When I heard that the new Laura Bialis documentary, Refusenik, was to chronicle the 40-year struggle to free the Jews of Soviet Russia, all I could think of was that I had been one of the young Jewish protesters in New York over 40 years ago. We were the Jewish activists who chose Jewish issues, rather than American "black civil rights." We didn't think we were making history then, even when Glenn Richter told me that the minutes I was taking at a SSSJ meeting would be in some university archives.
In the mid 1960's, we believed that we could change the world. Actually I still do.
Sometimes younger people have asked me why I keep "banging my head against the wall," I look at them in disbelief. "Do you actually think you can change the world?" they ask. "Yes, of course," I answer. I honestly wonder how people can go on living without the faith, the belief that they can change the world. It's a mystery to me.
The people who were with us last night were all part of the struggle. Whether fired from their jobs, jailed or held hostage by the KGB in the Soviet Union, or out in the streets demonstrating in New York, London, LA or beyond, we took on the USSR. It was an international super power. At that time, it was considered as strong as the United States. Natan Sharansky told us how the KGB agents harassing him had taunted him by asking if he really believed that some "students and housewives" would defeat them and free him.
And there we were last night, decades later. I sat between two friends. They were the housewives those KGB agents had mocked, and I had been just a high school student when I began publicizing the plight of Soviet Jews.
While we waited to enter the auditorium, two languages were mostly heard, Russian and English, as old friends rushed to greet each other. After the movie, we heard and spoke more Hebrew. That was the language that most of us had in common. And talking about changing the world... Think of it. One man, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, single-handedly made that possible. He changed the world; his efforts made Hebrew the language of modern Israel. Yes, anything's possible if you are willing to work hard enough and take risks when necessary.
Chag Orim Sameach
Have a Happy and Enlightened Holiday!