Soviet refusenik Ida Nudel:
Where is she and what is she doing?
Nudel arriving in Israel (1987)
name Ida Nudel was a household word about 18 years ago when she
won a long, hard battle to emigrate after years of imprisonment
and exile as a human rights activist in the former Soviet Union.
Yet not long afterward, she managed to alienate herself from the
country she had fought so bitterly to be allowed to make her home
by speaking her mind about everything that she thought was wrong
disappeared from the public eye and went to live in the rustic haven
of Karmei Yosef near Rehovot with her sister Elena. She bought a
house and what looks like an entire forest as her back garden with
the proceeds of her best-selling autobiography, "A Hand in
the Darkness." However, Nudel has been doing a lot more than
tending her garden. For the last 10 years, away from the glare of
publicity, Nudel has been running "Mother to Mother,"
an organization funded entirely from donations from abroad that
seeks to bring the children of Russian immigrants off the streets
and into after-school activities. Nudel initially became alarmed
by the huge number of single-parent families arriving from Russia
at the beginning of the 1990s, usually Jewish women who had come
alone with one or more children.
'92 and '93, 25 percent of Russian immigrants were single mothers,"
she says. The figure rises to about one-third of the immigrants,
when taking into account the numbers of divorces and men who leave
their families after a short time in Israel, Nudel adds. "It
was not easy for a Jewish woman to marry, if she didn't want to
marry a Russian," says Nudel. "First she studied and made
a career then began to climb the professional ladder. She became
too educated and sophisticated to take just anyone, and she didn't
want to marry a non-Jew. So she had a child." Apart from that
last sentence, Nudel could have been speaking of herself. But she
had made a promise to her parents, traditional Jews, that she would
never marry out. She never had a child either. But according to
Barbara Portner, a friend of Nudel's, she has saved 4,000 children
from the streets with the creation of Mother to Mother.
maintains that the Shamir government knew non-Jewish Russians were
immigrating by the thousands and encouraged it. "This country
was a paradise compared to Russia then," she says. "Who
could blame them for wanting to get away from the total breakdown
of society? For $4,000 anyone could buy an Israeli passport in Ukraine
through the mafia and fly here direct, with all the documents showing
Israeli citizenship." The desperate poverty and unhappiness
of many of the new immigrants, as evidenced in articles in the Russian-language
press in Israel, bothered Nudel, as did the growing anti-Semitism
of those who had settled here. "I decided to do something about
the children; either we would lose them to crime and drugs or we
would create enemies inside, raising Jew-hating Israeli citizens,"
Nudel says. She decided to concentrate her efforts in the most depressed
areas in the Negev and opened learning centers in Ofakim, Sderot,
Netivot, Beersheva and Ashkelon. She begged the municipalities to
provide unused bomb shelters, using them to establish afternoon
activities for children of all ages.
difficult to say how many children need our services, as there are
no statistics," says Nudel, "but all we know is we try
to get them during that first month of their new life in Israel,
as this is crucial for their survival. We go looking for them. Our
workers go from door to door, knocking and asking." She employs
coordinators in each town who go round to the families and check
that the hard-luck stories are true. "There are so many emergencies
in this community, you can't predict what is going to happen,"
says Nudel. The teachers are all Russian, many living on welfare,
and the extra work is invaluable for them. In the classrooms, a
huge variety of activity goes on, from language and computer classes
to crafts and sports. The main thing is to keep the children doing