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Jewish groups send letters to WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich for Rosh Hashanah: NPR

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Evan Gershkovich stands in the defendant’s cage before a June hearing in Moscow.

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images


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Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images


Evan Gershkovich stands in the defendant’s cage before a June hearing in Moscow.

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – begins Friday evening, marking the start of a 10-day period of prayer, introspection and repentance.

Many American Jews celebrate this holiday by attending services, hearing the sounds of a shofar (ram’s horn), lighting candles, and eating symbolic foods, among other traditions.

And a considerable number of them also send their Happy New Year wishes to a single stranger thousands of miles from home: Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, imprisoned in Russia since March.

Gershkovich, the son of Jewish parents who emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1979, grew up in New Jersey and had been living and working in Russia for six years at the time of his arrest on espionage charges that he denies.

The United States is working to secure his release, with President Biden saying in July that he was “serious about a prisoner exchange.”

Gershkovich’s family, his employer and other supporters are speaking out more and more clearly about his plight in recent days, hoping that other countries will show support when they come to New York for the high-level meetings of the United Nations General Assembly next week.

More than 2,000 letters demonstrate the strength of the community

In the meantime, Jews around the world want Gershkovich to know he is not alone.

The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella organization representing hundreds of Jewish communities in the United States and Canada, organized a campaign inviting people to submit a letter to Gershkovich before the holiday via an online form.

The organization combined parts of some of those notes into a “collective letter” that it has already sent to Gershkovich’s lawyers, spokeswoman Alisa Bodner told NPR via email. He will compile the individual letters into a book that will be given to Gershkovich’s family after the holidays.

More than 2,200 letters had arrived from 21 countries as of Thursday evening, according to Bodner. The submission form closes at 6 p.m. ET Friday.

“We tried to incorporate a wide range of themes into the collective letter, from those that were deeply personal, to those that drew on Jewish themes, to those that captured the solidarity of the entire world with it” , Bodner said.

A sample of nearly a dozen letters shared with NPR come from places as varied as U.S. states like Minnesota, Florida and New York, to South Africa and London. And they were written by people of all ages, from a 90-year-old woman in Toronto to more than 100 students at a Jewish school in Baltimore.

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told NPR in a statement that collective responsibility is a core value of the Jewish faith, and called the campaign a powerful example of the power of community.

“We hope these heartfelt messages remind Evan that he is never alone and that so many people keep him in their hearts and prayers,” Fingerhut added.

Start the new year with strength and solidarity

A Long Island rabbi wrote that the apples and honey eaten during the holiday meal symbolize hope for a sweet year ahead “and we pass on this hope to you, believing that better days will come.”

“I can imagine your freedom,” wrote someone who identifies as a Russian-speaking Jew born in Ukraine. They told Gershkovich that people were looking forward to the day he could be reunited with his loved ones and that in the meantime, they “stand with you and send you strength, love and unwavering support.”

Another supporter, from London, said it was “heartbreaking” to think of Gershkovich alone and in such a difficult situation, especially when so many people are celebrating the holiday with their loved ones.

“But remember: Throughout our history, Jews have faced seemingly insurmountable challenges,” they added. “And each time, with unwavering spirit and unity, we prevailed.”

Perhaps the most famous person to write to is Natan Sharansky, a prominent Soviet dissident and Israeli politician who spent a year and a half in Lefortovo prison – where Gershkovich is currently held – in the 1970s.

Sharansky called it his “alma mater” in his note to Gershkovich, in which he offered words of encouragement and advice.

“I am sure that this will be the year of your liberation, thanks to our prayers, Jewish solidarity and the support of your friends and colleagues,” he wrote from Jerusalem. “It is very important, while resisting pressure, to have a broader world view in mind and to be optimistic.”

His supporters want the UN to act next week

Danielle Gershkovich, Evan’s sister, leaves a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington in July.

Patrick Semansky/AP


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Patrick Semansky/AP


Danielle Gershkovich, Evan’s sister, leaves a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington in July.

Patrick Semansky/AP

The holiday and campaign come amid growing efforts — including by Gershkovich’s family and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — to bring the 31-year-old home.

Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen accredited to work as a journalist in Russia, was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service during a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg on March 29.

He has since been detained in Moscow on espionage charges. Wall Street Journal and the US government vehemently denies it – and could result in up to 20 years in prison. Last month, Gershkovich’s pretrial detention was extended for another three months, until the end of November.

The Biden administration declared him wrongly detained and demanded his immediate release (along with that of Paul Whelan, a Marine Corps veteran detained in Russia since 2018).

Earlier this week, lawyers representing Dow Jones, the NewspaperThe editor of , asked a UN panel to declare Gershkovich “arbitrarily detained.” The group has no enforcement power, but such a move would increase pressure on Russia.

The lawyers claimed in a letter that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to use Gershkovich to “gain influence over and extract ransom from the United States,” and called his detention “a blatant violation of many of his basic human rights.” .

“We want the world to see that it’s not just the United States that wrongfully designated Evan as detained,” Jay Conti, executive vice president and general counsel of Dow Jones, said during a panel discussion. of the UN on Tuesday, “but the UN reviewed the situation according to its own standards and made an independent judgment that he had been arbitrarily detained and that he should be released.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told a press briefing on Wednesday that Russia’s actions were “beyond cruel” and constituted a “violation of international law”. She added that the United States “will not rest until Evan and Paul and all unjustly detained Americans are home, safe and sound.”

Gershkovich’s parents and sister also appealed to UN members for support. ahead of the general debate of its General Assembly, when world leaders gather in New York next week. They spoke at UN headquarters on Wednesday at the invitation of Thomas-Greenfield.

“We urge all world leaders to stand with Evan and what he stands for: the fundamental right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” said Mikhail Gershkovich, Evan’s father. Evan. “These rights are the fundamental principles of the United Nations.”

He and his wife, Ella Milman, spoke about how difficult the last six months have been for their family, although they said they found comfort in being able to correspond with their son and see his strength. (They also traveled from Philadelphia to Moscow in May to see him briefly during his trial.)

“We’re glad he kept his sense of humor — teasing me that prison food reminds him of my cooking,” Milman said, according to the Associated Press.

Danielle Gershkovich, Evan’s sister, said the family should plan for his birthday next month, without having to “remind the world that Evan is innocent and that journalism is not a crime.”

“We are calling on world leaders to help find a solution to secure Evan’s release,” she added. “If it can happen to my brother, it can happen to any journalist trying to report the news.”

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