Beny Lidsky, director of the Aliyah and Israel Experience Programs of the Jewish Agency’s Russian-Speaking Jewry Unit fought for the right to make aliyah from a very young age. For him, Aliyah was a mitzvah – a commandment or good deed – and the realization of an age old vision.
He was born into an assimilated Jewish family in Moscow where his grandparents spoke Yiddish, so that he shouldn’t understand them, and he attended a Soviet school. When he was 7 or 8 he got his first taste of the evil spirit of local anti-Semitism. “Just before Pessach a Russian kid told me that Jews like me were misers because they eat matzot, which is bread made only with flour and water. I stood up to him, and said: We Jews are not misers, and we add butter and eggs to the matzot. I told him what he said was rubbish. Of course, I later discovered that I knew less about Judaism than him, and that was the beginning of my path to learning about Judaism.
“In eighth or ninth grade, while we were kayaking on a river, one of my Jewish friends gave me a copy of Exodus by Leon Uris, which was banned in the Soviet Union, in 1979. ‘I am giving you the book for two nights, and then you must give it back to me, so I can read it,’ he said to me, and I read the 800 pages in 2 days. This started my next phase: getting together with other Jewish friends, who were interested in Judaism and Israel, at the Gorka which was near the Central Synagogue of the Moscow Jewry at the time, on Archifova Street. Thousands of Jews assembled there on the Jewish holidays, and on Saturday evening, to talk, and I was one of them.
“In those days, it was impossible to speak on the phone, we met there and we met the Hebrew teachers. My teacher was Ephraim Kholomianski who taught me Hebrew from 1982 to 1984. I attended lectures, I studied the Torah and I became observant. In 1984 Kholomianski was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. They planted arms on him, so they could accuse him of illegal possession of firearms, instead of accusing him of teaching Hebrew.
“I started teaching Hebrew, making contact with Hebrew teachers, and providing them with study material, just as Kholomianski had done. We had a network of people who copied Hebrew text books. At my parents’ home there was a developing machine which used photographic paper. We’d take photographs of pages and develop them. So as not to arouse suspicion we bought the paper at various stores which sold photographic print paper. After we’d photographed a whole book we’d send it to a binder. From there the books went to people with “storerooms”, and from there we’d send the books by train to Hebrew teachers in outlying towns across the USSR. In the summer we organized a seminar to which Jews from outlying towns came, whom we trained them. One was Ze’ev Elkin who came from Kharkov.
“One of my friends at the time was Yuli Edelstein, a Hebrew teacher, who was arrested in 1984 and who lent me his kayak before the arrest. When he returned from imprisonment he no longer wanted the kayak – he was on his way to Israel.
“In 1988-1989 the sound of change began to be heard in the USSR, and in 1990 I made aliyah with my family. Two years later my parents joined us.”