Thursday, September 5, 2013

Russian Jewry and Russian LGBTry

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If my great, great grandparents and my grandparents hadn't left Russia to escape pogroms, I'd be part of both, and neither...

In her Rosh Hashanah drash last night, Rabbi Kleinbaum spoke of her Bat Mitzvah speech, which was devoted to the plight of Soviet Jewry back then. Rabbi Kleinbaum is my middle sister's age and they were in the same class at Barnard. In the speech, she said she spoke about Elie Wiesel's *The Jews of Silence* and how it referred to the Jews in the West, rather than to the Soviet Jews, since the Western Jews were silent about Soviet Jews' plight...until a brave and knowingly ill-fated scheme.

One warm fall night, in the '70s, I remember attending a rally for Soviet Jewry in the parking lot of our shul Congregation Agudath Sholom. We weren't silent at all...but it was certainly after the failed hijacking that it happened, I now realize, based on the timing. The plight of Soviet Jewry was the major theme of my Jewish childhood. I can still see the posters of Scharansky with black prison-bars superimposed over his photo. Just tried hunting in Google images to find the poster and couldn't. Did I imagine it? I don't think so.

Rabbi Kleinbaum wove a parallel to what's going on today in Russia, where she described how Russians who are not heterosexual and who express their gender in ways that defy the majority are the latest scapegoats and how we cannot afford to be silent. How tragic, it strikes me, that President Reagan staunchly, humanely helped with Soviet Jewish persecution in the '80s, but did the opposite of lending support for gay men suffering in his own country, from HIV and AIDS.

The transcript to which I linked above stated, "Every time Gorbachev would walk into meeting with Reagan by the mid-'80s, the first thing Reagan would do -- and we see this in memoirs and oral histories -- is Reagan would pull out a piece of paper with names of Soviet Jews who had been refused visas or had been somehow sent to prison for their activism and he said, 'Well if you want to talk, first we have to discuss these names....'"

Fortunately, thanks to social media, silence is less possible in 2013; found this helpful video, including an interview of journalist Masha Gessen.

Please, God, in 5774 (the new Jewish year), let sanity prevail worldwide and please prevent persecution and scapegoating of anyone. Amen.

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