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13-Year-Old Joins in Refusenik's Struggle

March 05, 1987|ANDREW S. DOCTOROFF | Times Staff Writer

Rosa Joffe's voice was light. After years of waiting, her son, Dima, 23, a Jewish refusenik in Moscow, soon would be on an Aeroflot flight with his wife and daughter, headed for Israel.

With her teen-age daughter as interpreter in a telephone interview last week from her apartment in Moscow, Rosa Joffe thanked the network of Americans who fought for her son to be allowed to emigrate. Among those she named were a 13-year-old Sherman Oaks girl and her family, who had made the entire Joffe family their special project since October.

Joan and Sid Marantz became interested in the Joffes when Rosa's daughter, Anna, 14, was named as someone with whom their daughter, Wendy, could share her bat mitzvah. Called "twinning" in Jewish synagogues, this practice involves symbolically including a child of a Russian refusenik in the coming-of-age ceremony. In this case, Wendy's family placed an empty chair for Anna on the beamah (the dais).

A Day's Fast

Later, when Dima's father, Alexander, staged a hunger strike in Moscow on behalf of his son in January, Wendy and several other 13-year-olds from her temple each fasted for a day by drinking only juices.

"Anna kept thanking me for what we were doing," Wendy said. "I never thought when I started twinning that all this stuff would happen."

The Marantzes, who have spoken on the telephone with the Joffes at least 10 times in the past few months, helped organize the well-publicized protest in Southern California in January in support of Alexander Joffe's hunger strike, and prompted about 300 members of Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel-Air to write Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev concerning the Joffes.

Shortly after the "hunger strike" of Wendy and her friends, Soviet authorities informed Alexander that his son would soon be permitted to emigrate from Russia.

"We had developed a common ground of discussion and friendship with the Joffes," said Sid Marantz, a businessman. "So when we found out Alexander was in a bad situation, it became our problem, too. They're our friends. We had no choice."

Anne Bernstein of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry in New York said the Marantzes' efforts on behalf of the Joffes "was one more link and an important one" in getting Dima Joffe out with his wife and daughter.

Hopes for Future

On the phone, Rosa Joffe said she hoped that her son's departure would prod Soviet authorities to permit her, her husband and Anna to emigrate as well. Under current Soviet law, refuseniks are given special status if their families are separated.

"Tomorrow could be a new beginning for us all," Rosa Joffe said.

Groups of scientists and other individuals across the United States, including Arizona Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Loren Graham, also rallied behind the Joffes.

The family's case has gained international attention. Alexander Joffe, a widely recognized mathematician, has taught in a Moscow high school since requesting emigration more than a decade ago.

Soviet authorities denied the Alexander Joffe family permission to leave the country because he had previously worked on classified military projects, Bernstein said.

Effort Helped

The Joffes said they believe the efforts in the United States assisted them in Dima Joffe's emigration, largely because Soviet authorities are now attempting to portray their regime as more humanitarian and thus are increasingly responsive to concerns voiced in the Western media.

"There is some cause and effect, and it is difficult to say to what degree," Rosa Joffe said. Referring to Americans, she added, "Sometimes what you say and do comes to our government more fast than through our bureaucratic channels."

Rosa Joffe could not say for sure whether the Marantzes or other American efforts influenced officials in the Soviet Union.

"They don't tell you those things," she said.

In any case, concerned Americans gave her family hope.

"We have as many friends in America as here in Russia," she said, mentioning that once a family member is identified as a refusenik, the family's social life includes only other Jews seeking emigration.

Visit Planned

The Marantzes plan on visiting Dima Joffe and his family in Israel this summer.

During one of their phone conversations, which the Sherman Oaks family taped, Sid Marantz expressed the hope that Dima Joffe's departure would speed the other Joffes' eventual emigration.

To that, Alexander Joffe laughed softly. "Let us hope for that," he said. "Let us hope for that."

The fact that Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union reached close to an all-time low last year makes the family's chance of departing more uncertain, Bernstein said. In 1986, only 914 Jews were allowed to leave the country; in 1979, that figure had been more than 51,000.

Reflecting on her family's exacting membership among the Soviet Union's population of more than 12,000 Jewish refuseniks, Rosa Joffe said: "To be a refusenik is to live three years in one. All people get older, but we get older much more quickly."

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