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The Spunky Lady of Moscow – Ida Nudel 1931- 2021


It was just before Pesach 1982, standing outside the Moscow synagogue on a Shabbat morning in a biting wind with temperatures reaching 23 degrees, that I was asked if I would like to meet Ida Nudel. I thought the question redundant as we knew that this well-known Prisoner of Zion and refusenik had been exiled to Siberia four years earlier on charges of malicious hooliganism for hanging a poster in her apartment window: "KGB – give me my exit visa". It was also claimed that she threw water over the arresting policeman.

Jews in Moscow used to congregate in small groups outside the synagogue on Shabbat and rarely, if ever, went inside – that was left for the KGB! I was guided to a small group of refuseniks who had formed a protective circle around a diminutive figure dressed in a padded jacket, woolen hat and scarf and boots. I'm not exactly tall but it felt like I was towering over this vital, energetic and extremely charismatic woman. It truly was Ida Nudel who only hours before had returned to Moscow having served her time enduring desperate conditions in Siberia. We scurried away to talk as I felt privileged to be the first Westerner to meet her. Her enthusiasm for continuing her appeals for permission to travel to Israel as well as her support for the Jewish community were boundless and fearless. I remember asking if she would repeat her actions and challenge the Soviet authorities to which she replied, "in a heartbeat". I traveled to Moscow with a reporter from National Public Radio, USA and we shared the news of her return to media sources in USA, UK and Israel.

Ida was denied permission to remain in Moscow and settled in Moldavia for five years prior to receiving an exit visa for Israel when the flood gates finally opened.

Ida's example of strength and conviction empowered many refuseniks to continue their struggle to come to Israel. I don't know if she saw herself as a leader, but she had all the necessary qualities including modesty and humor.

Our meeting lasted no more than fifteen minutes. Those few minutes had an impact on me for many years later as I recalled this powerhouse of a woman who faced dangers, imprisonment, and exile, seemingly taking it all in her stride. I had finally met someone who embodied the definition of "spunk".

As a post note, the subject of the struggle and efforts by and for refuseniks is not studied in Israeli schools, yet it was a major event in the 1970s and 1980s when the Jewish community was galvanized to action, taking the struggle to the world's attention with creativity and determination. Apart from succeeding in its mission to allow Soviet Jews to make aliyah, many of those who campaigned on their behalf also settled in Israel making it one exceptional campaign. 

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