Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Culture

Meeting Fearless Dissidents Over Burgers

The fearless refuseniks who attempted to hijack an airplane on June 15, 1970, in Leningrad in order to draw attention to the plight of Soviet Jews were “Zionist hooligans” to Soviet authorities, but to the writer Gal Beckerman they are nothing less than superheroes.

Gal Beckerman Image by haaretz

In the summer of 2006, Beckerman found himself at a barbecue on a moshav outside of Netanya with most of the dissidents involved in the plot, including Boris Penson, Mark Dymshits and Sylva Zalmanson. As the evening wore on, and the vodka began to flow, Beckerman gradually overcame his shock at being in the presence of people who risked their lives to escape from behind the Iron Curtain.

“I was the only non-hijacker at the barbecue, and there I was flipping hamburgers with these characters,” Beckerman said in an interview with Haaretz. “It was a remarkable experience because I had been researching them and viewed them as superheroes. Suddenly I understood them as a group of friends who egged each other on to do something that was probably more brave than any of them would have done on their own.”

Although the hijacking plot was foiled by the KGB and all the participants were jailed – two received death sentences that were later commuted – the episode was a turning point in the international human rights campaign that Beckerman chronicles with cinematic flair in his first book. “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry” was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and was awarded this year’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

Beckerman, a 35-year-old opinion editor for The Forward, was due to receive the prize last night at an awards ceremony at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The $100,000 prize, which honors work by emerging writers on Jewish themes, is one of the richest in the world. It is given to works of fiction and non-fiction in alternating years, which is why Beckerman’s book was eligible this year. Abigail Green won the runner-up prize of $25,000 for her biography of Moses Montefiore.

“When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone” also previously won the prestigious 2010 Jewish Book of the Year Award from the Jewish Book Council.

For more, go to Haaretz.com

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.