Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year – begins on Friday night, beginning a 10-day period of prayer, meditation and repentance.
Many American Jews will celebrate the holiday by attending services, hearing the sounds of the shofar (ram’s horn), lighting candles and eating symbolic foods, among other traditions.
There are also a large number sending their New Year wishes to a stranger thousands of miles away: Wall Street Journal Reporter Ivan Gershkovich, who has been imprisoned in Russia since March.
Gershkovich, son Jewish parents who immigrated From the Soviet Union in 1979 AD I grew up in New Jersey He had been living and working in Russia for six years at the time of his arrest on espionage charges, which he denies.
The United States is working to secure his release with President Biden Saying in July And he was “serious about the prisoner exchange.”
Gershkovitch’s family, his employer and other supporters have increasingly spoken out about his ordeal in recent days, hoping other countries will show their support when they come to New York for high-level meetings of the United Nations General Assembly next week.
Over 2,000 messages show the power of community
Meanwhile, Jews around the world want Gershkovitch to know he is not alone.
The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella organization representing hundreds of Jewish communities across the United States and Canada, has organized a campaign calling on people to submit a letter to Gershkovitch before the holiday through an online form.
The organization has combined portions of some of those notes into a “group letter” it has already sent to Gershkovitch’s attorney, spokeswoman Alyssa Bodner told NPR via email. She will compile the individual letters into a book to deliver to the Gershkovich family after the holiday.
According to Bodner, more than 2,200 messages had flowed in from 21 countries as of Thursday evening. the Application form Closes at 6pm ET on Friday.
“We tried to incorporate a wide range of themes into the collective message, from those that were very personal to those that drew on Jewish themes to those that expressed solidarity around the world for him,” Bodner said.
A sampling of about a dozen letters shared with NPR comes from places as diverse as U.S. states like Minnesota, Florida and New York, to South Africa and London. They are written by people of all ages, from a 90-year-old woman in Toronto to more than 100 students at a Jewish school in Baltimore.
Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told NPR in a statement that collective responsibility is a core value of the Jewish faith, calling the campaign a powerful example of the power of community.
“Our hope is that these heartfelt letters will serve as a reminder to Evan that he is never alone, and that so many people are keeping him in their hearts and prayers,” Fingerhut added.
We start the new year with strength and solidarity
One Long Island rabbi wrote that apples and honey eaten during the holiday meal symbolize hope for a sweet year ahead “and we offer you this hope, believing that better days will come.”
“I can imagine your freedom,” wrote one person who identified himself as a Russian-speaking Jew born in Ukraine. They told Gershkovitch that people long for the day he can reunite with his loved ones, and until then “they stand by your side, sending you strength, love and unwavering support.”
Another well-wisher, from London, said it was “painful” to think of Gershkovitch alone and in such a difficult situation, especially since so many people celebrate the holiday with loved ones.
“But remember: Throughout our history, Jews have faced insurmountable challenges,” they added. “And every time, with steadfast spirit and unity, we have overcome.”
Perhaps the most famous person to write about is Natan Sharansky, the prominent Soviet dissident and Israeli politician who spent a year and a half in Lefortovo prison – where Gershkovitch is currently detained – in the 1970s.
Sharansky referred to it as his “alma mater” in his note to Gershkovich, in which he offered words of encouragement and advice.
“I am sure that it will be your year of liberation, thanks to our prayers, Jewish solidarity and the support of your friends and colleagues.” Books from Jerusalem. “It is very important, while resisting stress, to see in our mind a bigger picture of the world and be optimistic.”
His supporters want the United Nations to take action next week
The vacation and campaign come amid growing efforts — including Gershkovitch’s family and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — to repatriate the 31-year-old.
Gershkovich, a US citizen accredited to work as a journalist in Russia, was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service during a press trip to Yekaterinburg on March 29.
He has since been detained in Moscow on espionage charges Wall Street Journal The US government vehemently denies this, and could be punished by up to 20 years in prison. Last month, Gershkovic’s pretrial detention was extended for another three months until the end of November.
Earlier this week, lawyers representing Dow Jones, magazinePublisher, “Application from UN Group for Gershkovitch Declaration”Arbitrary arrestThe group has no enforcement authority, but such a move would increase pressure on Russia.
The lawyers argued in a letter that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to use Gershkovitch “to gain leverage over and hold ransom from the United States,” and called his detention a “flagrant violation of several of his fundamental human rights.”
“We want the world to be able to see that it is not just the United States that has designated Ivan as unjustly detained,” Jay Contee, executive vice president and general counsel of Dow Jones, explained at a UN panel discussion on Tuesday. “They took a look at this under their own separate criteria and made an independent judgment that he was being detained arbitrarily and should be released.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, He said in a press conference on Wednesday Russia’s actions “beyond cruelty” and “violate international law.” She added that the United States “will not rest until Evan, Paul, and all unjustly detained Americans return home safe and sound.”
Gershkovitch’s parents and sister also appealed to UN members for their support Ahead of the General Assembly’s general debate, when leaders from around the world meet in New York next week. They spoke at UN headquarters on Wednesday at the invitation of Thomas Greenfield.
“We urge all world leaders to stand with Ivan and what he stands for: the fundamental right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” said Mikhail Gershkovitch, Ivan’s father. “These rights are the fundamental principles of the United Nations.”
He and his wife, Ella Millman, spoke about how difficult the past six months had been for their family, although they said they drew comfort from being able to connect with their son and see his strength. (They also traveled from Philadelphia to Moscow in May.) See it briefly At his trial.)
“We’re glad he kept his sense of humor, as he used to tease me that prison food reminded him of my cooking,” Millman said. News agency.
Danielle Gershkovich, Evan’s sister, said the family should plan for his birthday next month, and not have to “remind the world that Evan is innocent and that journalism is not a crime.”
She added: “We ask world leaders to help find a solution to secure Ivan’s release.” “If this could happen to my brother, it can happen to any journalist trying to report the news.”
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