Refuseniks

So, The Boy and I ended up doing a double-feature last week of two movies that weren’t going to be around after the Friday turnover. The first movie we saw was the documentary on Soviet Jews who were denied egress to Israel. The “Refuseniks”.

This is a classic case of a documentary with really outstanding material in an unfocused presentation.

The basic premise is solid: Jews–highly discriminated against in the Workers’ Paradise–tried to get out of the USSR and to Israel after WWII. As soon as you applied to leave, however, you were fired from your job. At the same time, you were not necessarily allowed to leave.

Both the anti-semitism and the “refusenik” stuff was largely ignored by the western Jewish establishment until some desperate Jews attempted unsuccessfully to hijack a plane, even though a grass roots movement had been brewing for years.

The main-ish focus of this movie is on a couple who were 17 years “Refuseniks” and how they finally got free.

I wish I could tell you more about this couple but we didn’t really learn that much about them. I don’t know how they survived those 17 years. Apparently some lower level work was available, but I don’t know if that’s how they did it, or if they had benefactors of some sort, or what.

There were all kinds of interesting bits of data in this, but nothing too cohesive. (Other than “Life in the USSR was bad, mm-kay?”) They particular dropped the ball when discussing why the American Jewish community–the establishment, not the grass-roots–was so unwilling to do or say anything. It took a hijacking to get their attention.

The guy representing the community made a really stupid, self-serving statement that it was because the Soviet Jews, by risking their lives, had proven they were really serious about getting out, and that up till then they couldn’t do it alone. “Yes, we were just waiting here, silently, almost as if in complete approval, until we couldn’t pretend it wasn’t happening any more.”

My wild-ass guess would be that Jews in this country have always been fairly positive toward socialism in its various forms, and that that particular intellectual vanity trumped their concern for fellow Jews. But that’s just my WAG. We never get told.

The movie suffers at a result. Despite all the historical highs and lows it touches on, there’s never any real focus to the two hours, and it gets a little hard to sit through after about 90 minutes. Worth watching, but maybe worth breaking up in to several viewing periods.

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