Perhaps Orwell's "Animal Farm" stated it best: "All animals are equal but some are more equal than others." Jews in Russia are still coming out on the short end of the religious equal sign.
During the three years Mikhail Gorbachev has been in power, greater religious tolerance has been noted in the officially atheist Soviet Union. With the commemoration of 1,000 years of Christianity, Soviet President Andrei Gromyko promised religious freedom for Russian Catholics. But for Jews, it's still business as usual.Two weeks after Reagan's visit to Russia, Tanya Zieman learned her 11-year vigil for exit visas was again prolonged. Told by the Moscow City Council Tuesday night that the visas were denied, Zieman and her husband were reassured they could apply again - after 1992.
But infinitely more frightening than the denial is the news that Russian Jews are again the target of violently anti-Semitic literature. University of Utah Russian language professor Nina Boguslavsky heard a week ago that Jews in Moscow were too frightened to leave their homes. "I thought I didn't hear well but now I know different," she told the Deseret News. In the June 8th/9th edition of "The New Russian Word," the only Russian language newspaper circulated in New York City, were two ominous articles.
Translating from the Russian, Boguslavsky explained that a leaflet was being circulated in Moscow addressed to the "patriots of Russia." According to "The New Russian Word," the pamphlet states: `You should know there are Jews among us, terrible, dirty people who do not deserve this beautiful country. They are taking our nationality, taking the best places in the country. Russia is for Russians, death to the Jews!' Boguslavsky said the information about the pamphlet was obtained from a phone call from Moscow.
The second article Boguslavsky read was titled "Panic Among Russian Jews." Boguslavsky said that in the vicinity of Moscow people were afraid of leaving their homes and in the face of threats, increased police patrols were placed on the two Jewish synagogues.
"It is impossible to believe, that after 70 to 100 years, this strong wave of anti-Semitism has emerged," Boguslavsky said. "With all the good things that happened with glasnost, there are forces that are not under the control of anyone. When these pamphlets say, `Now with the 1,000 years of orthodoxy, the time has come' and giving dates for action, Jews are again the scapegoat."
Boguslavsky, her husband Michael and their son, Yuri - now a history major at the U. - emigrated to the United States 10 years ago at the time when immigration quotas were at their highest.
Boguslavsky said that on the Russian passport, question number five is for nationality. The only religious designation is for the Jews. They cannot state "Russian" for their nationality no matter how many generations their families have lived in the Soviet Union. "Yevrei" is stamped on every Jew's internal passport in Russia, and like the precedent Hitler's Germany set with it's "Juden" stamp for German Jews, the designation means discrimination and persecution.
Russian Jewish religious worship is underground but even then homes are raided and religious items confiscated, according to the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews.
In an interview with the Deseret News, Lucie Ramsey, assistant director of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews in San Francisco, said, "Nothing has come across my desk to indicate there has been a softening towards Soviet Jews. There has been no formal policy, no change in terms of the religious or cultural activities allowed Jews in Russia."
Ramsey said if anything, there is more danger now than before in terms of anti-Semitism. "There have been some threats of possible resumption of the pogroms that began against Jews under the Czar. Part of the Ukranian uprising has had those undertones that don't bode well for Jews, and this religious `thaw' may lead to incidents against the Russian Jewish population," Ramsey explained.
Teaching the Hebrew language has been forbidden in Russia, yet Hebrew is an integral part of Jewish culture and worship. Harris R. Lenowitz is chairman of the Jewish studies program at the University of Utah and associate professor of Hebrew in the Middle East Center at the U. Said Lenowitz, "There is no way you can be Jewish and not have Hebrew as a part of your life. It's the spine of Judaism, it's indefatigable."
Lenowitz told about Ben Yehuda, the 12th century philosopher who forced his wife and children to speak Hebrew in their home. He was the first in 1400 years to use the ancient language. When his neighbors failed to follow the example, "Yehuda cried, `Yehudi, daber Ivret!' " meaning, "Jew, speak Hebrew!"
During the 19th century movement for reformed Judaism, the ancient Hebrew language was replaced with the vernacular, Lenowitz explained. References to the sacrificial system were deleted as well as references to the Messiah. But when "take us back to Israel" was threatened, the movement backfired and reinsertion of Hebrew replaced the attempts to make Yiddish or Judeo-German or Judeo-Spanish the language of the Jews.
Said Lenowitz, "Hebrew is a real living and essential language. To be deprived of the right to learn and speak Hebrew is perhaps the maximal Jewish deprivation."