Chabad Presents Documentary

On Tuesday, March 3, Chabad hosted a screening of Refusenik, a new documentary by director Laura Bialis. Told entirely through primary sources and the testimonies of interview subjects, the film poignantly documents the struggle, beginning in the 1960’s, of the many Soviet Jews who were refused permission to emigrate. For asking to leave a country which suppressed their religion, their history, and their culture, these “refuseniks” often lost their jobs. It became common for professors and scientists to be reduced to working as elevator operators. Other, even less fortunate, refuseniks found themselves in prisons, labor camps, or mental institutions.

Fortunately, American citizens were not blind to their plight. In addition to holding protest rallies in America, supporters of the refuseniks would visit the USSR, slip away from their official tours, and secretly meet with Jewish families. One subject recalls writing the names of such families in code in his checkbook—Soviet customs would not allow tourists to carry such information openly. The pressure mounted on the U.S. government, which in turn began to press the USSR on the issue. Eventually, Mikhail Gorbachev’s government eased the emigration policy, allowing most refuseniks to leave.

Director Laura Bialis was present at the screening. She explained that she hopes that the film will rekindle awareness of an almost forgotten part of history. She also noted that it might give post-Cold War generations an idea of how frightening the Soviet Union was. Finally, Bialis described her next project, a documentary on the music scene in the rocket-ravaged Israeli town of Sderot.