Renowned Soviet refusenik Vladimir Slepak dies at 87

Influential dissenter who waged 17-year campaign to emigrate to Israel will be buried Monday in Jerusalem

Renowned Soviet refusenik Vladimir Slepak in 2007. (screen capture: YouTube)
Renowned Soviet refusenik Vladimir Slepak in 2007. (screen capture: YouTube)

Vladimir Slepak, a renowned refusenik who battled Soviet authorities for the right to emigrate to Israel, died Thursday at the age of 87.

Slepak, a preeminent human rights advocate, was an influential figure within Moscow’s Jewish community and was considered a founding father of the refusenik movement that advocated for the right for Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel.

Slepak’s fight against the Kremlin culminated in 1987, when he was finally awarded the right to move to Israel after a 17-year struggle.

Slepak and his wife Masha — a famed refusenik in her own right — were successful in helping their two sons emigrate to Israel in the 1970s, but in 1978 the two hung a protest banner from the balcony of their apartment reading “Let us go to our son in Israel!” which landed him in hot water. Vladimir and fellow refusenik activist Ida Nudel were exiled to Siberia for five and four years, respectively.

During his advocacy campaign, Slepak became one of the Soviet Union’s preeminent political dissidents and human rights advocates, earning him fame with Jewish rights groups abroad.

Born to a hardline communist father who later opposed his advocacy, Slepak claimed to have rediscovered his Jewish identity in 1967 during the Six Day War.

The Slepaks enjoyed particularly warm ties with American Jewish groups and were invited to the United States after leaving the Soviet Union to meet with activists who aided the refusenik cause.

The couple moved to New York City in 2012 to be closer to their sons, who resided in the United States.

A memorial service for Slepak will be held Sunday in New York City. His remains will be flown to Israel and buried in Jerusalem on Monday.

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