Yosef Mendelevitch (or Mendelovitch) (b. 1947 in Riga), was a refusenik from the former Soviet Union, also known as a "Prisoner of Zion" and now a politically unaffiliated rabbi living in Jerusalem who gained fame for his adherence to Judaism and public attempts to emigrate to Israel at a time when it was against the law in the USSR.
Mendelevich was born in Riga and started his Jewish activities in the 1960s. He formed a student group of underground Jewish Education in 1966 and became an editor of an underground newsletter Iton on Jewish issues in 1969. Being repeatably refused the right to immigration, he became one of the leaders of the Dymshits–Kuznetsov hijacking affair, recounted in his 2012 memoir, Unbroken Spirit. As punishment, he was imprisoned for eleven years. During the imprisonment he was punished for keeping Jewish precepts. In 1981, after a worldwide struggle, he was released and immigrated to Israel.
He served in Soviet prisons with famous Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky (amongst others). In Sharansky's memoir Fear No Evil he describes innovative ways Mendelevitch used to communicate with Sharansky, such as through both toilet bowls and radiators.
Mendelevitch had always exhibited leadership qualities. Early on in Israel he headed an organization called Soviet Jewry Information Center and has managed to attract followers to his causes. This has been attested to by his fellow refuseniks, such as Natan Sharansky: "In May 1988 he [Sharansky] founded the Zionist Forum, in preparation for the future waves of Aliyah from the Soviet Union, and based its activity on the database formed by former Refusenik Yosef Mendelevitch."
He was known as a "Prisoner of Zion." Since moving to Israel he adopted Orthodox Judaism and has become a rabbi affiliated with the Religious Zionist movement. He studied at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav and was ordained as a rabbi by Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen.
Mendelevitch has been a political activist from his days in the former USSR. When he moved to Israel, he became a globetrotting speaker on behalf of various causes, such as lobbying for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in the USA.
In his autobiography, written in Hebrew, מבצע חתונה אסיר ציון he describes his struggle as a "Prisoner of Zion."
Mendelevitch has become a popular speaker in various Jewish communities and has spoken out on controversial issues relating to Israel and the former Soviet Union. He has constantly involved himself in political and international affairs, Russia's support for Arab states, and the Arab–Israeli conflict, such as when he spoke out against a 1991 state visit by Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh's visit to Israel:
There have been many articles, books and documentaries about his life.