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Yosef Mendelvich

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Kathryn Larsen

on 19 December 2013

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Transcript of Yosef Mendelvich

Yosef was a Russian Zionist who firmly believed in returning to Israel.
Yosef Mendelvich
Learning about his people in a communist regime was difficult.
"I had a vague understanding of Judaism and picked up scraps of knowledge from different places. There was a duality at home; outwardly, we accepted the Soviet regime, but inwardly we observed some semblance of Jewish tradition."
Joining the Jewish Underground Helped Yosef learn more about his people
"After becoming active in the Jewish underground movement in the 1960s, I was able to get a few sefarim."
Yosef was determined to live the way he was supposed to.
"To the extent that I was able to keep mitzvot, I did so. I made a kippah out of a pair of pants that was repeatedly confiscated. A friend of mine, who was arrested shortly after me, remembers that when he first arrived at the prison, he saw me lying on the ground as soldiers beat me because I wouldn’t let them remove my kippah."
Yosef refused to abandon his religious practices
"A few Jewish prisoners and I managed to establish an underground Jewish organization. I was the “rabbi.” We found an unfinished barrack and would gather there on Shabbat. We would lay a white cloth on a table and eat bread that we had saved all week. I would share divrei Torah, which we got from a rabbi in Kibbutz Yavneh in Israel."
Yosef made a family everywhere he went to help him not think about his own family
"My fellow Jewish prisoners were my family. I tried to create a family for myself in each cell I was transferred to. I was always the “father” of the cell. I felt that the other prisoners were my brethren. It is important to have someone to care about—that sustained me."
Jew > Russian
"After I dropped out of university, I was called up to enlist in the Russian army. I knew that serving would end my chances of getting an exit visa. I tried coming up with ways to avoid serving in the army. I realized that I was not being honest with myself. I thought, “Yosef, you are struggling to go to Israel, but for what reason? You claim that you would like to go back to your roots, to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, but they were religious. If you know that it is the truth, why aren’t you keeping mitzvot?” I was forced to make a decision"
Full transcript