MOSCOW — Chicago-born Abe Stolar joined his son in a Jewish prayer today and left the Soviet Union for the first time since his American parents brought him here more than half a century ago.
Stolar, who waged a 13-year fight to emigrate; his wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren boarded an Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna. They plan to settle in Israel.
In an interview at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, the 77-year-old Stolar said his thoughts today were not of Israel, but of the United States, which he left in 1931.
"When I left Chicago at the age of 19, we were leaving on a train at night for New York, and I felt as if I was leaving on an adventure and I was coming back. Here, I was riding on a taxi coming here and didn't feel anything at all," said the balding Stolar, who paced nervously at the airport.
Stolar said he hopes to visit the United States soon and will head "straight from Israel to Chicago."
His 29-year-old son, Michael, is an observant Jew and interrupted a news interview to pray with his father and a group of friends who taught themselves Hebrew.
10th Man Needed
"Anyone Jewish around? We need a 10th one," the younger Stolar shouted in the bustling departure hall.
Jewish law requires the presence of 10 men for prayers, and Stolar had not brought enough friends.
After several minutes, a Jewish man at the airport agreed to join them, and a service was conducted in Hebrew in front of the currency exchange counter.
Abe Stolar, speaking English fluently, said he does not consider himself a refusenik--a Soviet Jew refused permission to emigrate--because he always has been a U.S. citizen.
"I was an American, pure and simple, and so I considered myself a hostage all these 13 years," he said.
Stolar's struggle had been the subject of high-level superpower negotiations for years, and former President Ronald Reagan took a personal interest in the case. The two sat together at a U.S. Embassy reception last summer for Soviets denied permission to emigrate.
Stolar traveled to the Soviet Union with his parents, who were Russian emigres and ardent Communists. His father died in Josef Stalin's purges.