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Keeping Matters in Proportion

Binyamin Rose

Yuli Edelstein views the challenges of Jewish life from the same prism, whether as Speaker of the Knesset or as a refusenik languishing in a Soviet labor camp. In this exclusive interview, Edelstein said if there’s one lesson life has taught him, it’s that no matter where he is, a Jew always stands up for his principles.

Monday, September 02, 2013

You can usually discern a lot about a man from the pictures and memorabilia that decorate the walls of his office.

In the case of Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, who earned a coveted space with panoramic views ofJerusalemasIsrael’s speaker of the Knesset, photographs of Jonathan Pollard and Nelson Mandela play prominently.

If anyone can relate to the plight of these two men incarcerated for some of the best years of their lives, it is Edelstein, who spent two years in Soviet labor camps for the high and treasonable “crime” of teaching Hebrew to his fellow Soviet Jews.

“It taught me to always be humble,” says Edelstein, casting a furtive glance over his left shoulder at the pictures.

The prison experience also taught Edelstein to internalize the belief that things can always change for the better. That attitude applies when dealing with tormentors like Soviet gulag guards trying to break their subjects with mental or physical torture, or negotiating with diplomats trying to sweet-talkIsraelinto subdividing its homeland.

Edelstein survived the anguish of the gulag, although it took many acts of self-control to avoid lashing out at his Soviet persecutors. “It’s not that I’m such an optimist, but normal behavior is to try to really live for today in order to get to tomorrow,” says Edelstein. “One thing that you learn, and it’s relevant to many other issues, is that a normal person always wants to survive, and I think that the Jewish People are the champions of that.”

 

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