How Secret Hebrew Lessons Turned a Soviet Jew into a Leader of the Refusenik Movement

Beginning in 1971, the Soviet police repeatedly arrested Yosef Begun for his involvement in teaching Hebrew, his connections with other Jewish dissidents, and his application to emigrate to Israel. Thanks to American pressure, he was released from his final imprisonment at the beginning of 1988 and since then has lived in Israel. In an interview with David Samuels, he tells how he was first drawn to the underground Jewish revival in the USSR, a process that began when he met an older man who offered to teach him Hebrew:

[H]e asked me, would you like to learn Hebrew? Hebrew—I asked him—what is “Hebrew”? He said to me it is the language of the Bible. I asked him, “What is the Bible?” He told me. Then he explained that Hebrew is the language of the state of Israel. . . . He had been a student at the Volozhin yeshiva before the Russian Revolution. He lived in a small, inexpensive flat, but he was a very educated man. He told me that he had met [the Zionist leader Vladimir] Jabotinsky.

Nobody knew [about the Hebrew lessons]. I studied with him in a very secret way.

Sometime after Begun enrolled in his clandestine Hebrew tutorials, he befriended a Jewish coworker; the two would often ride home on the bus together:

[W]e would talk about many different things, but not about Jewish subjects. . . . Talking about Jewish subjects was [taboo], and even dangerous. I was afraid, and everyone was afraid, to talk about such subjects.

[H]is hobby was Esperanto. . . . And he was very often invited to join a group he belonged to of people who were interested in Esperanto. . . . And every time I would say, “You know, I am very busy.” But [once] he saw in my pocket a small Hebrew textbook that my teacher gave me. . . . Then [my friend] began to talk with me in Hebrew. And of course it happened that his Esperanto group was actually a Zionist group.

So of course I came with him to his group of Esperanto Zionists. And from this moment I became a Zionist, and I met people who lived by their hope to go to Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Esperanto, Hebrew, Refuseniks, Soviet Jewry


The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7