In First Public Address During Her U.S. Visit, Bonner Thanks Jews for Support

Associated Press

Soviet dissident Yelena Bonner thanked the Jewish community for its "spiritual support" Saturday in her first public address since arriving in the United States two weeks ago.

Speaking during Sabbath morning services at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Bonner told worshipers, "I would like you to always remember that your co-believers, and in general other people in our country, have the same dreams, the same needs and also the same moral and spiritual values as you.

'Considered a Prisoner'

"I do not know whether you know, but my husband is considered a prisoner of Zion because he has helped so many Jews in the Soviet Union," Bonner, wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei D. Sakharov, said in Russian translated by her son.

"My husband has always considered . . . the right to choose one's country of residence, like freedom of belief, to be basic rights . . . some of the basic guarantees for preserving human dignity," Bonner said.

Sakharov is not Jewish. Soviet Jews imprisoned for seeking to leave their homeland are known as prisoners of Zion.

Bonner, 62, arrived in the United States two weeks ago for treatment of a heart ailment after visiting an eye specialist in Italy. She was granted a three-month visa to go to the West for medical treatment under the condition that she not talk to the media, she has said. Her 10-minute speech Saturday was her first public talk in this country.

Before Bonner spoke, Rabbi Richard Yellin, who described her as a non-practicing Jew, presented her with four gifts: a Russian translation of Hebrew Scriptures, Jewish high holy day prayer books, a basic Hebrew grammar book used by Soviet Jews when they come to Israel, and Sabbath candlesticks.

'Messages of Hope'

"The messages of hope for this family have always echoed from this congregation," Yellin told Bonner. "We pray for the day of the fulfillment of your dreams."

Bonner thanked the members of the congregation for their prayers.

"Of course, I am very grateful for your spiritual support for myself, for my husband . . . for your concern and help to my family here," she said.

Bonner was accompanied by her daughter, Tatiana Yankelevich, and her son, Alexei Semyonov.

Asked afterward why she chose to speak at the synagogue, Bonner said: "Because anti-Semitism exists, I find it impossible not to come to a synagogue. I believe the most terrifying and the most deplorable development in human history is the teaching of national or religious superiority."

Attention From Media

Sheila Weiner, a member of the congregation, said: "I just hope she's not going to be hurt by all this media attention when she gets back (to the Soviet Union). But I think it's wonderful that she's here."

Soviet authorities have sent Bonner and Sakharov to live in internal exile in Gorky, a city closed to foreigners, because of statements critical of the Soviet government. Sakharov held several hunger strikes in an effort to persuade authorities to allow his wife to leave the country for treatment.

Bonner, who is staying with her daughter here in Newton, has been put on a regimen of heart medicine, exercise and reduced smoking by heart specialists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

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