By Rudy Stoler
Two refusenik stories, separated by a space of more than a decade, weave a tale of Baltimore activists’ devotion to reuniting families, particularly those of musical folk.
Just days after International Children’s Day in June 1975, three-year-old Julia Gorin stood beside her mother and older sister in Moscow as she told KGB plainclothesmen, “I want to go to Edick.” Edward Gorin (a.k.a. Edick), then a violinist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, was harshly separated from his daughter at birth when the Soviet Union refused to extend his family’s exit visa to include their newborn girl.
Over the next year, Baltimoreans waged an intense petition and information campaign on behalf of the Gorins. Senator Mathias even pledged to raise their case personally with Brezhnev. Then, next March, Edward received the great news that they were coming home and told the Jewish Times, “I really am completely crazy with excitement.” Papers processed, the Baltimore Committee for Soviet Jewry was overjoyed and invited the community to greet the reunited Gorin family upon their arrival at BWI airport.
Similarly, on a fateful day in 1988, Baltimore activist and President of The Associated’s Baltimore Jewish Council, Sol Goldstein tried to bring clothes to the prominent, long-term refusenik, Elena Keiss-Kuna, whom he described as a “little wiry woman, tough, tough as nails.” 14 years earlier, Elena and her family applied for visas to Israel. Elena was refused on the basis of her access to “state secrets” at her previous job. Her sister, a musician named Anna Rosnovsky who soon rose to first violinist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, was granted a visa for her body but not for her violin. Meita, their mother, smuggled the violin to her, but paid for it with a Lefortovo Prison sentence that left her mind permanently sick. Morduch, her father, left for Israel in 1976 and Elena wrote that he “couldn’t believe that he’ll never see me and his grandson Andrey.” (He passed away in 1986.) Meanwhile, Elena’s husband and soon-to-be-conscripted son applied for visas separate from their mother in 1987, but were still refused.
Unfortunately for Goldstein, the Soviet officials refused to believe that the ladies’ clothes in his luggage was for his own use—“I wear ‘em…in America, I’m called a transvestite,” he told them. But they met nevertheless and a deep emotional bond formed between them. “Your life is the great example for me and must be the example for every Jewish being,” she wrote him soon afterwards. They spoke every Friday at four o’clock for the next year. Goldstein helped bring Elena’s case to the attention of politicians like Senator Paul Sarbanes and Secretary of State George Schultz.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra took up the cause as well, arranging for a well-publicized telephone call between Elena and her sister Anna, who wished her a hearty “Next year in Jerusalem” at the foot of Masada while her orchestra played Gustav Mahler’s second symphony, “Resurrection.” Anna Rosnovsky and Goldstein teamed up, meeting with Congressman Steny Hoyer’s office in an attempt “to make the case of Elena the prime case in Washington.” After a year of determined advocacy and constant communication, “one day I called and there’s no answer…she finally went to Israel.” She and Goldstein maintained their friendship for years afterward.