Moscow honors former refusenik Yosef Begun

By Victoria Martynov | The Jerusalem Post | photo credit: VADIM BRODSKY

At the Annual Hanukka ceremony of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia at the Kremlin in Moscow on Tuesday night, Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar of Chabad presented the special Fiddler on the Roof Award to human rights activist and former refusenik Yosef Begun.

The award was given to mark “his outstanding contribution to the struggle of Soviet Jewry for the right to be Jewish, to observe Jewish traditions and facilitate Russian Jewish culture.”

The award, established in 2002, has become “the warmest Hanukka tradition of the Russian Jewish community, said FJCR president Alexander Boroda. “We feel our unity particularly strongly on this occasion.”

The prize, a statuette crafted by Israeli sculptor Frank Meisler, was presented in 2009 to Natan Sharansky, famed human rights activist and current head of the Jewish Agency.

Before the ceremony, Begun said, “It is symbolic that I am receiving this award in the Kremlin. Not so long ago, during the Soviet regime, it was the central place for issuing anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli guidelines. Then they were spread throughout the USSR.

“Now the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia is giving me this prestigious prize, and I am very proud and happy.

For me, it is real proof of the renaissance of Russian Jewish culture, something that I and my friends could not have even dreamed of in the 1970s and ‘80s. I am very grateful to the FJCR for this award.”

This year’s celebration of Hanukka at the Kremlin is very different from the Hanukka of 1977, which Begun spent in the darkness of the Gulag in Siberia, after being arrested in Moscow.

“On the first night of Hanukka, in the year 5732 of the Jewish calendar, in our cell there was a candle burning on the table, just as it was for Jews around the world,” he wrote in an article.

In Moscow, Begun joined the circle of Jewish activists who started the fight for the rights of Soviet Jews to emigrate. He was first arrested in 1972, against the background of then-US president Richard Nixon’s visit to Russia, as “a preventive measure.” beginning. Two more arrests followed, leading to 10 years’ imprisonment and exile in Siberia. In 1987 he was granted amnesty and in 1988 he made aliya and took up residence in Jerusalem.

Begun’s biography is well known and became a subject for documentaries and research papers on Soviet history. Andrei Golzer, press secretary for FJCR, said, “Young people now learn his story at university if they choose Jewish studies. It’s part of the program.”

At the age of 83, Begun is full of plans. He works for the publishing house Daat that he established when he arrived in Israel, gives lectures and travels around the Jewish world.


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