Soviet Jewry Movement

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Soviet Jewry movement was an international human rights campaign that advocated for the right of Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate.

Major activities[edit]

Publicity about the lack of freedom to emigrate from the Soviet Union,

Jewish organizations[edit]

A number of Jewish organizations, using highly activist to keep up the pressure[1] to anti-Jackson-Vanik approaches, all tried to accomplish: Let my people go[2]

Activities, particularly demonstrations, continued, year after year.[3]

Jackson-Vanik Amendment[edit]

By giving the Soviet Union an economic inventive to allow free emigration, it led, particularly after the Yom Kippur War, to a gradual increase in permission to leave the USSR.[4] The basis, as worded in the actual legislation, was "To assure the continued dedication of the United States to fundamental human rights."[5]

Natan Sharansky and his family[edit]

Activist Natan Sharansky's wife Avital had an about-to-expire permit to leave the Soviet Union, which she used. Both Avital and Sharansky's mother, Ida Milgrom, used publicity: Avital from around the free world, Milgrom from within the USSR.[6][7]


The earliest organized effort was the Cleveland Council on Soviet Anti-Semitism, a grassroots organization that brought attention to the plight of Soviet Jews from 1963 until 1983. It began as a study group led by three of the founding members of Beth Israel – The West Temple in 1963: Louis Rosenblum, Herbert Caron, and Abe Silverstein.[8] Though the council included prominent rabbis, pastors, priests, and city officials, many initial council members were fellow congregants. As the first such group in the world, this organization spawned other local councils and a national organization. Between 1964–69, the Cleveland council developed educational tools, such as organizational handbooks for other communities, the newsletter Spotlight, and media presentations. They also devised protest strategies that became integral to the movement to free Soviet Jewry. One of the council's most successful activities was the People-to-People program of the late 1960s, which represented 50,000 members.

Although not officially sponsored by Beth Israel – The West Temple, the temple provided office space to the council from 1964–78, and the council periodically reported to the congregation's Social Action Committee. Although the Cleveland council was still active in 1985, by the late 1970s the Jewish Community Federation had taken over the major local organizing effort for Soviet Jewry. By 1993, the Cleveland Council on Soviet Anti-Semitism no longer needed to exist, as it had accomplished its mission, and the Soviet Union had also ceased to exist.

Later, Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, founded by Jacob Birnbaum at Yeshiva University in 1964. In 1969, the Jewish Defense League began a series of protests and vigils while employing militant activism in order to publicize the persecution of Soviet Jewry.[9] The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews was formed in 1970 as an umbrella organization of all groups working to win the right to emigrate for oppressed Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union.

The movement was represented in Israel by Nativ, a clandestine agency that sought to publicize the cause of Soviet Jewry and encourage their emigration to Israel.

Tensions between wings of movement[edit]

Throughout the timeline of the movement to free Jews from the USSR – 1964 – 1991 – tensions existed between the Jewish Establishment groups, represented by the umbrella organization the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry and its successor the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Differences revolved around policy and action. Behind the scenes, the clandestine Israeli Soviet Jewry office, Nativ (known as the Lishka), supported the ACSJ and NCSJ, which it had helped create. Such conflicts between Establishment and nascent, independent groups – such as between the NAACP and SNCC in the civil rights movement – are not new.[10][11]

Religious restoration[edit]

For those Jews permitted to leave (Let my people go), there was a need to restore what had been taken: the religious education that had been denied them (Let my people know).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Martin (April 19, 2014). "Jacob Birnbaum, Civil Rights Champion of Soviet Jews, Dies at 88". The New York Times.
  2. ^ The New York Times wrote in their obituary about Jacob Birnbaum: "Mr. Birnbaum insisted that every rally include posters declaring 'Let my people go,' the line from Exodus 9:1 that became the clarion call of the movement."
  3. ^ "4,000 assail Soviet on plight of Jews". The New York Times. September 21, 1970.
  4. ^ Paul Stern (1979). "3". Water's edge : domestic politics and the making of American foreign policy. ISBN 978-0313205200.
  5. ^ 19 U.S.C. 2432(a), Sec. 402 "Freedom of Emigration in East-West Trade"
  6. ^ Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (May 3, 2002). "Ida Milgrom, 94, Dies; Helped Free a Son Held by Soviets". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Dennis McLellan (May 4, 2002). "Ida Milgrom, 94; Sought Dissident Son's Freedom". The Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ "Our History," section "The Cleveland Council on Soviet Anti-Semitism." Beth Israel – The West Temple, Cleveland, Ohio. Retrieved 2015-09-22.
  9. ^ Feingold, Henry L. (2007). "Silent No More" Saving the Jews of Russia, The American Jewish Effort, 1967–1989. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-3101-4.
  10. ^ Beckerman, Gal. When They Come For Us We'll Be Gone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.
  11. ^ Weiss, Avi. Open Up The Iron Door. Toby Press, 2015.


  • Altshuler, Stuart. From Exodus to Freedom: A History of the Soviet Jewry Movement. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005
  • Freedman, Robert Owen. Soviet Jewry in the 1980s: The Politics of Anti-Semitism and Emigration and the Dynamics of Resettlement. Duke University Press, 1989
  • Kahane, Meir. The Story of the Jewish Defense League. Chilton Book Company, 1975
  • Schroeter, Leonard. The Last Exodus. University of Washington Press, 1979
  • A Second Exodus: The American movement to Free Soviet Jews. Eds. Murray Friedman and Albert D. Chernin. University Press of New England, 1999

External links[edit]