Gedaly and Erita and their son Igor were friends of our family in the 1990s. We met them soon after they left Odessa, Ukraine, which was controlled by Russia at the time. We helped Gedaly, an engineer, find a job.
In the late 1970s, like Gedaly and Erita, Ella and Mikhail Gershkovich immigrated to the US from the Soviet Union, along with thousands of other Jews escaping Russian tyranny. They joined the Refuseniks who hated Russian oppression and anti-Semitism, taking advantage of the short thaw between the US and Russia to flee.
Ella got out when she was 22 using an Israeli passport, with the help of her mother who had been a nurse in camps for Holocaust survivors in Poland after World War II.
Ella and Mikhail met each other in Detroit and soon moved to New York, got married, and ultimately moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Evan is their only son, born 31 years ago in America. He made them proud, excelling as a student and leading his high school to the state championship in soccer. He then attended an elite New England college.
Today, he sits in a Russian jail accused as a spy, but his real crime was writing too many accurate pieces about Russia for the Wall Street Journal over the past year and a half.
Perhaps because my family had a special relationship with Gedaly and Erita’s family, I feel a special kinship for the Gershkoviches and their son. Evan has been living in Russia for five and a half years, writing for several publications. He landed his job with the Wall Street Journal just before the outset of the Ukraine War. From everything I have read, he loved being in Russia and loves the Russian people. His favorite hang out was the Moscow Bathhouse and Sauna.
For me, Evan Gershkovich is much more than a pawn to be traded for a Russian bad guy. Somewhat like Brittney Griner was an enormously significant symbol to the LGBT community–not just a great basketball player, Gershkovich is much more than just a talented American journalist to me.
He has shown enormous curiosity and courage. His most recent article, published just before his arrest, was written with a colleague, Georgi Kantchev. It was a very thorough analysis of the recent decline of the Russian economy. He wrote about the biting labor shortage and brain drain as so many people, especially younger ones, have left to evade the army and economic failure. Capital has dried up for new Russian businesses. Most of the country’s budget is allocated to replace munitions and military products.
Certainly this article did not sit well with the Kremlin.
Evan had the courage to go to the Russian-Ukraine border to photograph and speak to members of the Russian elite paratrooper unit that had committed the atrocities in Bucha a year ago.
I can easily understand why Putin and company would do the almost politically unthinkable, seizing a reporter from one of the most respected publications in the world and trying him as a spy. That has not happened since 1986.
To me, Evan is more than just a brave writer.
On Wednesday, Jews all over the world will celebrate Passover, reciting the story of Jews standing up to the Pharaoh in Egypt.
Gershkovich stood up to evil power, embodied in Vladimir Putin.
Tomorrow, we celebrate Moses, who discovered his Jewish roots in a foreign land, as did Gershkovich.
As I lift up my wine at the Seder, I will be thinking of him languishing in a Russian FCB prison.
To your freedom, Evan. Be well. Be strong.
Question: How has the Ukraine war impacted you?