This morning we had the honor and privilege of hearing from Yosef Begun. Yosef Begun is well known to anyone who was involved in the Soviet Jewry movement as one of the “fathers” of the Refusenik Movement. In 1971 his request for an emigration visa to Israel was denied and he lost his job. Mr. Begun taught Hebrew and produced and distributed anti-government literature, bringing him under government scrutiny. He was arrested and charged with “social parasitism” because his profession was not recognized by the government. After nearly two years in Siberia, he illegally returned to Moscow, was caught and sent back for a second time. After his release in 1980, he began publishing articles in the Western press about the ordeal and plight of Soviet Jewry. He was arrested for treason in 1982 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. In 1987, a massive public outcry, including an appeal from President Ronald Reagan led to his release. Today, Mr. Begun lives in Jerusalem.
Mr. Begun started his presentation with a special thank you to Shoshana Cardin for her role in inspiring and working with the American Jewish community to fight Soviet oppression and to rescue Soviet Jews. He presented Mrs. Cardin with a drawing from Natan Sharansky’s (another Russian Refusenik) book. The drawing was a replica of one that Natan Sharansky found on the wall of his cell during a year in which he was interrogated by the KGB. The drawing was a star of David surrounded by the Hebrew words, “Hazak, hazak v’ematz, Yosef Begun.” The words translated mean “strength, strength, and be brave, Yosef Begun.” These words were written by Yosef Begun on the cell wall and inspired Mr. Sharansky to stay strong during his year of interrogation and subsequent years of isolation in Soviet prisons.
In addition to telling stories about his time as a Russian Refusenik, Mr. Begun also related several stories about his release, and his life after he was able to leave Russia. One time he traveled to Washington, DC and met with then-President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan handed him a metal bracelet inscribed with the name of a Russian Refusenik on it. These bracelets were worn by many active in the Soviet Jewry movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s, to help us remember that there were Jews living in Russia that were imprisoned because of their beliefs. President Reagan noted to Mr. Begun that he was thrilled that he no longer had to keep the bracelet since the doors to Soviet Jews were no longer closed. He gave his bracelet to Mr. Begun. Today, Mr. Begun also presented a replica of the bracelet to Mrs. Cardin.
There were other interesting, inspiring, and heart-breaking stories that Mr. Begun shared with us today. It was truely an honor and privilege to meet him!!
We are grateful to Mr. Howard Rosenbloom and Mrs. Shoshana S. Cardin for making Mr. Begun’s visit possible.
~Anne Tanhoff Greenspoon
Director of Admissions