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Tamar meets the refusenik whose name she wore on her wrist 30 years ago

Ittay Flescher
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Published: 2 July 2018

Last updated: 4 March 2024

IN AUGUST 1988, Tamar Black was in Year 10 at Mt Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne and attended the school's Counterpoint camp in Ballarat designed to increase the students’ religious observance and connection to the Jewish people.

The camp was led by students from New York's Yeshivah University, who wore solidarity bracelets with the names of refuseniks, and offered the Australian school students an opportunity to purchase one at the end of the emotional camp.

Refusenik was an unofficial term for individuals, typically but not exclusively Soviet Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union and other countries of the Eastern bloc. The term refusenik is derived from the "refusal" handed down to a prospective emigrant by Soviet authorities.

Tamar received a bracelet with the names of Evgeny and Irina Lein on it. Evgeny was a prominent refusenik, who was arrested as a result of hosting a meeting at his apartment in celebration of Yom Haatzmaut in 1978, which marked the 30th anniversary of the birth of Israel. Tamar, who was 15 at the time, wore the bracelet for just over 12 months.

In 1989, her parents hosted a Succot party at her home, and her first cousin Leeora Black attended, and asked her about the bracelet. She looked at it and told Tamar that she had met Evgeny and Irina, when she visited them at their apartment in Russia as part of her work for the Zionist Federation of Australia.

After Tamar was informed that they had made Aliyah (emigrated) to the safety of Israel, she stopped wearing the bracelet.

Tamar safely kept the bracelet for almost 30 years, often wondering about the Leins, what their life in Israel was like, and whether they were still alive. More recently, she discovered Evgeny's book Lest We Forget through a Google search and an interview with the refusenik who had become such an important part of her Jewish Identity. Through this information, she was able to locate him and arrange a meeting.

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Last week, on Tueday June 26, Tamar finally met Evgeny to show him the bracelet she has held on to for so many years. The moving encounter took place at a Jerusalem apartment where the pair chatted for over an hour about the history of the Soviet Jewry and what leaders like Evgeny endured in order to raise the profile of their human rights across the world.

As Evgeny shared stories about his imprisonment in Siberia and liberation, Tamar was particularly moved to hear the gratitude he expressed to her and so many other Australian Jews and American activists who made his name known throughout the world, ensuring the Soviets would never harm him. “For this reason, I am free,” he told Tamar in a vote of thanks.

After the meeting, Tamar was deeply moved, describing the experience as surreal and a dream come true. She expressed her deep gratitude to her Counterpoint leaders, especially JJ Greenberg, who was tragically killed at the age of 37 in a car accident in the Israeli town of Zichron Yaacov.

Tamar stressed that that without the inspiration Greenberg and his team provided in 1988, she wouldn't be where she was today.

Having been present at their meeting, one couldn't help but be moved by the power of education to imprint lasting memories and inspire connections far beyond those whom the educators ever imagined.

Note: Ittay Flescher and Tamar Black are former colleagues from a Jewish Day School in Melbourne

Main photo: Tamar Black hands Evgeny Lein the bracelet she wore with his name 30 years ago (Ittay Flescher)





About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem correspondent for Plus61JMedia. Since moving to Israel in 2018 from Melbourne, where he was a high school teacher for 15 years, Ittay has been collecting stories about the people with whom he shares Jerusalem. He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers to work towards equality, justice, and peace.

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