Ephraim (Alexander) Kholmyansky is an Israeli engineer and author, former Soviet Prisoner of Zion, former activist in the Jewish national revival movement in Russia, and a teacher of Hebrew.
Early Years Ephraim (Alexander) Kholmyansky was born in 1950 in Moscow to a Jewish family. He graduated from the prestigious Moscow high school #2. He acquired an M.Sc. in computer sciences and worked for seven years as a computer hardware and CAD specialist in the Moscow computer peripherals R&D center.
Hebrew Teacher in Moscow In the 1970s, Kholmyansky became interested in Jewish national revival and, above all, in learning Hebrew. In the late 1970s he became a prominent unofficial Hebrew teacher in Moscow. Although banned, Hebrew education was somewhat tolerated by the authorities in Moscow and Leningrad, but not in the tens of peripheral cities across the giant country, where the vast majority of Soviet Jews resided.
Underground Project Against all odds, Kholmyansky decided to take on the task of bringing Jewish national revival to these peripheral cities. The teaching of Hebrew was to serve as spearhead of this mission. Since the KGB did not tolerate such activity, the project had to be an underground one.
Kholmyansky initiated the project in December 1979. Acting as a project leader until his arrest in July 1984, he managed to create a clandestine network of Hebrew teachers, Zionist groups, and religious groups in 20 different cities across the USSR.
The KGB began close surveillance of Kholmyansky and began intimidating him to put an end to this unprecedented project. Despite the harassment and the danger, Kholmyansky continued the project.
Hunger Strike The KGB arrested him in Estonia in 1984 and he was brought to the Tallinn prison. While he was in preliminary detention, the KGB conducted a house search of his Moscow apartment, where they planted a shotgun and subsequently accused him of illegal possession of firearms.
In response to the fabricated accusation, Kholmyansky proclaimed an open-end hunger strike. The authorities placed him a special punishment cell where he continued his hunger strike. After 15 days of the strike, the authorities began force-feeding him. Finally, after many months of the hunger strike in the punishment cell, his weight shrunk as low as 42.5 kg (he is 172 cm tall).
The fabricated case and the prolonged hunger strike sparked an international solidarity campaign. U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, three U.S. Senators (including Edward Kennedy), 10 U.S. Congressmen, British P.M. Margaret Thatcher, Australian P.M. Bob Hawke and other public figures took part in the struggle to free Kholmyansky.
It is widely believed that Kholmyansky’s staunch struggle, together with this international campaign, caused him to receive a record short term of imprisonment – 18 months total.
After he finally got out of prison, he spent two more years struggling to obtain an exit visa to Israel. He was finally granted the exit visa, and arrived in Israel with his family in 1988.
In Israel Following his arrival in Israel, Kholmyansky was invited as a guest speaker for a variety of international events, on three continents, including the fundraising campaign for the upcoming massive wave of Jewish immigration to Israel from the USSR.
Starting in 1990, Kholmyansky worked for the Israel Ministry of Education as Hebrew Ulpan Manager. From 1998 to 2001 he served as the CEO of the Zionist Forum (the largest nonprofit organization supporting Russian immigrants established by Natan Sharansky). For eight years he worked for Givot Olam, an Israeli oil exploration and production company, where he served as a planning manager. For some 10 years he worked in various managerial and advisory positions in several start-up companies.
In 2007 Kholmyansky published a book in Russian devoted to his struggle in the Soviet Union. His book has subsequently been translated into Hebrew and into English.
Ephraim Kholmyansky resides in the Jerusalem suburb. He is married to Anna; they have five children and one granddaughter.