Review: Yosef Mendelevich

Yosef Medelevich: Leader of Soviet Jewry

by Leah Sokol

Menucha Publishers, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Merle Eisman Carrus

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This is a fabulous book written for middle school readers, but also terrific for adults who are looking to learn about the life of Yosef Mendelevich and more about Soviet Jewry. It's the story of the first Refusenik who helped educate the world about the plight of the Jewish people in Russia. He lived his life as a religious Jew and survived many Russian prisons to finally realize his dream to live in Israel.

This book is written in a simple style that explains the life of Yosef Mendelevich, from his childhood growing up in a Jewish home in the Soviet Union. In 1968 Yosef read Leon Uris’, Exodus and found a deep tie to Judaism and the Jewish state. His goal became to leave the Soviet Union and fly to Israel.

He was part of the “Operation Wedding,” a wild scheme that he and ten other Jewish activists created to commandeer a small Russian airplane, fly to Sweden, and then onto Israel. The KGB found out about the plan and captured all the participants on the tarmac. They were tried and sentenced to prison. Mendelevich spent most of his 12 years in prison in the Ural Mountains. It was a very difficult experience, which increased his desire to practice Judaism and live in Israel. While in prison, his story was being told all over the world and people were learning about the terrible treatment of the Jewish people in the USSR.

At the end of his prison sentence the Russian government took him to the airport and put him on an airplane to Israel. He had always believed in G-D and believed that his faith would see him through the hard times to receive a miracle.

This is a story of perseverance and determination, a story of how one man could help so many Russian refuseniks get the freedom they all wanted. His life story is an inspiration to many who want to achieve something difficult, to never give up or accept defeat.

This is a terrific book for young readers to learn about an important part of the history of the Jewish people. Yosef Mendelevich learned more and more about being Jewish throughout his life. He covered his head, kept kosher, and learned to read Hebrew. He shared his knowledge with other refuseniks. The reader learns what it is like not be allowed the freedom to practice the religion of your choice. Non-Jewish readers will also find this a very interesting book.

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Reviewer Merle Eisman Carrus resides in New Hampshire and writes book reviews for the NH Jewish Reporter newspaper. She is a graduate of Emerson College and received her Masters of Jewish Studies from Hebrew College. Merle is the National President of the Brandeis National Committee. She leads books discussion groups and author interviews. She blogs her book reviews at