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Women Refuseniks Organize

MOSCOW—Feb. 17, 1978

Scene: The living room of Grigory and Natalia Rosenstein.

The table dominated the room. It was laden with those special dishes which mark the celebration of the Shabbat in Jewish homes throughout the world.

We numbered 22— six Refusenik couples, the two Rosenstein children, and English, French and American visitors who had been meeting with Refuseniks during the week. Our Jewishness cut across all existing boundaries as we momentarily put aside the oppression, the fright, the frustration, the pain and welcomed the Shabbat with shared hopes and dreams.

I had only that day learned of the existence of the Soviet Jewish Women’s Committee. Its top priority is Jewish culture and the Refusenik children’s general welfare and health (particularly the availability of medicine, even vitamins). [According to the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the Women’s Committee also opened an underground kindergarten in Moscow.]

The committee scheduled a demonstration for March 8, International Women’s Day, at the Lenin Library. [More than 100 KGB agents surrounded the area and attempted to hold the 23 demonstrators. The four women who reached the site of the planned demonstration managed to open their coats and unfurl signs with the message “Let Us Go To Israel,” written in blue and white and a Star of David. KGB agents arrested them, according to the National Council on Soviet Jewry.]

After I returned to the U.S., I attended a national “retreat” of young Jewish leaders in Washington, D.C. I delivered a message from the Women’s Committee asking for support from the West. However the American Jewish organizational structure limits the ability of national boards and committees to undertake direct, quick action. For example, in March, an officer on the National UJA Young Women’s Cabinet told me, “Before we can proceed [with action on behalf of the Women’s committee]… we must clear it.” Half a year later, this officer has not yet gotten back to me.

Meanwhile, the members of the Soviet Jewish Women’s Committee hold to the statement made to me in February: “No persecution shall stop us in our struggle.”