Blush Off the Rose
The year 1967 was a crucial year. Israel’s victory in the Six-Day
war markedly enhanced its geopolitical position in the region and
the euphoria over Israel’s victory emboldened a number of Soviet
Jews to publicly press for permission to leave for Israel. And, on a
personal level, the year 1967 marked the onset of a rift with the
Office. Early in September, Nehemyah phoned — he wished to come to
Cleveland and discuss a new undertaking. On the 17th, over lunch at
a local Cleveland restaurant, he confided that he had $10,000 to
invest in informing Americans about the religious and cultural
plight of Soviet Jews. To accomplish this he planned set up a
national academic committee to publicize the issue. He said, “I have
in mind one of my boys, Allen Pollack,” to head the committee.
Further, he declared that he wanted me to assume a prominent role on
the committee. For me, Nehemyah’s offer was a nonstarter. I was
convinced that my free time — outside my NASA job — should be spent
managing the operation of the CCSA and cultivating growth of grass
root Soviet Jewry groups in other cities. And that’s what I told
him. He was visibly upset. For another hour he tenaciously argued
the merits of his scheme and why I should be part of it —
unsuccessfully. Finally we parted — he in a decidedly sour mood.
Here was a side of Nehemyah I hadn’t witnessed before. This little
affair gave me pause. How odd: Levanon, Israeli Counselor Minister
(third highest rank in the Israeli Embassy), confiding his plans to
me and insisting that I — a low-level NASA research manager — be
part of his blue ribbon group; and, to top it off, his petulant
reaction to my refusal.
December 2nd — two and a half months later — Nehemyah flew back to
Cleveland to try again, this time accompanied by Zvi Netzer. Their
pitch was that the Academic Committee on Soviet Jewry was now in
formation and an eminent sociologist, Nathan Glazer, had been
persuaded to head it up. Would I reconsider? I would not. By now I
was sure that Nehemyah’s intent was control and the ‘academic
committee’ business (at least as far as I was concerned) was aimed
at co-option of a maverick American activist.
next > Enforcer
or Loose Cannon?