Former refusenik makes first visit to St. Petersburg since 1970
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Former refusenik makes first visit to St. Petersburg since 1970

Renowned ‘Prisoner of Zion’ Yosef Mendelevitch speaks at Russian conference 44 years after attempted hijacking of plane to Israel

Yosef Mendelevitch visiting St. Petersburg Airport, November 30, 2014. (Photo credit: Roman Yanushevsky, Courtesy of Limmud FSU)
Yosef Mendelevitch visiting St. Petersburg Airport, November 30, 2014. (Photo credit: Roman Yanushevsky, Courtesy of Limmud FSU)

ST. PETERSBURG — Former “Prisoner of Zion” Yosef Mendelevitch made his first visit to St. Petersburg since he was arrested here in 1970 for attempting to hijack an airplane to Israel.

Yosef Mendelevitch, 67, is scheduled to speak Friday to approximately 350 participants of St. Petersburg’s fourth Limmud conference, the Jewish learning even organized by the Limmud FSU group.

Mendelevitch’s visit to St. Petersburg is his first since arriving here in 1970 from his native Riga, Latvia to carry out Operation Wedding, the code name given to the daring attempt by 12 Zionist activists to hijack a single-engine AN-2 airplane and fly it to Israel in defiance of the Soviet refusal to permit them to emigrate. The KGB arrested him and the other would-be hijackers before they could board the plane.

Mendelevitch, who along with Natan Sharansky was one of the most well-known “prisoners of Zion,” finally immigrated to Israel in 1981 shortly after his release from jail.

President Reagan and Vice President Bush meet with Avital Sharansky (wife of then-jailed Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky) and Yosef Mendelevitch, May, 1981 (photo credit: White House staff / Wikipedia)
President Reagan and Vice President Bush meet with Avital Sharansky (wife of then-jailed Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky) and Yosef Mendelevitch, May, 1981 (photo credit: White House staff / Wikipedia)

On Friday, Mendelevitch who was born in Riga and now lives in Jerusalem, visited the KGB building where he was held immediately after his capture.

“I spent a lot of time in this city but only as a prisoner so I don’t know it at all,” he told JTA. “I’m certainly not nostalgic. The Land of Israel is the only place to which I have an emotional attachment.”

Limmud FSU organizers invited Mendelevitch after hearing about his story for the first time last year, according to Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler.

“Rabbi Mendelevitch belongs to a generation whose bravery is famous in Israel and the United States yet is surprisingly unknown here,” Chesler said. “We brought him for the same reason Jews all over the world recall their ancestors’ exodus out of Egypt each year: To teach the young their history.”

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