Vladimir Slepak's leading of the refuseniks at great personal cost is a legacy that must not be forgotten.
He was known as the father of the Soviet Jewry movement, a modern-day Moses who led his fellow refuseniks to the promised land. But decades after Vladimir Slepak’s name reverberated in Jewish homes around the world, his legacy should not be forgotten.
Slepak’s death last week at the age of 87 has prompted an avalanche of memories, none stronger than in Philadelphia, where a courageous band of community activists once stood at the forefront of the Soviet Jewry movement, fighting long and hard to gain freedom for Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
Those who knew Slepak remember him as a warm and wise man, whose perseverance and fortitude helped thousands of Soviet Jews withstand the tyranny and discrimination that befell anyone who applied for an exit visa to Israel and was refused.
Slepak and his wife, Masha, paid a high price for his 17 years at the epicenter of the refusenik movement, losing first his job and then his freedom. They were banished to Siberia for five years before they finally were allowed to emigrate. Unlike Natan Sharansky, who went on to become a political and public figure in Israel, Slepak slipped into quieter mode. Even as his last years passed in relative obscurity, the example he taught about fighting oppression and standing up for Jewish — and all human — rights should be kept alive.
May his memory be a blessing.