“It is not a just-the-facts documentary, as it wears its heart on its sleeve, and the emotional pull will leave the audience breathless.” — Bobby LePire ,Film Threat
Length: 62 minutes
Ages recommended 12+
Languages: English, Hebrew, Russian
Subtitles: English, Hebrew, Russian, Latvian, Spanish
The 2016 award winning 62 minutes long documentary “Operation Wedding” tells the personal story of the Filmmaker’s parents, Sylva and Edward, leading characters of a group that in 1970 tried to escape the USSR to Israel by hijacking an empty plane. This event was the first effective act that kickstarted the Soviet Jewry Movement and cracked open the Iron Curtain for approximately 254,000 Soviets Jews in the 70’s, compared to only 3,000 in the 60’s. The group members were held back to pay the price of freedom for everyone else.
Show the film in your class or show it ONLINE to your students (request an educational screening license from the filmmaker)
Relation to Hanukkah: The sentences were announced in Hanukkah 1970. Most group members received 8-15 years but two members, the pilot Mark and the group’s leader Edward - received death sentences.
After 7 days of world pressure, the death sentences were commuted to 15 years in Soviet labor camps under harsh conditions.
Relation to Passover:
At the trial, Sylva Zalmanson, the only woman at the trial, said, "Next year in Jerusalem." Though she knew that she would receive a much harsher sentence by saying that. Indeed she received 10 years imprisonment.
The first major aliyah from the USSR following the trial was called "Let My People Go."
Relation to Israel’s Independence Day: On Independence Day 1979, five members of the group were released, after 9 years in the Soviet labour camps, and came to Israel to celebrate with the entire country.
View an exciting CBS TV article of the group's members on Independence Day 1979 (Hebrew subtitles): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwB_gYGZRHM
We learn through the story of Sylva Zalmanson and Edward Kuznetsov, about the power of the citizen to change totalitarian regimes, and the importance of solidarity (their struggle would not have been successful without the struggle made for them in the free world). We also learn about the heavy price you have to pay in order to achieve the change and about the difference between heroism and terrorism.
Download/print full lesson:
Screening the documentary Operation Wedding requires a license. Please fill in the screening request form at:operation-wedding-documentary.com/request-screening
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.
From the point of view of the Soviet leadership – the exodus 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 jail 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. In the Soviet Union, unemployment was prohibited by law, anyone who was marked as a “traitor” (= whoever wants to leave is a “traitor”) was also usually fired from his job and thus became a criminal.
The event that was considered a major turnaround in the departure of Jews from the USSR, happened in the late 1970s thanks to a group of young Jews who decided to do a daring act – to “hijack” a small empty plane and flee. The idea was of a Jewish pilot, Mark Dymshits, who wanted to escape. The members of the group bought all the tickets for a flight inside the USSR, claiming they were flying to a local wedding, and the plan was to change the flight route in the air. The code name for the operation was “Wedding.” This event affected all Jews in the Soviet Union.
45 years later, the daughter of the group’s leaders, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov, directed a documentary film titled “Operation Wedding” that reveals her parents’ personal story.
Leningrad, 1970. A group of young Soviet Jews who were denied exit visas, plots to “hijack” an empty plane and escape the USSR.
It started as a fantasy, Operation Wedding, as outrageous as it was simple: Under the disguise of a trip to a local family wedding, the “hijackers” would buy every ticket on a small 12-seater plane, so there would be no passengers but them, no innocents in harm’s way.
The group’s pilot would take over the controls and fly the 16 runaways into the sky, over the Soviet border, on to Sweden, bound for Israel.
Caught by the KGB a few steps before boarding, they were sentenced to years in the gulag and two were sentenced to death; they never got on a plane.
While the Soviet press writes “the criminals received their punishment”, tens of thousands of people in the free world demand “Let My People Go!“ and as the Iron Curtain opens a crack for 254,000 Soviets Jews wanting to flee, the group members are held back to pay the price of freedom for everyone else.