Valerie Herbert – activist of the struggle for Soviet Jews. She was founder of the HCSJ – Haifa Committee for Soviet Jewry.
Valerie Herbert: Shalom Aba. You ask how I came to establish the Haifa Committee for Soviet Jewry (HCSJ). Well, it is quite a long and complicated story, and I will have to go back a long way if you have the patience and want the history of it.
I am a third generation Zionist. Shortly after I married in the 1950s I joined the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) in Johannesburg, South Africa. A few years later we left our families behind and emigrated to Australia with two small children, because we did not want to bring them up in an apartheid country. We both got involved with the South Australian Zionist organizations and worked voluntarily for Israel. Apart from teaching at the Adelaide Teachers College and the University part time, I was president of one of the WIZO groups, and was voted on to the State Zionist Council. I also became secretary of the Friends of the Hebrew University chapter in South Australia when my husband was the president. In addition to that, and his full time senior position as Reader in Architecture at Adelaide University, he was on the Board of Deputies and president of the Jewish National Fund in South Australia. We were heavily involved in Jewish community and Zionist affairs. We had made two visits to Israel, in 1963 and again in 1966, when we spent two months of my husband’s sabbatical there. Although we were very happy and well settled in Adelaide, after that visit, we decided it would be more meaningful for us to go and live in Israel with our own people. Anyway, a few months later the following year, in June 1967, the 6-Day War broke out. Even though we were so far away, it was traumatic for us because we felt so identified with what was happening to our people and our land that we felt we could not hold off coming to Israel any longer.
So, my husband went to the university and he gave in his resignation. When they asked why, they understood when he explained that we wanted to go to Israel for ideological reasons. Because it was so sudden, they asked him to give them 9 months notice, which he agreed to. As we had no jobs lined up in Israel anyway, we thought it would give us time to pack up and get organized, and start learning Hebrew, a new and difficult language for us as adults. We made Aliyah in August 1968, and did what we could to build a new life in Israel.
In the l970s the news of the harassment of our people in the Soviet Union became very worrying. Now I have to go back again, to when I was a very small child. There was World War II. Fortunately, we lost no family that I know of in WWII because they had all come out from Eastern Europe so many generations before, in the 19th century. But I remember the tension in the family listening to the radio, and seeing the black headlines in the newspaper. Of course, one can in no way compare what was happening in the theatres of war in Europe to what we experienced in South Africa. But it was frightening for sensitive children who felt the war drawing closer to us. We watched our mothers putting up black curtains on all our windows to maintain the ordered “Blackout” by the authorities, and witnessed the air raid shelters being built even in our exclusive school grounds, and had to partake in air raid practice when the sirens went off. My father, too old by then to volunteer for the army proper, joined the home guard and every weekend went for training and maneuvers in his khaki uniform. We lived in the seaside town of Port Elizabeth far south in South Africa, where we could see the war convoys sail past on the horizon, and be reminded by enormous billboards everywhere with slogans like “Zip Your Lips, Don’t Talk About Ships!” In addition, there were hundreds of overseas soldiers and airmen from the UK who were sent to South Africa for training. Our city of Port Elizabeth was included and the local population entertained them, including our family. At the end of the war, stories started to come out about the Holocaust. This left a very deep scar on my psyche as a child, and I used to have terrible nightmares. It lived with me all the time. One imagines: “what would I do if I were caught in those circumstances”, and so on. In the 1970s, it all came together when I seemed to hear this terrible echo of the ancient, anti-semitic pogroms - together with the evil, inhuman, genocide against the Jews during WWII – combining with the actual harassment, arrests and imprisonment, being inflicted upon our fellow Jews trapped in the Soviet Union.
I became more and more agitated. I looked around wondering what I could do? Then a letter appeared in the Jerusalem Post newspaper in 1976 giving Brezhnev's address and urging people to write and complain to him. This was after the Helsinki Accords had been signed in l975. So I wrote to Brezhnev. I gave him my name and address, and stated I was a teacher at a Teacher Training College in Haifa. I decried the unjust actions taken against Jews in the USSR and wrote that those actions were absolutely against the Helsinki Accords that he himself had signed.
A.T.: So, how did you get involved with the Soviet Jewry movement – subsequent to writing to Brezhnev?
The next year, l977, we had a disaster, tragedy struck our family – our son was killed in an accident. I was completely devastated and could not really function as I had before. The tragedy lay too heavily on my soul, so for some time I was not active. Then I took ill – it was altogether a horrible time.
Meantime, things got worse and worse for our people in the Soviet Union. Slowly, when my drive and energy started to come back, I felt I had to do something for them for my own conscience and my own peace of mind. I had this deep scar haunting me about the Holocaust, which was part of the psyche of our people, and also a very strong sense of the injustice of it all – it was altogether untenable. Terrible things were happening in the USSR, as you well know. I felt they were doomed, our people, and I feared another Holocaust. God forbid! The Soviet authorities acted like monsters against the refuseniks (those Jews who were desperate to leave the USSR and who could not get exit permits to get out). So they, together with a lot of our people in the Soviet Union suffered very greatly once they were branded. A number were forcibly put into psychiatric wards, where they were subjected to drug “therapy”. Others were cruelly arrested on trumped up charges and shoved into terrible prisons, often in solitary confinement for months on end, or taken to the gulags where they languished for years under horrific, inhuman conditions. In addition, as you know so well, Aba, once people applied for visas to leave the USSR, they immediately lost their jobs and their livelihoods and then were labelled “parasites”, with no hope of knowing if or when they would be released from the uncertainties and purgatory they were experiencing. I sensed their desperation. Wanting to help, I looked around in Haifa to join some organization, for some way of doing something to ameliorate the situation, but in vain.
Later another letter appeared in the newspaper, reporting about the situation in the USSR. It was written by a woman in Jerusalem named Enid Wurtman. So I called and told her that I had seen her letter, but that there was no organization to join in Haifa. I asked what I could do in Haifa on behalf of USSR Jewry.
She replied that she would me send some profiles of refuseniks in the USSR, and that I should write to them and give them moral support. She sent me fifteen profiles. I realized that that was a bit much for me to cope with alone, so I spoke to friends. Those who agreed took a profile and we all started to write. Then, in addition, my husband and I wrote to the IBA (Israel Broadcasting Authority), and we suggested that they take two minutes every day and quote something of the profiles (of the refuseniks), and alert the people in Israel about what was going on in the Soviet Union. It was the first time that my husband, now a professor at the Technion, used his status to give some backing to my push, as I was nobody of note, just a college teacher living in Haifa. So we wrote and we begged them to do something about it. Nothing happened. They did not even answer us.
In addition to my teaching English linguistics etc., I also am an actress. In l982, we had started the Haifa English Theatre, the first English speaking theatre group in the whole of Israel. I was in the first production, which was 'Arsenic and Old Lace’. The theatre group proved successful, and we went on from there. It is still functioning. In 1983 I had what I thought was a wonderful idea. I decided that we should give a benefit performance for Soviet Jewry for the purpose of raising the awareness of people in Haifa to the disgraceful and heartbreaking happenings in the USSR. I brought the idea forward to the Board of the theatre group, who raised it with the general Board of the Haifa Museum, as we were dependent on the municipal museum for use of the stage and their auditorium etc. The museum was not interested in giving a benefit for “charity”, and I could not persuade all the people on the Board to push for it. I was disappointed once again in my efforts to raise the consciousness of Haifaites to the plight of our brethren suffering in the USSR.
It was then that I decided that one person alone cannot do enough to achieve results. That is when I realized that I had got to form a committee, a network of dedicated people working together and using what influences they had, pulling together to get results. There is a wise motto we learnt at school: “Unity is Strength”. I took up the challenge and tried not to lose heart.
In the meantime I met a charming lady, who had recently come on aliyah with her husband and three children from Liverpool, England. Her name was Ruth Lewis. She had been a very active member of the original “35s”: The Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry (Rita Eker and Margaret Rigal’s group). They campaigned vigorously in England on behalf of Soviet Jewry. When I discovered her connection to the “35s”, I questioned her about what kinds of activities they undertook in England. I knew virtually nothing at the time about campaigning, I just had this deep fear for our people in the Soviet Union. In discussing matters with her, I realized that the things you could do in England were not the things you could do in Israel.
In particular, in their campaigns, the “35s” used to picket both the Soviet Embassy and their visiting diplomats and artists etc in England. But there was no Soviet Embassy in Israel, and no Soviet diplomats or personalities visited Israel. The USSR was very anti-Israel at that time. They would neither allow their Embassy to be opened in Israel, nor would they let our people out of the USSR. Israel had no direct communication with the Soviets, and no direct, official way of confronting them to protest or demonstrate against them. We would have to think of other ways to make our voices heard.
We had our first gathering in Ruth Lewis’ home. We asked all our friends to come, and twenty people arrived. I had asked Enid Wurtman for help in organizing this meeting. She suggested that I get in touch with Malka Lipkin from Rehovot, and ask her to come up and tell us about the work they are doing in Rehovot. She came, and she was kind and so helpful. She talked and explained to us and told us what they were doing and encouraged us to remain autonomous and not to join in officially with other groups in the country, so that we could be more flexible in making decisions and carrying them out. Then and there, that night, eight people said they would come on the committee. The others took it upon themselves to become Friends of the committee – they would be prepared to support us, talk about the new committee and contribute money etc.
We did not know exactly what we were going to do yet, but someone at the gathering said that we needed a chairman, and because I had initiated the idea and the meeting, I must be the chairman. I thanked them very much but said that because I did not really know what I was going to do yet, that I was going to need a co-chairman, and the two of us would work together and try and get the committee off the ground.
Susan Rosenberg volunteered, and I gladly accepted her offer. That is the story of how we became the Haifa Committee for Soviet Jewry in January, l984, and that is how the whole thing started. It was a grass-roots, non-profit and purely voluntary organization. We had no paid workers to do anything. We ran this committee from our homes. All the telephone bills were on our account. All the work that needed to be done, all the postage, all the ‘shlepping’ was on our own account. In fact, whenever we met, each person who came to the meeting would put in a shekel. This was our petty cash. It was really grass-roots, starting with nothing. We realized we had to find ways to raise money. If you, Aba, read our report (The Haifa Committee for Soviet Jewry: a Short History of its Founding and Work, 1984-1999, compiled by Valerie Herbert, November 2002), you will see that we actually managed to accomplish a lot of things and help hundreds, even thousands of people, despite the fact that I and a few others were still working in our professions. It was all done with a great deal of love and dedication. Wanting to do something positive.
Of course we could not do it all on our own because we needed as much information and advice as we could get. So we did liaise and form connections in other parts of the country. For example, when I went to Jerusalem I contacted and spoke with those Russian refuseniks who had miraculously got to Israel and started the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Centre in Jerusalem. We would also go to seminars on Soviet Jewry, which were held in different universities, which were always interesting and informative and up to date.
A few years after our HCSJ was established, we were very pleased to welcome to Haifa a branch of the Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry, headed by Bronya Raichman.
A.T.: Bronya was official and she was paid?
V.H.: Yes, she was official and paid. She was connected to the Foreign Ministry I believe. She was a recent olah from the USSR, but she also spoke Hebrew and some English. So she was a very suitable candidate for the work she was doing. We always kept in touch. For example later, when Bronya would go to the Soviet Union on one of her missions, she would also report back to us about what conditions were like there. When her office had many books (when the USSR allowed us to send Hebrew-Russian dictionaries etc to the Soviet Union from Israel), we funded postage for the books to the tune of thousands of shekels. From the late 1980s onward, when the exodus began to become a reality, Bronya would also attend our festive functions that we put on to welcome new olim to Haifa, or celebrate their first Chanukah with them etc. When we needed a new oleh to address one of our fundraising events, or some Soviet artist to perform as part of one of our events, (and whom we paid as a matter of course), we usually turned to Bronya to find someone suitable, and she always obliged.
There were two types of functions that we organized. One type was intended to raise funds in order to carry out the work we were doing, both for the refuseniks in the USSR and later on behalf of those who were able to get out and came to settle in Haifa. Most of the funds we raised by ourselves, but from time to time we got grants from other sources, such as Rotary or through the South African Zionist Federation. Our own events – lectures, concerts, auctions - were always well attended by supporters, and in this way we also raised public awareness of the plight of Soviet Jewry. On many occasions the Haifa Municipality provided a venue, gratis, for the event.
The other functions were aimed at helping the social and cultural absorption of the olim themselves, where we could meet and talk with them in a friendly and festive atmosphere. In addition committee members and Friends of HCSJ would invite a family home for a Pesach Seder, or Rosh Hashanah, or any of the Jewish festivals or Shabbat, to “adopt” and befriend a family and show how Israelis celebrate the “Haggim”. We would also visit olim in the Haifa absorption centres with a personal gift and offers of advice. The HCSJ also presented a mini library of books in easy Hebrew to these centers with interesting adult stories about Israel and her people. We hoped these books would encourage the USSR olim to practice their ulpan skills. Some of us also tutored students in English etc, which they needed for their studies. But all the above could only take place once the miracle of the new exodus happened – so more of that later. Meantime there were years of work and campaigning to do before the above could occur.
Our first concern was to make contact with the refuseniks in USSR. We got hundreds of profiles of people in the Soviet Union who had signified that they wanted to come to Israel. You [addressing Aba T.] were amongst them. You and Ida [VH makes reference to some notes she has wherein Ida and Aba T.'s names appear together with some other general information]. I see you (Taratutas) put in a request for aliyah in l973, when you got your first refusal, and you were finally released and granted permission to leave in November of l987, 14 long, horrible years.
A.T. concurs with date, specifying that this is not date of actual departure.
V.H.: I also noted in my report, that you have one son, Mikhail, born in the USSR. And you have two grand-children.
A.T.: (Concurs). How did you divide the refuseniks amongst the members of your committee?
V.H.: We had these profiles. We noticed many of them had relatives in the Haifa area. We contacted those relatives to find out more about the refuseniks. We enrolled many Friends of the Haifa Committee for Soviet Jewry. These Friends took it upon themselves to write to at least one of the refusenik families listed on the profiles. We tried to keep an eye on how many times they wrote, how many replies they got, what information came through in the replies, and so on. We tried to follow up. I think all the committee members were writing, in addition to most of the Friends.
A.T.: How many members were on your committee?
V.H.: At any one time, I do not think we had any more than about twelve people.
But if you go through the list, you will see that people came and went, for different reasons. I am the only one who remained from the beginning to the end. We closed shop at the end of the twentieth century. The committee as a whole had existed for sixteen years of volunteerism. Meantime it had become more and more difficult to raise funds. Many of the members were well beyond retirement age, and not in a good state of health. A number of them had left, some had passed away. Eventually, of course, after the dramatic influx of Russian olim after Perestroika and their absorption into Israel, and with fund-raising ever more difficult, the need for our diminished committee fell away, and I felt that it was a fitting time to close – like the end of an era.
In the beginning we were reaching out to people in Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union to encourage them and to campaign for their release. This we did. We sent telegrams to the Secretary General of the Communist Party. We also sent to the Procurator General, and to the heads of the Academic and Scientific Institutes, pleading for the release of specific people. We would collect money, and the people who donated would sign telegrams for a particular person – for example like Vladimir Lifshitz - former Prisoner of Zion from Leningrad now in Jerusalem, or Boris Chernobilsky, another Prisoner of Zion from Moscow, or Professor Aleksander Ioffe, renowned Soviet Professor of Mathematics, who, in an unprecedented step, was actually granted a full professorship at the Technion while still a refusenik in the Soviet Union!
We would have these campaigns. Whenever there were international meetings, we would send telexes and later faxes, requesting the delegates to press for the release of the refuseniks we were campaigning for. We were given the opportunity to send these messages internationally through the kind offices of Haifa Chemicals and the Zim Shipping Company. And they did not even charge us! They allowed us to use their facilities which was fantastic because we had no money. We used what influence we had. After that came the telexes and pleas on behalf of long lists of people we included on the telex. Whenever there was an international meeting between the Soviets and the Americans or the Soviets and the British – or the Commission for Security and Co-operation in Europe (which monitored the Helsinki Accords), etc, we would try and make sure telexes with “our” names were submitted for attention at these meetings. Incidentally, sometimes the HCSJ had names on our request lists that had not yet appeared on the international list of people requesting to leave the USSR!
There were lots of high-up international people (at these Commission meetings), Prime Ministers and Members of Parliament etc. We would send these lists to specific individuals we found out would be attending I have put examples in my report. We asked “Please allow them to leave.” We were really polite. We knew that if we were not, they would not even look at our requests. Here is an example of a telex sent to Mikhail Gorbachev in October l986, at Reykjavik, Iceland, where he met US President Ronald Reagan. It read: “You have it in your power to ease the pain of Haifa families concerned about the following relatives in the USSR wishing to be reunited in Israel.” There followed a list of 38 names, most of them representing heads of families, so there were many more people included than just the 38 names listed. This was an extension of what we had done previously; we were concentrating at that time on the people who had relatives in Haifa, because we had contact with these people. We could say from first-hand experience: “These people are here, and those members of the family – (the mother, the father, the son, or daughter –) wish to be re-united. On humanitarian grounds, let them go. This one is ill, that one is old,” etc.
A.T.: Have you been in touch with our organization in Israel, MA'OZ?
V.H.: I don't remember MA'OZ but I remember an organization, SHAMIR, which had books in easy Hebrew which we bought and sent to the Soviet Union. Afterwards, when the people came to Israel, when they started to let them out in small numbers, we could then give them the books in easy Hebrew, when we visited them.
A.T.: Did you send people to Russia?
V.H.: No, not actually. But one of our members, Helen Golan, together with her husband and two “Friends” of HCSJ, Judge Leonard Rabinowitz and his wife went on a trip to Russia. They actually also went to go and see the refuseniks. They had names. Ostensibly, they went on a tour to see Russia. I myself could not visit the USSR because I was ‘persona non grata’. I was born in South Africa and had an Israeli passport. The Soviet government neither wanted South Africans, because of Apartheid, nor Israelis, because the USSR itself was so anti-Semitic. I tried to get in to Russia when my husband was on Sabbatical in America in l981. We tried to get visas while in the USA. They took one look at our passports and said: “Don't even try. Even if you got a visa, with your passports, they can turn you back at the border.” We couldn't go.
But these two families mentioned above went in the late l980s. Haifa’s Chief Rabbi, Shai Yeshuv Cohen, also went to Russia in about l989. He was on a ‘mishlakhat’ (mission). Both he and the two above-mentioned families came back and gave reports at open meetings to our committee and “Friends” about their impressions there. Subsequently, I only got to Russia and Lithuania in l996. By then the whole situation had changed.
Telexes were sent at no cost to us. These two firms, particularly Haifa Chemicals, were very gracious about it. We sent out a great deal of them. We also received many replies from the people we wrote to, like US Secretary of State George Shultz, Prof. Elie Weisel, British PM Margaret Thatcher, Pres. Oscar Arias-Sanchez of Costa Rica, British FM Douglas Hurd, German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Gencher, (then chairman of the EC Foreign Ministers Conference), amongst other FM’s. In addition we also received replies from people in the US Congress like Senators James Exon, Edward Kennedy, Joseph R.Biden, Stephen Solarz, Claiborne Pell, etc., and Chairman and members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Steny Hoyer, Dennis DeConcini, Alfonse M. D’Amato, etc. Members of the European Parliament also kindly replied to our requests, for example: Simone Weil, Dr Klaus Hansch etc.
Over the years, there were quite a number of Americans on our Committee. We also had South Africans, British, Danish, Russian speakers and a Sabra. We conducted all our business in English. The Americans used the fact that they were Americans to write to their Members of Congress for assistance in our struggle to free Soviet Jews. Susan Rosenberg and Gladys Botwin were two of those.
I have not yet told you about Gladys Botwin, a fantastic woman. Unfortunately, she had a stroke in 1991, which completely incapacitated her, before she passed away a few years later, but you, Aba, can read about her in my Report. Gladys joined our HCSJ late in 1985. She was in charge of the Overseas Section of our Haifa Committee for Soviet Jewry. Gladys had a friend who was a Friend of the HCSJ who traveled abroad one or twice a year. Her husband was a professor at the Technion. In fact nine of the HCSJ members were wives of professors at the Technion; a tenth member Rosa Goldberg was the widow of a former President of the Technion, and Nechama Alpert’s husband was head of the Technion’s public relations office.
The Americans would use their Members of Congress as leverage to write to them to say: please work for the release of so-and-so. They could do that. I couldn't write to anybody in South Africa; they had no standing with the Soviets in those days. It depended on who you were, where you came from, what your contacts were. We all did what we could within our powers to try and keep things moving, which is what we had to do.
Gladys was a cancer patient, and she knew that she did not have too many years left. This gave her that added push. As she was American, she could use her contacts there. I remember seeing a letter of hers that she wrote to the first Pres. Bush. She wrote to him: “We have a lot of things in common. My mother went to school with the Cabots and the Lodges.” (These two families are like the nobility of the East coast of America in the Massachusetts area. Apparently, his family must have also been at the same educational institutions.) Gladys continued her letter to Pres.Geo.Bush Snr: “And my family has been in America since the American War and fought in every war since. I call upon you to work for the release of my cousin Boris Chernobilsky.”
Gladys was pressing for the release of Chernobilsky. For some five years, she wrote about 5,000 letters to different people. When he eventually came out with his family, they went to Jerusalem.
We also campaigned for Ida Nudel. What a brave woman! I met her after she came out. And we met Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, for whom we had campaigned, when that extraordinary man eventually came out of the USSR. It was a thrill and a real privilege to meet them.
A.T.: Tell me, did Bronya Raichmann help?
V.H.: Yes, I write about it here in the report – that she was a great help, and she advised us. She was the one who was pushing for sending the books to the Soviet Union. We financed the postage, and we had events to collect money. Parcels, we sent ourselves, first food parcels, and later new clothes. We packed them; we bought the stuff and sent them with prepaid ‘pink cards’ to the people listed on our ‘Profiles’. If they did not arrive, our valued secretary and treasurer, the late Reuben Rose, a dedicated, wonderful man, took endless trouble to follow them up through the International Post Office in Switzerland. All the people on our Committee were committed, so dedicated, so decent, each and every one. Anyone of them that you can think about was like that. It was a privilege to work together with them for something so important. And they all gave of their time, their creativity, and themselves.
Bella Kaplevatsky, (she and her husband, Yona, were early refuseniks who miraculously managed to get out in the 1970s) was one of our Russian-speaking members from Kiev, and did sterling work on the committee. She was invaluable, especially in communicating and reaching out to the Russian-speaking newcomers and tourists who were allowed to visit Israel.
A.T.: Have you been in touch with Carl Alpert?
V.H.: Of course. He is a very good friend of ours. He, and his wife Nehama, who came on our committee when there was nothing else here in Haifa. She is a remarkable woman. When the 35s of London set up a branch in Haifa, after we were well established, Nehama moved over to the 35s and took over the legal section – getting local lawyers to work for the release of individual Soviet Jews. I remember that they had thirty-six cases that they were working on at one stage. Of course, we supported them, they supported us. They came to our events. They participated. We have always been in very close contact – even up until today.
We all emptied our cupboards of what we could do without, so that the new olim would have clothes and household necessities to start their new lives. The newcomers were often stolen blind on their way out of the USSR because OVIR would make sure the anti-semitic group, PAMYAT, knew when the refuseniks were being allowed out of the USSR, and then Pamyat would go to the airport and just steal their luggage. The poor, bewildered emigres would arrive here with nothing, just the clothes they stood up in. We were well-informed of this terrible situation and tried to deal with it at this end.
Therefore, it was Gladys who started collecting household things for the Soviet olim, in her tiny little flat in Bilu St.. She almost did not have room for her bed! Of course we all gave things for her to have ready for them. But we realized that it was an impossible situation. There had to be another, bigger place. Gladys had to have a place to live! I am telling you, Gladys was a most marvelous woman. She also initiated the “letter writing operation” to “our list” of international personalities and heads of state, on behalf of refuseniks by their relatives who were already in Israel. Gladys supervised every letter and the HCSJ subsidized the sending of thousands of letters all over the world. In the end, the efforts bore results, and scores of USSR families were reunited in Israel due to these efforts.
In connection with the collection and storage of household equipment and clothes, Gladys had a friend, who started the ‘makhsan’ (storeroom/warehouse) in Haifa. The makhsan was started with the cooperation of the 35s and our Committee and some additional Technion wives. It was in the original Technion, housing estate in Ahuza. We kept on sending stuff for the people who came. They came and they chose, and they did not have to pay anything for it.
It soon became clear that clothes and household linens and small items of equipment were not sufficient help for the Soviet olim. Despite the help they received from the Jewish Agency, to house them and provide basic furniture, there were always extra items that were required. Nehama Alpert managed to collect some funds, mainly from her contacts in America, to satisfy these extra needs. She started with a utility truck, to deliver things. She did not drive herself, but she used the donations to pay the costs, including a Russian oleh to pick up items for delivery. We gave and we also solicited items from others, washing machines, beds, armchairs etc. We were all behind it – driven by the volunteer spirit that we brought with us from abroad. We got results.
Another kingpin on our committee was Shoshana Hareli. You must have met her. She was a fantastic woman. She was 92 years old when she died, but she was active on the HCSJ until just a few months before she passed away. If you re-read the report, Aba, you will see some of her background. She was a very committed person and very erudite and knowledgeable about yiddishkeit and Jewish history. She also volunteered to give courses on these subjects for WIZO. Many times, she sponsored gatherings at her home for the HCSJ Hannukah parties. Numerous Soviet Jews who were in the Haifa area participated. We had candle lighting, and she would talk about Hannukah, and they would light the candles in the names of people who were not yet with us. There was entertainment, and then we served the refreshments, which we had all contributed towards.
We had so many events. For example, Ha'baita, (Homecoming)- a fundraiser which Susan Rosenberg and the Committee organised. We had representatives of all the aliyot from the l920s to the l990s, one for each decade. We had Soviet Jews from all the decades to light candles in the name of absent people. There was entertainment, including poems and dancing and songs. Each thing was very uplifting. It was held at the Leo Baeck High School, where there were hundreds of ex-Soviet students studying. We sold hundreds of entry tickets, and also welcomed students and their families for no payment.
I have only touched on the work that was done. I have not talked about the scores of scholarships that we provided for the students, sometimes for years. I have not talked about the Educational Book Center, where we bought books wholesale and sold them for a nominal sum to students– all kinds of dictionaries: English-Russian, Hebrew-Russian; mathematics, and scientific lexicons; stories in simple Hebrew; and Tanachim with Russian translation, etc. to help them with their studies. In addition, we gave many mini-libraries to at least 24 schools having concentrations of ex-Soviet students in the Haifa area, including Hebrew-Russian Tanachim.
Our activities were amazingly diverse. As the situation changed, after the miracle of Perestroika, so our responses changed for the needs of the time, and the focus shifted from the release of refuseniks to the problems of absorption of the Olim. For instance, when the HCSJ was informed that a synagogue in Ahuza which was giving Yahadut (Judaism) lessons for olim in easy Hebrew (translated into Russian) needed Hebrew-Russian Tanachim, Jewish calendars and a chalk board, the HCSJ raised the necessary money. We supplied the necessary items, because we felt it to be so important for their future.
Of the later people who came on our Committee, we have not had a chance to talk about them. People like Lola Greniman, a dynamic woman, originally from Denmark, who became the co-chairman with South African born Betty Hirshowitz, when I stepped down. American-born Marcia Resnik was an early member, playing an important part in tutoring, packing parcels etc. Our Sabra member, Yehudit Bar-Levav, was especially useful in dealing with bureaucracy in the Hebrew language, and later helped find work for olim. There was Sarah Kopfstein, from Britain, a most efficient, willing and capable secretary. She could always be relied upon for everything that she undertook for our committee. There are so many people who helped, and I’m sure I have not named them all. I could go through the whole list of our people, but it is all written in our report. (See Appendix: LIST OF COMMITTEE MEMBERS, 1984-1999).
A.T.: Thank you very much.
Transcribed in Jerusalem, March, 2005 by Donna Wosk
APPENDIX: LIST OF COMMITTEE MEMBERS, 1984-1999.
It was our practice that the chairing of the Committee would at all times be shared by two co-chairmen. The pairs of co-chairmen were as follows: Valerie Herbert and Susan Rosenberg; Valerie Herbert and Lola Greniman; Lola Greniman and Betty Hirschowitz.
|1. Valerie Herbert||Founder 1984. Co-Chairman, first with Susan Rosenberg, later with Lola Greniman.|
|2. Ruth Lewis||Founding member 1984. Retired c.1987 due to ill health.|
|3. Susan Rosenberg||Founding member 1984. Co-Chairman with Valerie Herbert. Retired 1990.|
|4. Dora Cederbaum||Founding member 1984. Retired 1992.|
|5. Janka Vulfson||Founding member 1984. Retired 1986.|
|6. Aryeh Greenfield||Founding member 1984. Sec/Treas. until 1985. Retired 1988.|
|7. Marjorie Cooper||Founding member 1984. Retired approx. 1987.|
|8. Shoshanah Harelli||Joined 1984. Died 1997, aged 92.|
|9. Aliza Gilad||Joined 1984. Retired 1989.|
|10.Reuben Rose||Joined 1984/5. Secretary/Treasurer. Died in 1989.|
|11. Kay Naphtali||Joined 1984. Retired approx. 1988.|
|12. Bella Kaplevatsky||Joined Dec.1984.|
|13. Marcia Resnik||Joined approx. 1984.|
|14. Rosa Goldberg||Joined 1985/6. Retired 1997, aged 90.|
|15. Gladys Botwin||Joined 1985/6. Incapacitated by stroke, Nov.1991. Died 1997.|
|16. Yehudit Bar-Levav||Joined approx. 1987. Retired 1992.|
|17. Shirley Ziffer||Joined approx. 1985/6. Retired approx. 1989. Died 1991.|
|18. Aliza Orel||Joined approx. 1986. Retired approx. 1989.|
|19. Miriam Fishman||Joined approx. 1985. Left to return to USA 1988.|
|20. Pat Goldman||Joined approx. 1985. Left to return to USA 1986.|
|21. Libby Alpert||Joined approx. 1985. Retired 1992.|
|22. Helen Golan||Joined approx. 1985. Retired 1990.|
|23. Nechama Alpert||Joined 1987. Later represented the Haifa branch of 35s on HCSJ.|
|24. Ruth Shachar||Joined 1987. Later represented the Haifa branch of 35s on HCSJ.|
|25. Alec Weis||Joined 1987. Treasurer. Retired 1998.|
|26. Linda Pein||Joined 1988. Died Dec. 1990.|
|27. Lola Greniman||Joined 1988. Co-Chairman with Valerie Herbert, Betty Hirshowitz.|
|28. Essie Vainerman||Joined 1989. Retired approx. 1993.|
|29. Betty Hirshowitz||Joined approx. 1990. Co-Chairman with Lola Greniman.|
|30. Sarah Kopfstein||Joined 1991. Secretary.|
|31. Leatrice Levene||Joined 1992.|