MOSCOW — Reports of an increase in the number of exit visas to be granted to Soviet Jews this month raised spirits Friday night at traditional Passover meals where the final toast is, "Next year in Jerusalem."
Yet there were conflicting opinions on the size and rate of the increase. Some leaders of the Jewish community said authorities were allowing emigration to Israel at a faster rate in April than in recent months, when it was reduced to a trickle.
"There were days recently when up to 30 families a day were getting permission," said an unofficial Soviet source who follows emigration trends closely.
But a senior Western diplomat said that he sees no indications of a substantial increase in exit visas for Soviet Jews, while Alexander Lerner, a former department head of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and a leader in the Jewish community, said in an interview:
"There is something happening. In April, we feel there will be more (Jewish families) leaving, but we are not sure how many more."
He was asked about a report broadcast by Israeli radio this week that 280 Jewish families consisting of 1,000 people would leave the Soviet Union for Israel in April.
"I would be happy if even half that number go," Lerner said. "But I'm not sure if the information is reliable." Lerner said, however, that two Americans who came to the Soviet Union more than 50 years ago have been told that they will be allowed to leave for Israel in the near future.
He identified them as Abe Stolar, 72, who has lived in Moscow since 1931, and Bernard Lampert, 55, who also came to the Soviet Union with his family in the early 1930s.
Stolar, who has been trying without success to leave for 10 years, has been sharply critical of the Soviet regime in a series of public letters and news conferences.
Refused Permission for 8 Years
Lampert, on the other hand, has not made public accusations against the Soviet system but still has been refused permission to leave for the past eight years.
Stolar and Lampert were not available for comment. However, friends of Lampert said that he is getting his papers in order to leave the country.
Stolar, his wife and their son, Michael, received permission to go to Israel in 1975, but his wife's visa was canceled at the last minute after they had cleared customs at the Moscow airport. The family has been trying to get out ever since.
Not long ago, Stolar told a reporter that he had been asked by the visa office to submit his application for emigration again and he did.
Some hopes have been raised simply because Mikhail S. Gorbachev succeeded the late Konstantin U. Chernenko as the Soviet leader.
"We hope Gorbachev will be an improvement," said Lerner, who has been denied permission to leave for 13 years. "He's more educated and more pragmatic, (but) we have many times in the past been optimistic in vain."
The Soviet Union officially says that the process of family reunification--the ostensible basis for emigration--has practically been completed. Jewish leaders, however, say that there are tens of thousands of Soviet Jews who want to leave the country but have been denied permission to do so.
A 20-Year Low
Jewish emigration, which reached a peak of 50,000 in 1979, fell to fewer than 1,000 last year, a 20-year low.
This year, 60 Soviet Jews left in January, 88 in February and about 100 in March, Jewish organizations have said.
The "refuseniks," as the rejected applicants are called, often complain that the uncertainty is as frustrating as the turndowns.
A historian, who lost his job when he first decided to emigrate, said: "The situation is very confusing. We hear all the hopeful rumors, but nobody knows." Refuseniks kept up their spirits this spring with a series of observances to celebrate the Jewish holiday, Purim, with satirical songs and skits, presented in apartments so crowded that there often was not even standing room.
The U.S. Embassy staff celebrated a Passover seder Friday night at Spaso House, the residence of Ambassador Arthur A. Hartman. Many veteran refuseniks came.
On Archipova Street, outside Moscow's only synagogue, Saturday night is meeting time for the "Jewish club," a sidewalk gathering of Jews from Moscow and other cities who swap gossip about emigration.
On a recent chilly Saturday, as usual, there was little agreement on what the future might hold. But no one dissented when a white-haired man in a worker's cap smiled and said, "We hope."