National Conference on Soviet Jewry
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (June 2014)|
|former Soviet Union|
|Stephen M. Greenberg|
The National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ) advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia. It is a voluntary, non-profit agency created in 1971. NCSEJ is the mandated central coordinating agency of the organized American Jewish community for policy and activities on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in the former Soviet Union (FSU). Headquartered in Washington D.C., NCSEJ comprises nearly 50 national organizations and over 300 local federations, community councils and committees. Through this extensive network, NCSEJ mobilizes the resources, energies and talents of millions of U.S. citizens, and also represents the American Jewish community in dealings with similar national groups abroad, and at international forums. NCSEJ played an important role in the Soviet Jewry movement, including such landmark legislations as Jackson–Vanik amendment. NCSJ current Chairman is Stephen M. Greenberg, President is Alexander Smukler and CEO is Mark B. Levin. 
To empower and ensure the security of Jews in the fifteen independent states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; to foster cooperation among the U.S. government, U.S. Jewish organizations, and the Jewish communities and governments of the region; to facilitate international Jewish organizations’ access to Jewish communities; to represent the organized U.S. Jewish community, including the Jewish Federations of North America and its member Federations; and to collaborate with other organizations for the provision of humanitarian aid, social services, and educational/communal development assistance throughout the region.
Since 1971, NCSJ (now known as NCSEJ) has been at the forefront of advocacy on behalf of Jews in the former Soviet Union (FSU). NCSJ helped to put the issue of Soviet Jewry on the agenda of numerous U.S.-Soviet Summits over the past two decades. NCSJ has remained an active player in the Helsinki Process since its inception in 1975, and continues as the only official Jewish organization participating in the OSCE process today. NCSJ played a leading role in the movement, having co-convened the historic 1987 Soviet Jewry rally of 250,000 American Jews in Washington, DC. As part of a broad-based coalition of business and other groups, NCSJ has been the American Jewish community's voice in support of targeted U.S. aid to the former Soviet Union. During the refusenik period, NCSJ sent numerous travelers to meet with Jewish activists in the USSR, and during the current period NCSJ has conducted leadership visits and assisted UJA with several missions to the FSU. NCSJ also maintains regular contact with Jews throughout the FSU. NCSJ's leadership was intimately involved in the creation of the Lavrov Commission by the Russian Government. The achievements of NCSJ are inextricably linked with the history of the Soviet Jewry Movement.
The Jews in the former Soviet Union today constitute the third largest Jewish community existent in the world, and historically represent one of the most troubled ones. Jews began to live in what was then part of the Russian Empire relatively recently. As a result of the three divisions of Poland among the Prussian, Austro-Hungarian, and the Russian Empires in the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Russian Empire became home to the world's largest Jewish community. From the time of their entry into the empire, Jews have suffered from discriminatory laws, including some which placed severe limitations on where they could live, and periodic eruptions of violence, known in English by their Russian name, "pogroms."
The promises of the Russian Revolution of 1917 offered hope to the Jews that the injustices of the Tsarist period would end, and that a new period in the history of the Jewish people living in that area of the world would begin. With the passage of time, it became clear that these were hollow promises, and the communist successors to the Tsars began a systematic campaign to eradicate all religion, including Judaism. In 1952, Stalin had a number of leading Jewish cultural figures murdered. In early 1953, fifteen Jewish doctors were arrested in what became known as the "Doctors' Plot." Only Stalin's death, in March 1953, saved the doctors, who were subsequently released. Under Khrushchev a new campaign emerged to stamp out the Jewish religion and Jewish culture. Jews began to be excluded systematically from many institutes of higher education and professions. Many of the remaining synagogues were closed, and, in the early 1960s, a number of Soviet Jews were imprisoned or executed during a campaign against "economic crimes." During this period, there was a dramatic shift in Soviet foreign policy against Israel and toward the Arab nations.
Meanwhile, official Soviet policy denied the existence of anti-Semitism in the USSR. Nikita Khrushchev, himself, denounced the pogroms of the Tsarist era, and Prime Minister Kosygin in the mid-1960s went so far as to assert that "the road is open" and "no problem exists" for Soviet Jews who might want to leave for Israel. This remark provoked an increase in applications from Soviet Jews, primarily in the Baltic republics, for emigration to Israel in 1965 and 1966. As the plight of the Jews in the Soviet Union worsened, Jews in the West began to react with concern. In April 1964, the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry (AJCSJ) was founded to spearhead a national campaign on behalf of Soviet Jewry. The AJCSJ established contact with the US Government, seeking to make the issue of Soviet Jewry an item on the bilateral agenda between the United States and the Soviet Union.
In 1967, in response to these early Soviet Jewry advocacy efforts, the Soviets permitted limited Jewish emigration. The Six-Day War in June 1967 brought this emigration to a virtual halt. At the same time, the success of the Israelis in defending the Jewish homeland sparked a reawakening of Jewish consciousness and pride among a segment of Soviet Jewry. The harsh sentences given to a group of individuals gave new impetus to the Soviet Jewry advocacy movement in the United States. All but two of the group were Jewish and were tried on charges of treason for an attempted airline hijacking. This episode was followed by a new crackdown on Soviet Jewish activists and the beginning of an anti-Zionist campaign by the Soviet government. It was at this time that the state-sponsored Anti-Zionist Committee was created and a steady stream of anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel material was published.
In the wake of these developments, the international Jewish community, including the NCSJ -- which replaced the AJCSJ in 1971 -- redoubled its efforts on behalf of their brethren in the Soviet Union. In conjunction with improved relations with the West -- the era of détente -- Jewish emigration increased in the years 1971-1973. However, in August 1972, the Soviet government instituted a new "diploma tax" for emigrants, which sparked the passage of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, which prohibited the extension of trade benefits to non-market countries that imposed excessive emigration fees or otherwise limited emigration. Against the wishes of the Nixon Administration and large business concerns, the organized American Jewish community, led by the NCSJ, fought successfully for the passage of this legislation.
The Soviets eventually ended the "diploma tax," but in the wake of passage of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, emigration decreased. It increased once again in the 1977-79 period, reaching a decade high of over 51,000 in 1979. During the late 1970s a new round of prosecutions of visible Jewish activists took place, with the show trials of such public individuals as Natan Sharansky, Yosef Begun, the Slepaks, and Ida Nudel, and the interrogation and arrests of countless others.
After the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent deterioration in Soviet-American relations, Jewish emigration from the USSR dropped significantly, reaching a low of 896 individuals in 1984. The Soviet Jewry advocacy movement in the West reacted to the downward trend in emigration with increasing urgency. One sign of this concern was the demonstration, conceived by the NCSJ, on the Mall in Washington in December 1987, on the eve of the start of a Reagan-Gorbachev summit, in which an estimated 250,000 people participated.
The onset of the period of glasnost and perestroika eventually brought dramatic changes in Soviet policies toward its Jewish population. Emigration increased substantially, reaching a level of more than 185,000 in 1990 and continuing at over 100,000 through 1994, the vast majority of whom immigrated to Israel. Following a coup attempt in August 1991, the USSR formally dissolved into separate independent countries at the end of December 1991. Israel has established diplomatic relations with all of the successor states.
During that period there was a reawakening of Jewish religious and cultural life, as the Jews of the Soviet Union began to search for their roots and identity. More than 400 independent Jewish cultural organizations have been established in the former Soviet Union, and over 30 Jewish day schools now exist. The Va'ad, an umbrella confederation of many of these independent Jewish organizations was also created, and has held three congress meetings since it was established. In addition, regional umbrella groups have been developed in several republics of the former Soviet Union. To most western observers, it is quite remarkable that this renaissance of Jewish life was able to take place. Even though most of the Jewish population of the former Soviet Union was highly assimilated, with little background in Judaism, and their resources and knowledge of rebuilding Jewish communal life was extremely limited, they prevailed and are succeeding. With help now from Israel, world Jewry, in particular the American Jewish community, and sometimes their own local governments, a Jewish rebirth can be seen from all regions throughout the FSU.
By June 1989, NCSJ, in response to the dramatic upsurge in Jewish emigration, publicly supported for the first time a waiver of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment for the Soviet Union. In December 1990, in response to the dramatic upsurge in Jewish emigration, President Bush granted a partial six-month waiver of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, followed by a one-year waiver in June 1991. In May 1991, the Supreme Soviet passed a law that codified the right of every Soviet citizen to emigrate. However, this law contains restrictions that are inconsistent with internationally recognized standards for freedom of emigration; furthermore, this law served as a model for laws adapted in many successor states. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, 11 of the 12 successor states presently receive annual waivers of the amendment. Russia, with the full support of the NCSJ, no longer must go through the annual waiver process.
Present goals and structure
A voluntary, not-for-profit agency created in 1971, NCSJ was originally called the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. When the Soviet Union dismantled in 1992, it was imperative to rethink NCSJ's mission, goals and name. Between that time until 2009, NCSJ was called Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia. Once again, it became important to clarify the organization's name to best represent its mission and the region's political, economic and cultural climate.
In December 2013, the Executive Committee voted to change the organization's name to the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, NCSEJ. The name change reflects its ongoing mission and the years of steadily developing relationship with government and Jewish leadership in the countries of Eastern and central Europe.
NCSEJ has served as the mandated central coordinating agency of the organized Jewish community for policy and activities on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in the former Soviet Union. NCSEJ comprises nearly 50 national organizations and over 300 local federations, community councils and committees. Through this extensive network, NCSEJ mobilizes the resources, energies and talents of millions of U.S. citizens, and also represents the American Jewish community in dealings with similar national groups abroad, and at international forums.
NCSEJ also works closely and cooperatively with all branches of government, particularly the White House, Department of State, Congress and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) in order to further our goals. For years, Operation Lifeline, which was quietly operated by NCSEJ, provided a continuing flow of materials, kosher food, and religious and cultural objects to Soviet Jews.
NCSEJ's headquarters in Washington, DC, is staffed by specialists in international relations, policy research, communications, and community organization. Public involvement is furthered through the holding of annual leadership assemblies, which bring our constituents together with experts in government and the academic community for the evaluation of up-to-date information and formulation of appropriate strategy, and through public manifestations, regional conferences, national seminars and special events.
In order to effectively fulfill its mandate, NCSEJ seeks the widest participation possible in our activities by private citizens and public officials, whose concerns on behalf of Jews in the successor states have been and are heard by the U.S. Government and by officials of the former Soviet states. The broad-based Executive Committee and Board of Governors ensure that American Jewry is represented in NCSEJ's work. NCSEJ maintains broad contacts with Jewish organizations and activists in the FSU region in order to keep abreast of developments affecting the Jewish population and to help coordinate American support in appropriate ways for the rebuilding of Jewish communal life.
As NCSEJ carries out its mandate on behalf of the Jewish community in the former Soviet Union - the world's third-largest - we are very much aware that the nature of our advocacy in this period of rapid and dramatic change throughout the former Soviet Union will impact not only the future of Jews in the region, but that of world Jewry, well into the 21st century.