EXODUS, OR “THE BOOK”
In all directions we are surrounded by history.
—LEON URIS, EXODUS
IT MAY HAVE ARRIVED when an American tourist handed a copy to a Jew while standing on a train platform in Lithuania. Or when the son of the Israeli consul general in Leningrad passed it on to a group of dissidents. Or when a German copy, secretly sent to refuseniks in Riga, began to appear in a Russian translation, which took an hour a page to type and nearly a year to complete. No matter how it got there or what form it took, Exodus in its samizdat (selfpublished) version became an underground Russian classic of the seventies that led, in the words of one refusenik, to “the national rebirth of Jewish youth in the Soviet Union.”1
The story of Leonid Feldman from Moldova, then part of the Soviet Union, highlights the danger.2 He was astonished when he heard that his sister’s boyfriend had been arrested for reading a book. Although unsure of the title, he decided to read the book himself. Three years later, he waited one night at eleven in a dark corner of a park. He was handed a heavy briefcase. “Take a taxi and go home, but you must return with the manuscript to this spot by seven a.m., finished or not,” said the courier. “No one must know what you’ve done.” No one told him that reading it was dangerous. No one told him the title; it was known only as “the book.” “Have you seen ‘the book’?” “Who’s got ‘the book’?” many would quietly ask.
Feldman, a former chess champion, was then a twenty-one-year-old high school physics teacher. “The book,” however, changed his life: he could explain the principles of relativity but not Abraham and Isaac. He had never heard of the Torah and didn’t know Jews had been around for 4,000 years. From “the book” he learned of the Holocaust and that Hitler had hated Jews and Russians. Angry when he ended his reading because his government had lied to him and taught him to hate himself, he became a different man.