Евреи Петербурга. Три века истории

City community

City community
City community
Previous period
Next period

After the "Plane Case", the authorities began little by little to allow Jews to leave USSR. It did not continue for long time. By the early Eighties, in fact, the stream of those leaving was cut off. In the city as well as in the country, a circle of "otkazniks" (those who were refused permission to leave; from the Russian otkaz - refusal) took shape. Jews that were kept in the USSR by force had to consider the possibility of ethnic revival "here and now". The process of "spiritual Aliyah" that Ahad Ha-Am had called for began. More and more Jews began to feel a sense of Jewish identity. It was possible only in their own surroundings to find like-minded people. Most often, the synagogue was the center of social activity. By the early seventies, most Leningrad Jews already knew almost nothing of Judaism; however, on a holiday, and on Simkhat Torah especially, very many young people gathered in the Synagogue and nearby.
As Zharinov, who was in charge of Church and Religion affairs, reported, the autumn feasts of 1972 were in Leningrad calmer than they had been usually; the people were fewer, young people sang and danced only in the Synagogue yard and there was no necessity to bar the traffic on Lermontovskiy Avenue. However, participants recall that militia with dogs dispersed young people who tried to stay in the yard to sing and dance. On ordinary days, only some old men gathered in the Synagogue; it seemed to be becoming more and more empty; especially it seemed so after the death of Rabbi A. Lubanov. Nevertheless, by the late Seventies, the situation changed. Some activists of the Jewish Nationalist Movement turned to Judaism.The report of the plenipotentiary in the Council of Religious Affairs "About the situation during Judaic holidays in the autumn of 1972"
Now, young people dropped by the Synagogue not only on holidays but also on ordinary days. For seven years after the death of Rabbi Lubanov, the position of Rabbi was vacant in the Leningrad community. In 1980, graduate of Kol Yaakov Moskow yeshiva Ye.Z. Levitis accepted the post. Afraid of KGB informers, both the new Rabbi and older Jews who composed the core of the community did not trust the young people at first. As a member of the movement said, old men who had gone through jail and the camps were afraid not only for themselves and the community, but also for the young people who came to the Synagogue to study Torah. That is why they assumed a stern air and told the young ones to go on their way; but secretly, they were glad, and taught them gradually all the things they knew themselves and gave them books from the Synagogue's library although it was forbidden by the rules.In Small Synagogue. Photo
Gradually, by the mid-Eighties, the Synagogue began turning into a center of the revival of religious life in Leningrad. The old men that composed the core of the community in those days could not manage this new role. However, by the mid-Eighties, the system of various circles and seminars operated in the private apartments; and their organizers and activists somehow or other were related to Judaism. Beside the religious community, some centers for the study of Judaism were formed in the city. One of them was situated in Grazhdanka district, in the apartments of G. Wasserman and Yu. Ruppo; the other was headed by I. Kogan. It was I. Kogan who brought the vessels for Sukka in his car on Sukkoth feast, and his wife and daughters helped to prepare the meal. The circles of studying Hebrew were most numerous - it was not for nothing that in 1972 already Ulpans were mentioned in the report of one authorized of Religion Affairs for USSR government.
Beside of the Ulpans themselves, by the mid-Eighties, there were Jewish seminars in private apartments in Leningrad; they studied Jewish history, ethnography, Jewish local lore, literature and philosophy. For example, circles of that kind were those of I. Dvorkin, R. Zelichenok, M. Beizer. The participants were acquainted with each other; they helped each other to get medical aid or legal consultation, to find extra earnings, to organize functions or actions of civil disobedience. The organs watched with special attention the "otkazniks" that organized most of the circles or the seminars; sometimes they invited them to the KGB or to the prosecutor's office for "precautionary conversations" or arrested them for 15 days for the same "precautionary" purposes.I. Dvorkin. Photo
Aba Taratuta was one of the leaders of "otkazniks" movement. All in all, in the Eighties, there were hundreds of Jews who were not permitted to emigrate from the USSR to Israel. Struggling for their right to emigrate, organizing seminars, home performances, lectures and circles the otkazniks volens nolens attracted their relatives, friends and acquaintances to that activity. So, more and more Jews became busy in reviving the commune's life, bringing about a qualitative change. From 1982 or 1983, on the Day of the Suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the activist otkazniks began organizing meetings in the memory of the Shoah's victims. Those were calm, poorly attended meetings near the tomb of Lurie-Gelb family. Since 1987, the meetings gathered in the yard of the Farewell House in the cemetery and there were already up to 200 people.The notice from the office of Public Prosecutor to A. Taratuta. 1978
In the same time, the activist otkazniks began collecting materials on the history of the Holocaust. Since 1987, M. Ryvkin and A. Frenkel took part in that work. In the spring of 1988, A. Frenkel and M. Ryvkin together with D. Romanovsky organized a photo-exposition based on the collected materials of the Holocaust's history. At first, the exposition took place in private apartments; however, information of it spread quickly and in the summer of the same year already the researchers got new assistants. In the autumn of 1988, during a tour by the Vilnius Jewish People Musical Theatre, the exposition was shown in the foyer of Kapranov House of Culture where the performances were played. Later, the exposition was shown in the Synagogue. Shortly after, the researchers united into the Group of Holocaust Research.The stands of "We Remember Everything" exhibition. Photo
In the March of 1987, the activists began decisive open actions. At midday sharp on the 23rd of March, The Seven Brave Men with posters on the chest stood in front of the Leningrad Regional Committee of CPSU situated in Smolny. The authorities did not dare to disperse the demonstration. Nevertheless, a group of sturdy young men calling themselves tourists from Vologda began a discussion with the demonstrators and blocked the placards with their bodies. The next day, the morning radio program Leningrad Panorama gave a short report on the demonstration without any malevolent comment and "Vecherniy Leningrad" newspaper published an interview with the head of Leningrad OVIR who said that the status of the Seven would not change because they knew some "information that contains state secret".Demonstration of "otkazniks" in front of Smolny. 1987. Photo
In fact, the head of OVIR was dissembling. Three days after the newspaper was issued, officials rang up M. Beizer (one of the piquet, an otkaznik for 9 years) and told him that his problem was solved successfully. Within six months, the rest of the Brave Men were permitted to leave USSR. The success of first piquet inspired others. However, two more demonstrations had no success. In the same 1987, work began to create legal Jewish cultural organizations. Based on the call "Create clubs of your interests" published in "Smena" newspaper, Jewish activists made up their mind to register the "Society of Jewish Music Lovers" - the first ethnic cultural society in the city. The initiator of the appeal to the authorities was musicologist Marina Goldina. She was asked to show a list of 10 proposed members of the society.The seeing-off of M. Beizer. 1987. Photo
There were the names of otkazniks only in the first list. It was demanded to make the list 30 members. The appeal signed by known ethnographer N.V. Yukhneva and Jewish movement activists including A. Frenkel was attached to the list. On the 19th of June, 1987, a KGB officer came to the office of A. Frenkel to have a conversation but nothing else happened. In the autumn of 1988, as a reply to the activization of "Pamyat", the association of Leningrad ethnic minorities "Yedinenye" ("Uniting") sponsored by the ethnographers N.V. Yukhneva and N.M. Girenko was established. The constituent assembly was set for December 17, 1988; the invitation cards to the House of the Peoples Friendship were spread. However, those who gathered there were asked to move to Mayakovsky Library and the militia (police) dispersed them in front of the library. After this event it was decided to form the Leningrad Society of Jewish Culture (LOEK) as an independent organization.
In the same 1988, at the Karl Marx House of Culture, a series of lectures on the history of Jewish literature was organized legally; I. Dvorkin delivered that. About 400 people attended those lectures. In the May of 1988, some concerts of the International Festival of Cantors took place in Leningrad. During two days, six concerts were performed in the Big Choral Synagogue. All box-offices of the city sold the tickets; posters were everywhere. In the Synagogue, the concerts were packed. All in all, 13,000 listeners visited the concerts. Even those who were distant from a sense of Jewish identity interpreted the concerts and the lectures as a step toward the legalization of Jewish ethnic culture.
The period from 1987 to 1989 was the time of mass emigration of former otkazniks. Nevertheless, in place of hundreds of Jews reviving Jewish identity illegally, there were already almost a thousand new Jewish activists and tenfold more Jews who somehow or other took part in various Jewish actions. Among them, there were also those who later led large community organizations, for instance, Ye. Lvova. All in all, according to the population census of 1989, there were 106,000 Jews in Leningrad. According to the data of the sociologic research of 1991, 45% of those polled were in mixed marriages and only 5% wanted their children to be registered as Jews in their passports.The questionnaire "Whether or not Soviet Jews needs Jewish culture"
All those polled called Russian their mother tongue but 40% wanted their children to speak Hebrew and 15% - Yiddish. 75% had books by Jewish writers in Russian but 20% had the books in Yiddish or Hebrew at home. In general, the research showed that, in spite of powerful assimilation process that caused Leningrad Jews to forget their traditional rituals and language, while only 12% considered religion as a factor uniting Jews, the great majority knew the events of Jewish history and the figures of Jewish culture, 1/3 had information on Jewish ethnography. As for emigration, only 1/3 had no intention to emigrate anywhere, 1/2 considered their emigration and 13% were determinate to emigrate.Jewish old men at the meeting dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. The late Eighties. Photo

The report of the plenipotentiary in the Council of Religious Affairs "About the situation during Judaic holidays in the autumn of 1972"
In Small Synagogue. Photo
I. Dvorkin. Photo
The notice from the office of Public Prosecutor to A. Taratuta. 1978
The stands of "We Remember Everything" exhibition. Photo
Demonstration of "otkazniks" in front of Smolny. 1987. Photo
The seeing-off of M. Beizer. 1987. Photo
The questionnaire "Whether or not Soviet Jews needs Jewish culture"
Jewish old men at the meeting dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. The late Eighties. Photo

The report of the plenipotentiary in the Council of Religious Affairs "About the situation during Judaic holidays in the autumn of 1972"