Vladimir Slepak, one of the founding fathers of the Soviet Jewry movement in Moscow, has died in the US aged 87. His funeral will take place in Jerusalem tomorrow. Slepak, known as Volodya, with his characteristic forked beard, was a central address that everyone who went to the Soviet Union to visit with the Soviet Jews had in their address books. He played a crucial role in interacting with foreigners and passing along information about the situation of the Soviet Jews. He was antagonistic to the KGB and helped many fellow Jews deal with their problems. He was a friend to Natan Sharansky and many other leaders of the Soviet Jewry movement.
Slepak applied for a visa to Israel in 1969, one of the first to do so, but was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union until 1987. When I visited Moscow in 1982 to attend the Intl. Biophysics Congress I was well briefed and Slepak was one of the people I was asked to visit. I first met a young man named Viktor Yachot who took me to Vladimir Zaslavky’s apartment where I met Slepak. I remember it was on the top floor of one of those typical Soviet apartment buildings and it was very dark inside (no lights in the hallways). It had a big iron door and when it opened Slepak was there with a large warm smile. While I was there Slepak received a phone call from London from MP Greville Janner, a strong campaigner for the rights of Soviet Jews. After the two of them spoke I talked to Janner and mentioned that he and my father had grown up as neighbors in the East End of London. After leaving the Soviet Union I met Janner at the House of Commons. I have described my experiences in the Soviet Union in 1982 in my memoir “Confessions of Jewish Activist” (2009; available on Amazon.com).
I did not see Slepak for 28 years after that, when I happened to meet him when I gave a lecture to a group of Russian scientists in Kfar Saba (see IsBlog entry April 14, 2008). He was easily recognizable and although I do not think he remembered me I certainly remembered him. The Jewish world has lost a great leader of the Soviet Jewry movement.