1939 we received Immigration Certificates (Remember this was during the British Mandate) and it was shortly before the outbreak of War) One certificate was for a married couple, so the rest of the group looked at me and my girl friend whom I had met on the farm and said "Well you two should get married !"   So we did and 9 of us left for Palestine. more or less as War was starting !!!  We had a nightmare journey through France to Marseilles and and even worse journey by ship to Haifa.  Normally
a 4 day voyage but because it was thought that Italy was going to come into the war at once, we had to dodge possible submarine attacks by the Italian Navy and instead of 4, it took us 14 days to get there.
We arrived on Rosh Hashana (1st day)  1939 with no one to meet us.

But this is becoming too long.  so in brief, we joined Kibbutz Anglo-Balti in Binyamina and later we took part in the founding of Kfar Blum in Upper Galillee.  But when we had news that my younger brother had been badly wounded by the Germans and taken prisoner, (and was a POW for the next 5 years !) I left the Kibbutz and was with the Royal Navy in Haifa throughout the War.We returned to England after the War in 1946 but I couldn't settle in England and in December 1947 we retuned to Palestine with two very young daughters (aged 4.1/2 and 1.1/2) and I imediately joined Haganah which very soon became Tzahal.  I was in Hativah Sheva, at the battles for Latrun against Abdullah's Arab Legion and we had very heavy casualties. Meanwhile my wife with the 2 babes was almost starving, living in a hut with no piped water and no electricity and by the time I left the Army it was obvious that she was very ill.  We returned to England (another nightmare voyage) and she was diagnosed as having T.B. (tuberculosis) in both lungs and a forecast of maximum of 2 years to live.  But she cheated the doctors, and one lung was removed, and she lived until 1995, when she died of Breast Cancer.

Meanwhile I trained to become a techer, and in reply from a communist friend who knew how anti-communist I had become (that;s another long story by itself) challenged me to learn Russian.  I took it up and became quite fluent and in 1962 at the age of 45 I gained a University degree B.A. Honours 2nd Class Russian language and Literature with Spanish and French.

I'll omit many years now and jump to 1969 when I joined the local AJEX Soviet Jewry Committee and began phoning to the USSR.  I coined the word "REFUSENIK" in 1971, and over the next 20 years I made over 5,000 (five thousand) calls to Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Kharkov, Gomel, Minsk, Grodno, Sverdlovsk, Smolensk, Tbilisi, Yalta, and ...  and ... and ..wherever there were Jews who were having problems, even to Vladivostok in the very Far East.  I had regular calls 2 or 3 tmes a week to Sharansky, Dina Beilin, Ida Nudel, and ALL the leading refuseniks, as well as gathering new names every time.  We had to have this information because Levanon (the B_______ !!) openly refused to help us.   I could write a whole book about my experiences.  It was very tiring but I was enthralled by it, and my name became a by-word and a password among the Refusenik circles,  I gave them information on a more or less daily basis and all the info. that they gave me I passed to 1. The Israeli Embassy in London, (where, I learned later they did not even study it but threw it in the waste bin) 2.  To the 35's and separately to Barbara Oberman with whom I worked in close co-operation, and 3. and this was most important, to the USA, where I had built up a network so that I only needed to make ONE phone call,  say to Detroit, and I knew it would all over the USA within an hour or so.  I had contacts in New york, Boston, Washington, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Momtgomery (Alabama), Miami, Los Angeles, San Frncisco and I forget where else.  So I became a cenre of Information and today I have very many friends in Israel who know me from those hectic days when they wee refused an Exit Visa to "return home" to Medinat Yisrael.

Back in 2009, he sent this letter to the Jerusalem Post in a follow-up to a spat that developed over the historical narrative of the Soviet Jewry Campaign:

6 Dec 2009 14:16Subject: Soviet Jewry CampaignTo:
To the Editor,Jerusalem Post, Israel. Dear Sir, 
I am very disappointed to note that Sheila Silver RAVIV has chosen to repeat her story, which contains, unfortunately, a number of inaccuracies, which had already been pointed out to her. 
She states that her husband, Zvi Raviv, and his fellow students, organised "demonstrations which acted as a catalyst to challenge the Israeli Government to initiate the world wide campaign for Soviet Jewry". 
I fully agree with her that the Israeli Government was literally doing nothing in this respect, which is probably why the public in Israel had no idea that the world wide campaign had been started ("initiated ?") several years before.  Yakov Birnbaum in New York had  formed the Students Struggle for Soviet Jewry as early as 1961.   Hal Light had started a very active campaign for Soviet Jews in San Francisco in1963 and in that same year, 1963, Dr.Louis Rosenbloom and a number of his fellow scientists started their own campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, which soon joined those on the West Coast and rapidly formed the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews in cities all over the United States, from Minnesota in the North, through Chicago, Omaha, Denver, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Montogomery (Al), with massive demonstrations in every part of the United States by the middle and late 60's. 
There was also a very active group in Britain, founded by Barbara Oberman, called the "35's Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry". 
This was achieved not only without the approbation or support of any kind from the Israeli Government but it encountered active opposition from the very secret committee which Golda Meir may have formed in response to Raviv's (no doubt courageous) standing up to her,   This active opposition led me to accuse Nehemia Levanon the Head of this "secret" office of attempting to sabotage our campaign.  I accused him in writing, and openly at a meeting in Jerusalem.  I called his committee "The Office With No Name", a title which stuck until he began to give it various names, such as "Lishkah" or "Nativ" and other fancy names.
 Sheila Silver Raviv refers to Golda Meir's "determination to free Sharansky".  This may well have been so, but in fact, Nehemia Levanon and his "Office with (now) Several Names" were in active opposition to Sharansky as he was "a dissident", and, as Levanon told a number of M.K.'s  "Sharansky's case is no concern of Medinat Yisrael".

I myself was someone, along with thousands of others who spent 6 years in the early days, sometimes daily and sometimes weekly, trying to liberate Soviet Jewry during 1964-1970, as someone who continued to be involved for many years afterwards, as someone who, while in England 1975-77, renewed my activism even traveling to Moscow for a long weekend to meet with Scharansky just after he came out of jail and who handed over there to Ida Nudel foodstuffs & books for the prisoners and bribe materials for the guards and who discussed matters with Prof. Alexander Lerner after being briefed by Michael Sherbourne and given coins for the public phones, who helped Barbara Oberman with Avital Scharansky's protests in London, and helped Eric Graus and George Yevnin (Evnine) with dozens of projects in the UK including participation in the Second Brussels Conference and coordinating European demos by activist youth, as someone who tried to help Yaakov Birnbaum and Glenn Richter with the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry in NY, who was intensely involved with Geula Cohen's Soviet Jewry activities in Israel for three decades, as someone who slept alongside Yasha Kazakov in the freezing cold NY nights during his hunger strike in front of the UN in March 1970, among hundreds of other actions together with tens of thousands of others like marching through the streets of Manhattan (see some photos here).


No comments: