Ida Nudel was a Russian Jewish activist and refusenik. Born in the Crimea, she was trained in Moscow as an economist. Under the impact of the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1970 Leningrad Trial, she and her sister – her sole relative – decided to leave for Israel in 1971. Her sister and her family were permitted to emigrate the next year but Nudel was refused permission on the ground that she was privy to state secrets (she had been working as an accountant in a planning institution which was totally non-secret). Dismissed from her job, she became active in the Jewish emigration movement and was known as the “Guardian Angel,” caring for Jewish prisoners and their families. Through demonstrations, correspondence, and meetings with foreigners visiting Moscow, she brought the plight of the prisoners to public attention. She was arrested on many occasions, placed under house arrest, harassed frequently and physically abused.
In 1978, she hung a banner on the balcony of her apartment reading
KGB – GIVE ME MY EXIT VISA, as a result of which she was sentenced to four years’ exile in Siberia on charges of malicious hooliganism. There she suffered great hardships and, after her release in 1982, was refused the right to live in a major city and moved from one place to another. In the Western world she became the best-known woman refusenik, winning the active support of many public figures such as Jane Fonda (who visited her in her exile) and Liv Ullmann (who portrayed her in a movie).
Finally, in 1987 she was permitted to leave for Israel and received a hero’s welcome on October 15, 1987, at Ben-Gurion Airport, where she was greeted by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and thousands of others, including her beloved sister.
Holding her new Israeli ID card close to her heart and wiping away tears, she declared:
The moment came. I am on the soil of my people: at home.
She settled near her sister in Reḥovot and created the “Mother to Mother” nonprofit to providee after-school activities for the children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. She also became associated with right-wing political activities and spoke out against terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
The Italian film, Mosca Addio (Farewell Moscow), starring Ullmann was based on her autobiography, A Hand in the Darkness.
“Even after she immigrated, she continued to act in Israel for the education of the children of the new immigrants, to whom she was devoted until her last day. Ida Nudel was an exemplar of Jewish heroism for us all,” recalled Prime Minister Naftali Bennett after her death at the age of 90 on September 14, 2021.