Social Activism & Community
Herman Branover
Born in 1931 in Latvia, physicist Herman Branover is known as a trailblazer in the field of magnetohydrodynamics. He immigrated to Russia with his mother after escaping Nazi collaborators, where he learned Hebrew in secrecy and became affiliated with the Chabad movement. A refusenik for over 15 years, Branover was the first Jewish professor with a doctorate degree, who was given an exit visa to leave the Soviet Union. While in Israel, he launched Solmecs, a research company that developed environmentally sound energy generators. He is the supervisor of an eight-volume encyclopedia on Russian Jewry that was commissioned by the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.
Arie (Lova) Eliav
Arie (Lova) Eliav came to Israel as a young child. Born in Moscow in 1921, he immigrated to Israel three years later. Between 1965 and 1979, Eliav served in several political roles, including as a member of Knesset in the Mapai party and later in the Labor party. During the 1980s, he volunteered as a nurse at Tel Aviv’s Hadassah Hospital and as a teacher in Kiryat Shmona, Sderot and Ma’alot. He helped found the educational community of Nitzana. He won the Israel Prize in 1988 for his contributions to society. Eliav died in Tel Aviv in 2010 at the age of 88.
Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky
Best known for his overt involvement with the refusenik movement, Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky was born in 1948 in Ukraine. In 1977, he was arrested for treason and spying on behalf of the United States. From prison, Sharansky became a symbol for human rights in general and Soviet Jewry in particular. Under international pressure, Sharansky was released in 1986. Once in Israel, he served in many influential roles. He created a new political party, Yisrael B'Aliyah, which was dedicated to helping new immigrants. Once in government, he served as ndustry and Trade Minister, Interior Minister, Housing and Construction Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. From 2009 to 2018, Sharansky served as Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Yuri Stern
Yuri Stern was born in Russia in 1949 and immigrated to Israel in 1981. Stern is best known for founding the Soviet Jewry Information Center and the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. He entered the 14th Knesset and dedicated much of his political efforts to serving vulnerable populations, including Holocaust survivors and single mothers. He served as Head of the State Control Committee and Deputy Prime Minister. He died in Jerusalem in 2007 at the age of 57.
Ben Zion Tavger
A physicist by profession, Ben Zion Tavger was born in 1930 in the former Soviet Union and became an advocate for immigration to Israel. Persecuted by the regime, Tavger was finally able to make aliyah in 1972. He became a staunch supporter of the revival of the Jewish community in Hebron and restoration of its holy places. He is best known for initiating the rebuilding of the Avraham Avinu synagogue in Hebron and the excavation of the ancient Jewish cemetery of Hebron. He published more than 45 scientific papers, mostly in the field of solid-state physics. Tavger died in 1983 and was buried at the Hebron cemetery that he restored.
Anna Talisman
Anna Talisman, Israeli human rights activist, was born in Odessa in 1974 and made aliyah in 1991. As a trained social worker, she worked with the Israeli LGBTQ community organizations and counselled immigrant children, patients and victims of trauma. Since 2008, Anna has been one of the founders and leading figures of the Russian-speakers’ LGBTQ movement in Israel, aimed at fighting prejudice and stereotypes on behalf of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and the general Israeli LGBTQ community. Today she is the manager of a project for Russian-speaking LGBTQ immigrants, counselor and instructor at LIGA (a Russian-speaking women’s feminist group), lecturer and writer on the issues of LGBTQ and women’s rights and health.
Yitzchok Zilber
A prominent and learned rabbi, Yitzchok Zilber, has invested much of his time and effort into helping Russian women receive bills of divorce after being abandoned by their husbands. Zilber was born in 1917 in Kazan, Russia, and immigrated to Israel in 1972. He worked tirelessly to find these “lost husbands” and convince them to agree to a divorce. Zilber taught Torah in several Russian organizations. In 2000, he founded the Toldos Yeshurun organization to provide Jewish education to secular Russian Jews. After his passing in 2003, his followers wrote that he was available to everyone who came to seek his advice. They affectionately called him “the father of Russian Jewry.”