April 29, 1979
At Ben-Gurion Airport, five recently released Soviet Jewish prisoners are welcomed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin and cheering crowds. The five had been convicted in a 1970 hijacking plot, attempting to escape the anti-Semitic policies of the Soviet Union at the time. Their story catalyzes the movement to free Soviet Jewry.
Begin addresses the crowd saying,
It is a great day; our hearts are filled with emotions. Let us pray to the Lord that we shall soon have here all – all the prisoners of Zion, freed from Soviet jails and gathering in Israel. Together with your families, you will live in the mother country; you will be free citizens; and together with us, you shall help build Israel so it becomes an example for the entire world.
Between Israel’s founding in 1948 and 1978, approximately 150,000 Jews leave the Soviet Union for Israel and many more wish to do so. During the eighties, Jews throughout the world become more aware of the plight of Soviet Jewry and bring increasing pressure on the Soviets to allow Jewish emigration. As a result of these efforts, between 1979 and 2012, over one million Jews from the former Soviet Union immigrate to Israel.
The photo shows Prime Minister Menachem Begin with three of the released prisoners of Zion on April 29, 1979.