Monday, April 14, 2008

Vladimir Slepak

Last Friday morning I drove to the nearby town of Kfar Saba, to give a talk on "DNA and forensics" to the local Russian Scientist's group. They are mainly retired scientists from the former Soviet Union, who like to keep up-to-date on scientific subjects. They meet in a club house at the end of the main road thru the town, Rehov Weizmann. I have been there before so I knew where to go.
There were about 20 people in the audience, and of course my presentation was translated into Russian for them. As I was speaking, I noticed a man in the front row with an unusual beard, divided into two, pointing downwards left and right. I have only once before met someone with a beard like this, and that was in Moscow in 1972 (there is also a portrait of a postman with such a cleft beard by Vincent Van Gogh). That person was Vladimir Slepak and I wrote about him in my "confessions of a Jewish activist." He was one of the leading refuseniks that I went to see in his apartment when I was visiting Moscow that year for the Intl. Biophysics Conference. So all the while I was giving the lecture I was wondering if this could be Slepak, but 36 years later!
After I had finished my talk I managed to meet the gentleman, and asked him. Of course, I momentarily forgot about the language problem, but luckily he understood English. He confirmed that indeed he is Vladimir Slepak. Although I am sure he did not remember me, as an icon of the Soviet Jewry movement in the USSR, he was instantly memorable to me. I reminded him that when I was in his apartment in Moscow all those years ago he was telephoned by MP Greville Janner (later Lord Janner) from London and I had spoken to Janner then, and later visited him in the House of Commons on my way back to the US. I must admit that I found Janner to be a pompous and self-promoting individual, who showed no interest whatsoever in my experiences in the former USSR.
Anyway it was quite a surprise for me to meet the same man that I had met in Moscow, only 36 years later in Kfar Saba. He spent 5 long years as a refusenik, having renounced his Soviet citizenship, and in a real sense helped to bring down the Soviet Union. He is of course older now, as we all are, and his divided beard is now grey.


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