by Amiel Katz (’16)

On Thursday, we had the privilege of hearing from Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, a Jewish refusenik from the Soviet Union. Rabbi Mendelevich related his amazing and inspiring story about how he tried to practice Judaism under great duress in a land where doing so was illegal, despite coming from a home which was not observant, and then subsequently tried to escape the country by hijacking a plane and flying to Israel. Although he was caught and sent to a labor camp in Siberia, the entire time he was there he never forgot that he was Jewish and how much that meant to him. He spoke about how he was able to smuggle in a Siddur, a Chumash and Tzitizis and even went on a hunger strike when his religious articles were confiscated, all in an effort to show the Soviet Union and the world that he was Jewish and would practice Judaism no matter what. He also refused to work on Shabbos, despite the harsh punishments which this brought upon him. He simply was unafraid of the Soviet authorities even in  the prison camp, and remained positive, proud and confident about everything that happened to him throughout his incredible ordeal. It is for this reason, as Rabbi Taubes said in his introduction, that he is a true modern day Jewish hero. His story was a truly inspiring tale of mesiras nefesh and we were grateful to have such an amazing person in our school.

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