Sunday, November 25, 2012

Unbroken Spirit: a heroic story of faith, courage and survival by Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich

This contribution belongs to the literary genre of Soviet Jewry's struggle for freedom.  It was published thirty years prior in Russian and Hebrew and has finally been brought to the English speaking public.  There are some important features that I thought very worthwhile.  The approach of the KGB, the author's unwavering faith and patience and his determination not to succumb to the pressures of the harsh prison and Gulag experience mark this book as an important read.

The KGB is described in its complete amoral and immoral detail as a cunning machine of deception with the sole purpose of forcing a confession.  The style and detail of Rabbi Mendelevich's description of the KGB is startlingly consistent with the descriptions of Ida Nudel and Natan Scharansky, other freed Soviet Jews.  The seemingly innocuous questions or the 'routine' required signatures are only tactics to secure confessions.  The discussions are reminiscent of a chess game trying to figure out  and counter one's adversary's next move.  When asked to sign for the release of his siddur, prayerbook, the author responds miraculously, "You did not require a signature when you confiscated it, therefore you can return without a signature!"

One wonders what would have become of Rabbi Mendelevich had he not had a cause to go to Israel.  What would have happened to him had he not had a connection to his family.  What would have happened to him had he not been strong in his faith in Gd.  What was amazing about the author was that with the little learning of Torah and Judaism he possessed resulted in a defiance that leaped beyond anyone's expectations.  His legendary hunger strikes for the return of his books and study materials fortify one's soul.

When asked after his release where he wanted to go, he replied "Israel!"  He was shocked by the question because the entire reason for his incarceration was his desire to go the Jewish homeland.  He was told that many want to go the USA to which he responded with 'I want to speak to them'.  He explained that he was not interested in changing their mind, but rather he was interested in understanding why?  For him his Jewish identity precluded any other destination!

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