Declaring “it was like meeting a legend,” seven American women met with Soviet refusenik Ida Nudel in Moscow in June as part of a four-day fact-finding mission by the Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry (CWSJ) and B’nai B’rith Women (BBW).
“It was so startling to see her,” said Wren Wirth, wife of Sen. Timothy Wirth (D-CO). “She’s so small, so vibrant, and has tremendous energy.”
Present at the meeting with Nudel, in addition to Wren Wirth, were CWSJ members Joanne Kemp, wife of Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY); Delores Beilenson, wife of Sen. Anthony Beilenson (D-CA); and Teresa Heinz, wife of Sen. H. John Heinz (R-PA).
BBW President Irma Gertler and BBW Public Affair’s director Aileen Cooper, as well as Mrs. Kemp’s 21-year-old daughter, Judith, also participated. The trip was organized and partially funded by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
The Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry was founded as an advocacy group by Helen Jackson, wife of the late Sen. Henry Jackson (D-WA) in 1978. Roughly one-half of the women married to members of Congress are involved in CWSJ, a very small number of whom are Jews.
Nudel was given special permission to travel to Moscow from her home in Bendery, Moldavia, to meet with the delegation. “We didn’t expect to get to meet her,” said Aileen Cooper. “We walked up many flights of stairs to the top floor of this apartment house, and there were many women there. Then we saw a small figure in the hallway” dressed in a simple skirt and blouse. “[Our hostesses] said, ‘Of course you know Ida Nudel.’ We were thrilled.”
The American group spent several hours talking over food prepared by the refusenik women about their experiences, the capriciousness of the Soviet visa-granting system, and the need to continue to focus international attention on those Jews in the limbo of refusal.
Nudel, who was described by Joanne Kemp as “very artistic in her expression; very matter-of-fact but emotional,” called her life “something out of Kafka.” Said Cooper;
“She spoke about her experiences for an hour and a half; it was very emotional. Ida was telling us about how she ended up in Moldavia, and she just broke down. She had to leave the room.”
Kemp said that Ida recognized the fact that she might not get out for a long time, if ever. “She says she often loses her spiritual strength,” said Cooper, “but she doesn’t look like it.”