“Operation Wedding”

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14 Nov 2007

Land of My Birth – It is certainly true that organizing a wedding for a son or a daughter is a complex operation: starting with finding a proper match, taking care of physical needs such as an apartment and furniture, the wedding ceremony itself, and ending with a Shabbat of celebration in honor of the bride and groom. But that is not our subject today. We will talk about “Operation Wedding,” a secret plan made by the Prisoners of Zion in Russia, Yosef Mendelevich and his colleagues. They had decided to kidnap an airplane and fly on it beyond the border of the Soviet Union. The idea was to make believe that a large number of people had gathered together in order to celebrate a wedding.

But before we get into the details of the operation itself, it is important to set the background. Mendelevitz describes his childhood under the Soviet regime as follows:

“At the age when children in Israel celebrated their bar mitzva… there was nobody to guide me into the world of Torah and mitzvot. Only a small spark of Judaism which had come to me as an inheritance from my father still burned within me… The lofty content of every holiday was expressed as a physical pleasure… the taste of matza… hamentashen… latkes on Chanukah… I celebrated my bar mitzva by reading the book by Foichtvanger, ‘The Jew Zis.’ This was the first time that I had shown any interest in the fact that I was Jewish.”

Ever so slowly, Mendelevitz was exposed to Judaism in general and to Eretz Yisrael in particular. He found an old copy of the book of Shoftim, an inheritance from his grandfather, and he tried to understand what was written in it. His old and ill aunt Fania received special approval to move to Israel and she sent back postcards and letters which fired up Yosef’s imagination. In 1964, when he was still a young man, he joined the underground organization of those who had been refused permission to make Aliyah. He started learning Hebrew only as a written language, since nobody around him spoke the language.

After all of their attempts to get to Israel failed, the group decided to take drastic action and to break out of the Iron Curtain in a daring operation. The final plan was to kidnap a small airplane with twelve seats which was on a flight to a location near the border of Finland. The group would buy all twelve seats in the plane, and when it reached its destination the passengers would overpower the two pilots and force then out of the plane. Then the other members of the group, who could not get on the original flight, would join their colleagues, and Dimshitz, who was a pilot, would take the controls and fly them towards Finland. He would fly at a height of 25 meters in order to escape detection by radar. The plane would fly over Finland and land in Sweden.

“The men began to believe that the operation would succeed. The many details gave them the feeling that this fantastic plan could work. I insisted that we take along a home-made pistol and a boxing expert in case the original pilots would put up a fight. Soviet pilots who flew near the border must promise that they will prevent illegal travel over the border, and they have weapons with them. We therefore have the right to protect our freedom… to fight for our right to go to Eretz Yisrael ‘with a strong hand and an outstretched arm’ [Devarim 5:15].”

The group spent a long time planning and organizing all the details of the operation, but when they tried to put it into effect, the KGB men were waiting for them. Mendelevitz sat in prison for eleven years until suddenly, in 1981, he was expelled from the Soviet Union and arrived in the promised land. And here is how he ends his book, “Operation Wedding.”

“Quickly, to the Western Wall! That is my obligation – to return to the place where the exile from the place of G-d began, and to bring it the news that the children had returned to within their borders. You brought us back, G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov. Now please return the rest of Bnei Yisrael from the four corners of the earth, and rebuild Jerusalem, the holy city, quickly and in our time, Amen.”

Source: Yosef Mendelevich, “Operation Wedding”/ Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to dan@zomet.org.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.