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  • Writer's pictureAnat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov

Home-made miracles of Hanukkah


Hanukkah has a spiritual bond with the struggle for the free exit of Soviet Jewry; an attempt by the Greeks to force the Jews to assimilate, and many stories of heroism as well as significant events took place in the month of Kislev / December. 

Former prisoner of Zion Yosef Begun, reflects on the holiday, past and present: in Soviet Prison, on his exile to Siberia years later, and finally in freedom in Israel.


Jerusalem Post article Home-made miracles of Hanukkah

Home-made miracles of Hanukka - The Jeru
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Slideshow page 2: Cold war map

Tell the students -

The Soviet Union was one of the two superpowers in the world (along with the United States), but this power did not last and disbanded in 1991, only after 74 years of existence.

The occupying government tried to erase any non-Russian communist identity.

In the Soviet Union there were 3 million Jews, but the policy was against religion, any religion.

The Soviet regime banned Jewish life, but on the other hand prevented Jews from entering Israel.

In the eyes of the Soviet leadership – the departure of the Jews was a symbol of the failure of propaganda that the Soviet Union is a paradise on earth.

Therefore, any expression of Judaism, *Zionism, sympathy for Israel or the desire to immigrate to Israel was considered treason.

Many were arrested without actual crime, and sent to prison for espionage or treason.

The Soviet government treated citizens as state property, and it was forbidden to leave the country without special permission: not for a trip and certainly not to leave the USSR. Anyone who wanted to leave had to go through the Interior Ministry, and usually get a refusal (AKA *Refusenik).

According to the *USSR, the Soviet society is superior and preferable and so a sane person will not want to leave. If someone is interested in leaving, it's a sign that he needs remedial education in order to get him back on track.

In the Soviet Union, unemployment was prohibited by law.

The Refuseniks, marked as “traitors”, were often fired from their jobs after applying to leave, and thus became criminals.

Slideshow page 3:

The KGB men would follow, well ... everyone. They recorded and documented, especially of those who wanted to leave and those who celebrate Jewish holidays.

In the photo: Jews performing a kiddush in a forest in Moscow USSR, with KGB personnel watching behind them.

Slideshow pages 4-9: Jews secretly celebrating Hanukah.

Leave the presentation on page 9, and let students read or read the article to them:

Slideshow page 10:

After reading the article, ask the students:

Why do you think it was important for Joseph Begun and his friends, to celebrate Hanukkah, to light candles even in the Gulag when they were hungry and tired, and even to build a menorah when he was in exile?

Slideshow page 11

Tell the students:

For more than 20 years, activists for the Jews of the USSR stood every day, in any weather, at noon in front of the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., to protest and demand freedom of movement for USSR Jews.

In the picture we see the lighting of Hanukkah candles on Human Rights Day 1982, in front of the Soviet embassy.

Ask students to find in Yosef Begun's text a sentence that can link to a picture of activists in Washington DC lighting a menorah for Jews in the USSR.


  1. When I lit the first candle of the holiday, I surmised that it was the most northeastern Hanukka light in the world. (In Siberia)

  2. But among the miracles of that time could be counted the solidarity of Jews worldwide in support of their brothers and sisters in the USSR - from New York students to Tel Aviv professors, from Reform Jews of Arizona to ultra-Orthodox of Antwerp.

Major events in the SJS during Hanukah

  • December 1970: The First Leningrad Trial and sentences (AKA Operation Wedding)

  • December 1987: Freedom Sunday March in Washington D.C. is happening during the first Reagan-Gorbachev meeting in the USA. A record of 250,000 people attend the biggest rally in USA fora Jewish cause.

  • December 1987: Freedom Sunday March in Washington D.C. is happening during the first Reagan-Gorbachev meeting in the USA. A record of 250,000 people attend the biggest rally in USA fora Jewish cause.

  • December 1991: The USSR final dissolve: On December 25, President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, declared his office extinct, and handed over its powers. The Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time and replaced with the Russian tricolour flag.

  • ----


  • Communism: Communism is an economic system in which everything belongs to everyone, that is, to the state. According to this approach all means of production in the country belong to the state and there is no private ownership of means of production. Simply put - no one owns things that produce value and money, like factories, fields and the like. Historically, a number of countries have adopted communism, or been forced upon them by the USSR, after conquering them in World War II. In all of them it has led to severe economic problems.

  • Soviet Union: Officially known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

  • Zionism: Zionism‎ (after Zion) is an ideology movement that espouses the re-establishment of and support for a Jewish state in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel.

  • Refusenik: An unofficial term for Soviet Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate, primarily to Israel, by the authorities of the Soviet Union. The term refusenik is derived from the "refusal" handed down to a prospective emigrant from the Soviet authorities (OVIR).

  • OVIR: The Soviet government department to which one would apply for permission to emigrate and would respond with permission or refusal.

  • Kremlin: The Moscow Kremlin is a fortified complex in the center of Moscow founded by Russian ruling dynasty of Rurikids.


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