Two Pen-Pals and the Struggle to Free Soviet Jewry

As a teenager in a New Jersey suburb, Jonathan Feldstein heard about a program to “twin” young American Jews with Soviet Jews of the same age, but was disappointed to learn he was too old to participate. Already devoted to the cause of aiding the Jews of the USSR, he contacted the program’s sponsoring organization and soon found himself corresponding with a young Muscovite named Kate (Katya) Shtein whose parents were refuseniks. Feldstein recounts his quest to get Shtein—and those like her—to America:

While others spent early adult years focusing their spare time on far more mundane things, my life revolved more and more around freeing Soviet Jews. I read [Leon Uris’s novel] Exodus around the time of my becoming a bar mitzvah, and it moved and inspired me. But preparing for my bar mitzvah, and reading from the Torah about the Exodus of our people from Egypt, stirred something deeper in me. As I got to know more about the plight of Soviet Jews, all these came together. . . .

In my first letter [to Kate], I wrote about mutual friends who told me about [her and her family], of wanting to correspond and learn about their lives, and my interest in the Soviet Union. All things tame enough, and the first letter was able to pass the extensive Soviet censorship. After a while, it became hard to tell which letters had arrived and which letters had not. But at the same time, as much as it would have been nice for all the letters to arrive, the Shteins knew I was writing, and the people charged with stopping the letters from getting through knew as well. . . .

I [soon] took a page out of my own family history, in which relatives would leave Eastern Europe through the “legal” means of a fictitious marriage; my grandmother and two of her siblings owed their escape from Hitler’s inferno to such marriages. If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. I planned to marry Kate in a Soviet civil ceremony, and then do whatever necessary to free “my wife” from the USSR, taking her case to the highest legal, diplomatic, and political spheres possible.

Although the two pen-pals finally met in Moscow in 1985 (Friedland had arranged a trip there on the occasion of the International Youth Festival), no marriage took place. And in 1987 the Shteins were granted the freedom to emigrate.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, History & Ideas, Leon Uris, Soviet Jewry

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas