MOMMA GOLDA IV
We reached a very cold Russia at the height of the anti-Israel propaganda. I had had a telegram in Hong Kong from my cousin in London, June Jacobs, who was very active in helping the "Refuseniks". Refuseniks were Russian Jews who had applied to leave Russia, not only were they refused, but they were removed from their positions or professions and made to do the most menial of tasks. June asked me to contact a Refusenik, and if possible to do our MOMMA GOLDA play for them.
The boy we contacted said he would arrange a performance, and would collect us at our hotel. He wouldn't come inside, and wouldn't agree to us getting a taxi. Then I realised that what we were doing was really dangerous. We could have been arrested as Israeli spies. We went on the Underground to some station in the suburbs, walked through the snow for about 10 minutes.. We were in an area of very tall, faceless aparment buildings. The boy said: "Wait here while I check if it is safe for you to go in" and after a few minutes he beckoned us over, telling us to be very quiet.
We were led into a bare, small apartment belonging to a Refusenik. "Do you live here alone?" I asked the occupant of the apartment. "Yes. My wife and family were given permission to leave, but the Government said I must stay because in my business I have State Secrets" "What is your business?" "I'm a Sausage Manufacturer". He was serious. In his sitting room were crowded 13 Refuseniks, all understanding English. One was a University Professor, now working as a Lift Boy, another a teacher who was a Messenger, running from office to office. One man was a Dentist, who had returned to Moscow only the day before after 3 years in Siberia, where he was sent after he had sat on a pavement in Moscow with a sign saying: "I want to live in Israel". This was our audience.
We started to perform, and they shushed us, saying that maybe somebody would hear through the wall. This was the first time they had seen anything about Israel. One of Peter's speeches to the audience told that Golda Meir was Israel's first Ambassador to Russia in 1948. After she had been there for a while she said that she was worried that she wasn't meeting any Jews. "Make it known that on a certain date, I will be present in the Great Synagogue." When she arrived, not only was the Synagogue packed to overflowing, but in the big square outside were huge crowds, thousands of people. As Golda walked round they stretched out their hands, touching her dress, saying in Yiddish: "Golde-le, Golde-le, long may you live, Golde-le", and she answered, saying just one sentence over and over in Yiddish: "Thank you for remaining Jews".
A young boy who had been given a camera for his Barmitzvah took a picture of the crowds, with the tiny figure of Golda circled around with a pen. The picture went round the world. In Siberia a young girl prisoner, working in the forest, saw a man running towards her in the snow. He whispered: "Are you Jewish?" "Yes" she answered. And he took out a tattered copy of the photo from his pocket and showed it to her saying: "There IS a Jewish State in Eretz Yisroel", and he ran back into the forest and disappeared.
Peter had to tell this story to the Refuseniks...he could barely get to the end. The gratitude of that group at the end of the performance is impossible for me to describe adequately. They gave us tea, and a small fine china samovar with two bowls, which I shall always treasure.