`Inside Story' probes the plight of Russian Jews

A pathetic yet somehow inspiring tale of the ``internal exile'' of hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews is the subject of a special edition of the sorely missed ``Inside Story'' series. Samuel Rachlin of Danish television, who produced Jews of Moscow (PBS, Thursday, Jan. 16, 9-10 p.m.), managed to tape a wide variety of interviews and spontaneous dialogues with Jews and non-Jews representing a wide range of Soviet citizens on the subject of Zionism, Jewish culture, anti-Semitism in Russia, and Jewish emigration.

After the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, more than 250,000 Russian Jews were allowed to leave. But last year only 1,000 Jews were granted emigration permits, leaving thousands of ``refuseniks'' in limbo status, not accepted as Soviet citizens and yet not permitted to go. Moscow harbors some 200,000 of the 2 million to 3 million Jews in all of Russia. Nobody knows exactly how many wish to emigrate to Israel.

Interviews with anti-Zionists produce some rather extreme reactions: Many believe that Zionism is a ``fascist, racist ideology,'' part of the West's psychological warfare against the USSR. Some ``official Jews'' serve on the Soviet Anti-Zionist Committee, which seems to reflect a harsh government anti-Zionist position that is almost indistinguishable from anti-Semitism. Refuseniks, as well as foreign observers, fear that this attitude portends further repression of immigration and, perhaps, even new Jewish persecution.

The major strength of the tape, narrated by Theodore Bikel, lies in the poignantly defiant words of the young, who boldly express their belief in the religion and culture of their fathers and grandfathers. Scenes of youngsters congregating outside Moscow's only synagogue, dancing the hora in the street, and taking part in Passover celebrations despite state disapproval indicate an unconquerable spirit. Or, as one young woman insists, ``a spirit of resurrection of Jewish culture.'' Sadly she insists that the only way the culture can survive is if she mixes only with her own kind. Another young witness stresses that he has come to the realization that ``the Soviet experiment is not for the Jews.''

Unfortunately, certain segments of the population are not represented: non-Jewish Russians who support Zionism and Jewish emigration and Jewish Russians, other than officials, who do not want to emigrate to Israel. Inclusion of such material would have strengthened as well as broadened the perspective.

At the conclusion of the inside-Russia tape, ``Inside Story'' presents a round-table discussion with former New York Times Moscow bureau chief Hedrick Smith; producer Rachlin; and Dusko Doder, Moscow correspondent for the Washington Post. They stress that the approach of the next summit between Reagan and Gorbachev may result in a loosening of controls and a rise in emigration of Jews. However, Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, insists in an interview that reports that 15,000 Jews are about to be airlifted out of Russia are ``made out of whole cloth.'' But he is not entirely pessimistic about the possibility of a future increase in Jewish immigration.

``Jews of Russia,'' produced under the aegis of executive producer Ned Schnurman, is further proof that the temporarily defunct ``Inside Story'' needs to be revived. As the search for an underwriter continues, perhaps this special edition will convince potential funders that television needs a free, hard-hitting look at the media and their coverage of the news. This is a story that has seldom if ever been told in such understanding and understandable terms.

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