Ida Nudel, known as “the Angel of the Refuseniks,” arrived in Israel from the Soviet Union October 15, 1987, after having been granted an exit visa October 12 after 16 years of waiting.
The 56-year-old engineereconomist, on whose behalf LILITH conducted a Women’s Appeal that garnered thousands of signatures (see issues #76 and #17) landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod in a jet furnished by industrialist Armand Hammer.
She was welcomed by hundreds of reporters and dignitaries. Her sister Elana Fridman, whom she had not seen for 16 years, along with Fridman’s husband and son, greeted her as did Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Hammer, and actress Jane Fonda, active on behalf of Nudel and other Soviet Jews. Fonda had met Fridman in Jerusalem in 1979 and learned about Nudel’s plight; she visited Nudel in Bendery, Moldavia, and had long worked to bring about her release. Speaking in English and promising to learn Hebrew quickly, Nudel addressed the crowd;
“A few hours ago I was almost a slave in Moscow. Now I’m a free woman in my own country. It is the moment of my life. I am at home at the soul of the Jewish people. I am a free person among my own people.” She told reporters she would continue to work for the release of all Jews wanting to leave the Soviet Union.
For years Nudel has been called the “guardian angel” of Prisoners of Conscience because of her packages, visits, and concern for them and their condition. While still in Moscow, Nudel expressed her hope that “all my friends in Russia should leave soon. Many people should leave every day.”
Nudel had first applied for a visa in 1971 and was originally refused in 1972. Earlier this year her name had appeared on a list of refuseniks who, Soviet authorities said, would never be granted exit visas. However, when Peres met with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in September, he gave Shevardnadze a list of former Prisoners of Conscience, which was headed by Nudel’s name.
Nudel had been exiled to Siberia in 1978 after she hung a banner from her Moscow apartment asking for an exit visa. When she returned from Siberia in 1982, officials would not allow her to live again in Moscow. A number of other cities also rejected her presence.
She was finally permitted residence in Bendery, where she was often harassed. When she tried to see Elie Wiesel when he visited Moscow in 1986, she was forced off a bus in Bendery and beaten.
When Nudel heard of her coming release, she was in Moscow applying for permission to resume her residence there. Rudolf Kutznetsov, head of the Moscow OVIR (emigration bureau), told her to return to Bendery to get her emigration papers in order; she had permission to leave.
Like observers throughout the world who have followed her saga closely, Nudel has few illusions about the meaning of her release. Coming as it did on Ererv Yom Kippur, the evening of Kol Nidre, seemed to assure both a heavy emotional impact and a diplomatic advantage: “In ancient times, the Pharaohs used to please the chiefs of neighboring countries with very exotic things. I feel that I am a white crocodile. I was used to please Mr. Reagan and Mr. Schultz before a meeting of the superpowers.”
After the official airport reception and press conference Nudel went over to the parking lot of Israel Aircraft Industries, where she attended a “Reception and Salute to Ida Nudel.” The second reception, organized by the Israel Women’s Committee for Ida Nudel and the Public Committee for Soviet Jewry, drew a crowd estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000.
Nudel spent her first night in Israel at the Tel Aviv Hilton. She told reporters the next day she was amazed by the color of the sky—Mediterranean blue, not Moscow gray.
Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency what she had brought with her from the Soviet Union, Nudel replied, “My faithful dog, Pizer, who has been my constant companion since she was brought to me in Siberia as a five-week-old puppy, my books, and the very warm blanket which I cannot do without.”
The Monday following her arrival, she had lunch with Israeli President Chaim Herzog. She sat in a chair that had her name on it; it had been empty for the last five years, anticipating the time when she would finally be released.