Freed Refuseniks Keep Fight Alive for Soviet Jews Left Behind : Ida Nudel, Who Battled for 16 Years to Leave, Focuses Attention on Human Rights
After 16 years of battling prejudice, bureaucracy and internal exile in a successful effort to leave the Soviet Union and emigrate to Israel, Ida Nudel said Monday that her fight for human rights is really just beginning.
In a meeting with reporters in Westwood, on her first visit to the United States after being allowed to leave the Soviet Union on Oct. 15, the diminutive Nudel said, “I will do my utmost” to free the tens of thousands of other Soviet Jews who are seeking to leave.
Nudel, 55, long considered the “guardian angel” of the emigration movement, flew to Los Angeles from Israel with Dr. Armand Hammer on Monday as part of efforts to rekindle attention to the plight of Soviet Jewry in the week before President Reagan’s planned summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Other prominent refuseniks, Vladimir and Mariya Slepak, who were allowed to leave the Soviet Union in October after a 17-year fight, appeared at a rally in Encino Monday night and will appear before the Los Angeles City Council today.
Mayor Tom Bradley, who met with Nudel Monday, declared this week Refusenik Week as part of the efforts to raise public awareness of the issue.
“It’s to let Gorbachev know that human rights are still important to us,” said Ellen Rabin, spokesman for the Commission on Soviet Jewry, which is sponsoring some of the area events.
“He got great press,” when Nudel and Slepak were released, Rabin said of Gorbachev’s decision to let the refuseniks go. “But there are many more Vladimirs and Idas,” she said.
The commission estimates that of about 2 million Soviet Jews, there are 380,000 who have taken some steps to emigrate.
The commission is sponsoring a series of prayer meetings at area churches and temples for the coming weekend and will send a 100-man delegation, led by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana), to Washington for a mass rally Sunday.
Nudel is scheduled to speak at a benefit dinner Wednesday at which Hammer, Occidental Petroleum Corp. chairman who interceded with Soviet authorities on Nudel’s behalf, will receive an honorary degree from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel will deliver the keynote address at the fund-raiser in Century City for cancer and acquired immune deficiency syndrome research.
The bespectacled Nudel, who at 4-feet, 11-inches was barely able to see over the top of the lectern, said in her remarks Monday that the experience of her release from the Soviet Union and welcome to Israel has left her “emotionally drained” and physically exhausted.
But she said: “I want to use this opportunity to tell Americans that thousands of (Soviet Jews) are looking to you for hope, that you will uphold the principles of human rights and dignity of man. . . . They trust that you will fulfill their hopes.”
Nudel, who once was an economist with the Moscow Institute of Hydrology and Microbiological Synthesis, first applied for permission to emigrate to Israel in 1971. The request, which was denied, led to her being fired from her job. Nudel then dedicated herself to the movement, demanding that Soviet Jews be free to emigrate to Israel.
Her efforts led to a showdown in 1978 when Nudel unfurled a banner from the window of her Moscow apartment that read, “KGB, Give Me My Visa.” Nudel, who is single, was found guilty of malicious hooliganism and sentenced to four years of internal exile in Siberia.
Released in 1982, Nudel was banned from returning to her native Moscow and was forced to wander for two years from town to town, looking for a permanent place to live and work.
Her case attracted international attention.
“I received 12,000 letters from 51 countries,” Nudel said.
She now plans to work for those she left behind. The first of those efforts, she said, is to persuade President Reagan to take up the issue of Soviet Jewry at the upcoming summit.