Yes­ter­day, Peri Devaney wrote about work­ing on the Post­cript for her anthol­o­gyA Jew­ish Professor’s Polit­i­cal Pun­dit­ry: Fifty-Plus Years of Pub­lished Com­men­tary by Ron Rubin (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press). Today we hear from Ron Rubin, the pro­lif­ic pro­fes­sor she anthol­o­gized. Peri and Ron will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I’ve had four oppor­tu­ni­ties to vis­it the Sovi­et Union/​Former Sovi­et Union over the years, the fourth being the trip I’m prepar­ing for as I write this blog that JBC will be post­ing online while I’m phys­i­cal­ly there. 

Each trip had a dif­fer­ent set­ting, suc­ces­sive­ly bring­ing me clos­er to my Jew­ish brethren. In look­ing back I real­ize how for­tu­nate it was that along the way I was nev­er thrown out!

My first trip, as a twen­ty-six-year-old sin­gle in 1968, was main­ly explorato­ry. I want­ed to check out the ter­ri­ble press reports, leave behind some Jew­ish books, and instill some hope. In this pre détente era when tourism between the USA and the Sovi­et Union was vir­tu­al­ly unknown, I signed up with the Dutch Stu­dent Trav­el Orga­ni­za­tion, NBBS, for a two week all-expens­es-cov­ered trip cost­ing $250. I was the only Jew and the only Amer­i­can among the thir­ty trav­el­ers. The rail­road that left Ams­ter­dam took two days and nights to reach our first stop, Min­sk. At the inter­sec­tion between the two Ger­manys, blood­hounds came on board to search. Cross­ing Poland, I rec­og­nized the names of towns like Bia­lystok, well known in Jew­ish his­to­ry. Were these the same tracks used a quar­ter cen­tu­ry ear­li­er to bring Jews to the con­cen­tra­tion camps, I wondered?

The stu­dent hos­tel in Min­sk was so prim­i­tive that the toi­lets con­tained no run­ning water. We were shown the local con­cen­tra­tion camp site where, I told myself, there was a good chance some of my father’s father’s rel­a­tives per­ished. Our guide helped me arrange for pri­vate taxis to take me to syn­a­gogues in the three cities we vis­it­ed, Min­sk, Leningrad and Moscow, where I sur­rep­ti­tious­ly left behind some Judaica and tried to make myself under­stood using Yid­dish and Hebrew.

The para­me­ters of my third trip were clear­ly sup­ply and inspi­ra­tion. Spon­sored by the Chabad Lubav­itch orga­ni­za­tion, Lishkas Ezras Achim, two young rab­bis and I spent two weeks there. We brought few per­son­al effects, but at a ware­house in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights our suit­cas­es were stuffed with Jew­ish books and sundry rit­u­al items rang­ing from She­chi­tah (kosher slaugh­ter) knives, kosher yeast and bur­ial shrouds. On the plane, we spoke seri­ous­ly of the pos­si­bil­i­ty that our goods would be con­fis­cat­ed at Sovi­et cus­toms and that we could be either thrown out of the coun­try or arrest­ed. On that trip I saw one of the young rab­bis secret­ly cir­cum­cise an adult male who was lying on a sim­ple table.

Recall­ing this hero­ic chap­ter in Jew­ish his­to­ry, I want to make the point that God’s mir­a­cles are not lim­it­ed to split­ting the sea. Even the star­ri­est opti­mist would not have pre­dict­ed forty-five years ago that despite the most total­i­tar­i­an régime in his­to­ry, one mil­lion for­mer Sovi­et Jews would now call Israel home, meno­rahs are now dis­played in Red Square on Chanukah, and … 

The pur­pose of my upcom­ing trip to Rus­sia with the Asso­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­cans and Cana­di­ans in Israel (AACI) is to explore Jew­ish and Russ­ian life in Moscow and St. Peters­burg, and I plan to meet with lead­ers of both Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties and to get an update from Chabad and oth­er groups on their activ­i­ties to strength­en and sus­tain Jew­ish life … some­thing we can now do open­ly, because …

Mir­a­cles do hap­pen today as well! 

Check back all week for more from Ron Rubin and Peri Devaney.