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November 25, 2014 / 3 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Jewry’

Alvin Kushner, Former Detroit Jewish Leader, Dies

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Alvin Kushner, the former executive director of what is now the JCRC of Metropolitan Detroit, died Monday at the age of 88.

Kushner led what was formerly known as the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit from 1974 to 1988, where he began his tenure in the 1960s.

His term was marked by the Soviet Jewry struggle, the persecution of Jews in countries such as Syria and Ethiopia, and wars in the Middle East, as well as the explosion of Holocaust education initiatives starting in the late 1970s.

Kushner had come to Michigan with his wife, Ruth, from New York in the 1950s to work for the USO at the Selfridge Air Base.

1 Million Sign On For ‘Virtual March’ Marking ‘87 Soviet Jewry Rally

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

More than 1 million people have signed on to join a “virtual march” commemorating the Washington rally 25 years for the Soviet Jewry movement, according to a coalition marking the 1987 event.

Freedom 25, a coalition of 20 organizations, was aiming to attract 1 million people online to remember Freedom Sunday, when some 250,000 demonstrators gathered on Dec. 6, 1987 to demand that Jews be allowed to leave the Soviet Union. The rally advanced the Soviet Jewry movement, eventually allowing millions of Russian Jews to leave for the United States, Israel and elsewhere, and influenced U.S. foreign policy.

The coalition is hoping to educate a younger generation about the protest, which Freedom 25′s founders believe has not been given the significance it deserves.

“Despite such a record of unprecedented achievement and its enduring effect on contemporary society, ‘Freedom Sunday’ and the movement in general are for the most part a footnote in history,” Daniel Eisenstadt, a founder of Freedom 25 with Michael Granoff, both of Philadelphia, said in a statement. “They are not taught in any elementary or secondary schoolbooks; they aren’t even a part of the curriculum at Jewish schools.  In short, the history and lessons of the Soviet Jewry movement have slipped off the Jewish and national communal agenda.”

Freedom 25 will work with Jewish schools, camps and organizations to integrate education of the event.

The JTA Politically Editorializes My Letter on The Soviet Jewry Movement

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

It’s here:

October 22, 2012

To the Editor:

The Op-Ed “Celebrate and learn from the Soviet Jewry movement” by Daniel Eisenstadt and Michael Granoff provides us with an immediate lesson to be learned: how the memory of the Soviet Jewry struggle can be misappropriated. The authors do note and give credit to a “generation-long struggle” and “grass-roots” activists, but constructing an entire memorial enterprise on 25 years since a very large demonstration in 1987 is wrong.

On May 1, 2014, it will be 50 years since the first mass public rally took place outside the Russian Legation to the United Nations. That is the true starting point. It also provides us with additional lessons to be learned — specifically, how an outsider group, quite non-establishment, initiated, led and persevered in a dual struggle against Soviet Russia and for too long, a complacent and even smug Jewish establishment.

I was there on the Manhattan sidewalk that day in 1964, and until and even after making aliyah with my wife, whom I met at a Soviet Jewry demonstration, I witnessed the so unnecessary energy and emotions required to be expended on the Soviet Jewry battle — a lesson I surely cannot forget.

Mark the 25th anniversary of the 1987 event, for sure, but use it as a lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the activist struggle for Soviet Jewry.

Yisrael MedadShiloh, West Bank

I most assuredly did not write “West Bank.”  It’s not a country.

That’s an act of prejudicial JTA interventionist editorializing.

But at least they didn’t employ “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Visit My Right Word.

We Have A Lot To Learn From The Soviet Jewry Movement

Friday, September 21st, 2012

The greatest Jewish success story in a quarter century has become unknown to many in less than a generation.

On Dec. 6, 1987, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev arrived in Washington, more than a quarter-million American Jews – Democrats and Republicans, observant and secular, and individuals representing the entire spectrum of Israeli politics – gathered on the National Mall with a single unified message as old as the Exodus story: “Let our people go!”

“Our people” were the Jews of the Soviet Union who were being discriminated against, deprived of their freedom of expression and religion, and prevented from emigrating. After the Six-Day War, brave Soviet Jews began to risk their careers, loved ones and lives to protest the denial of these freedoms and to advocate for their basic right to immigrate to Israel.

Refuseniks – Soviet Jews who had been denied an exit visa – cried out for help from other Jews. Israeli and American Jewish activists responded, saying “Hineni – Here I am.”

The gathering on that cold December morning 25 years ago was the culminating event of a generation-long struggle by American Jews to win the freedom of their Soviet brethren. Commonly known as the Soviet Jewry movement, it was led by activists who came from every corner of the Jewish community. Their stories and impact continue to resonate with us as Jews and Americans.

The movement’s real engine was at the grass-roots level across America. In the mid-1960s, college students, housewives, dentists, rabbis and teachers orchestrated letter-writing campaigns, local rallies, b’nei mitzvah twinning programs and more. And they persisted in their activism on behalf of Soviet Jews for decades. American Jews from major cities traveled to the Soviet Union with books, messages of support and hidden religious articles.

What was the net result? More than 1 million Soviet Jews became Israeli citizens. Jews from the former Soviet Union transformed intellectual fields in Israel from physics to economics to engineering and the medical sciences – and were recognized with Nobel Prizes no fewer than five times.

Former Soviet Jews have changed the way we work and live through various high-tech innovations. Google, co-founded by Moscow-born Sergey Brin, who immigrated to the United States, might not have been created without the Soviet Jewry movement.

In stark contrast to the lack of political clout and cunning among American Jews during the Holocaust era, this generation of Soviet Jewry activists, reared in the struggle for civil rights for minorities in America, took a universal message of inherent rights and freedom from kitchen tables and university squares to the White House. They confronted political leaders with a moral imperative based on many of the fundamental values, such as religious liberty, that were the foundation of America itself.

In his award-winning book When They Come for Us We’ll Be Gone, author Gal Beckerman notes that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which tied U.S.-Soviet trade to the basic right of emigration, marked the first time that a fight against the human rights abuses within another sovereign country was directly incorporated into American foreign policy.

In fact, members of the Reagan administration credit activists of the Soviet Jewry movement for personalizing the philosophical differences between the countries, revealing contradictions that served to weaken the foundations of the Soviet Union itself. Within four years of the Freedom Sunday March, the Soviet Union was no more.

And yet this success story has not been integrated into our contemporary Jewish narrative or our understanding of American history. Few under the age of 30 know it ever happened.

We formed Freedom 25 to rectify this incomprehensible situation. Our coalition of more than a dozen nonprofits and Jewish organizations is committed to help refocus Americans generally and North American Jewry specifically on this history and its lessons.

Leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Freedom Sunday March, we will be creating a “virtual march” featuring online events, petitions and educational programming. Our goal is for 1 million people online to celebrate this defining moment in Jewish and human rights history. We also will work collaboratively throughout 2013 to ensure that the movement and its vital legacy become part of classroom curricula and, more important, join the stories we tell our children and grandchildren with pride.

Mayor Bloomberg to the Homeless: No Cholent for You!

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Former pro-Soviet Jewry activist and local Upper West Side all around tzadik Glenn Richter has been collecting food from the Ohav Zedek synagogue and similar institutions and bringing it to homeless shelters for more than 20 years, but recently, when he attempted to bring a traditional Shabbat cholent leftovers from a shul kiddush, he was refused on account of the Bloomberg administration’s decree against giving too much  salt, fat and fiber to the homeless.

And the same goes for… bagels! How can you outlaw leftover bagels — in New York?

Richter told CBS News: “My father lived to 97; my grandfather lived to 97, and they all enjoyed it and somehow we’re being told that this is no good… I think there is a degree of management that becomes micromanagement and when you cross that line simply what you’re doing is wrong.”

Such a gentle soul. I would think the mayor needed to be told the homeless’ chief source of suffering is not too much salt, but too little home. Are you kidding me?

But, according to CBS News, Mayor Bloomberg, a salt-aholic himself, was unapologetic.

“For the things that we run because of all sorts of safety reasons, we just have a policy it is my understanding of not taking donations,” Bloomberg said.

If Bloomberg doesn’t run for a fourth term (you know he’s at least thinking about it), New Yorkers should vote for a new mayor who cares a little less. Or how about one term with no mayor at all? Could only improve things.

 

Guest Editorial: Percy Sutton, Champion Of Soviet Jewry

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

The sad news of the passing of Percy Sutton at the age of 89 brought back a flood of memories.

 

In the 1970s and early ’80s, I worked closely with the then-Manhattan borough president and a key power broker in New York politics when I served as executive director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry and later of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

 

Sutton attended countless Jewish events. He spoke up when Israel was in danger, especially during the Yom Kippur War and on many other occasions. He often spoke of his visit to Israel and publicly called on others to stand up for Israel. He brought me before black audiences and opened many doors, including to the 100 Black Men, enabling us to work with important groups that otherwise would have been less accessible.

 

But it was my experiences with him on the issue of Soviet Jewry that I recall most vividly.

 

Sutton was one of the first and most consistently outspoken leaders on behalf of the struggle for freedom for Soviet Jews. He led the Black Coalition for Soviet Jews, which we established in the early 1970s, and was a delegate to the World Conference on Soviet Jewry held in Brussels in 1976.

 

He earned that recognition by virtue of his oft-demonstrated commitment standing with us in the rain, snow and sleet at demonstrations, marching with us annually down Fifth Avenue, and traveling to Russia to visit Soviet Jewish refuseniks.

 

He did not do this for political expediency, but rather out of a deep commitment to the struggle for the fight for the human and civil rights of the Jews of the Soviet Union.

 

I recall in particular one headline-making event we staged on a little outcropping in the middle of the East River, opposite the United Nations. Soviet Premier Brezhnev was due to address the opening session of the General Assembly along with other world leaders. In the months before, I had arranged with New York State officials and legislators to provide us the deed to the island, which we dubbed “Soviet Jewry Freedom Island.”

 

Percy, as Manhattan borough president, was joined by Robert Abrams, who was then Bronx borough president, and several other officials including Rabbi Gil Klapperman, the chairman of the Soviet Jewry Conference, and Sister Rose Thering of Seton Hall University, whose memory we all cherish.

 

We proceeded to the island on a small boat provided by the late philanthropist Sam Hausman. A large tugboat we rented filled to capacity with camera crews, reporters and members of press to cover this unique demonstration followed us. We approached the little outcropping, which some say was made from rubble left when they built the subways or the Queens tunnel; others said it dated to a much earlier period.

 

Whatever the true history, this very small area, strewn with litter collected over the years, was our target.

 

As we approached the tiny island, the rudder got caught in seaweed. When the captain couldn’t get it restarted, Sutton pulled up his well-coiffed sleeve and put his arm over the side of the boat. As he was reaching into the polluted water of the East River, a reporter yelled at him, “Mr. Borough President, is there anything you won’t do for Soviet Jews? Sutton looked up and said, simply, “nothing.”

 

He proceeded to disentangle the rudder, which enabled us to proceed to the island. There, the dignitaries disembarked and we collectively unfurled a 20-foot wide, 6-foot high banner reading “Soviet Jewry Freedom Island.”

 

After the members of delegation made brief statements, we were approached by a police launch that came to remove us from the island following a protest by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, who was, in turn, acting on a complaint by the Soviet ambassador. We looked at the all-glass back of the U.N. building, and every inch of window was filled with diplomats and envoys watching the spectacle.

 

The police, seeing that the two borough presidents were there, radioed back, asking, “What are we to do? The borough presidents are here!” They were obviously not about to act rashly and were relieved to hear that we were not planning a permanent settlement. It was all very congenial. After continuing with the demonstration for a while, the delegation departed, leaving the sign in place, which remained there during the opening of the General Assembly.

 

We returned to shore, where reporters waiting anxiously. The next day, it was front-page news from New York to Hong Kong, but not in Moscow. Sutton’s quote led NBC news.

 

I often have had the opportunity over the years to recall with Sutton some of our past adventures. They were a source of pride and inspiration to him, as they were to many others.

 

With his passing, his friendship and his devotion to causes we shared should be remembered.

 Malcolm Hoenlein is the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the former executive director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.

Guest Editorial: Percy Sutton, Champion Of Soviet Jewry

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009


The sad news of the passing of Percy Sutton at the age of 89 brought back a flood of memories.

 

In the 1970s and early ’80s, I worked closely with the then-Manhattan borough president and a key power broker in New York politics when I served as executive director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry and later of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

 

Sutton attended countless Jewish events. He spoke up when Israel was in danger, especially during the Yom Kippur War and on many other occasions. He often spoke of his visit to Israel and publicly called on others to stand up for Israel. He brought me before black audiences and opened many doors, including to the 100 Black Men, enabling us to work with important groups that otherwise would have been less accessible.

 

But it was my experiences with him on the issue of Soviet Jewry that I recall most vividly.

 

Sutton was one of the first and most consistently outspoken leaders on behalf of the struggle for freedom for Soviet Jews. He led the Black Coalition for Soviet Jews, which we established in the early 1970s, and was a delegate to the World Conference on Soviet Jewry held in Brussels in 1976.

 

He earned that recognition by virtue of his oft-demonstrated commitment standing with us in the rain, snow and sleet at demonstrations, marching with us annually down Fifth Avenue, and traveling to Russia to visit Soviet Jewish refuseniks.

 

He did not do this for political expediency, but rather out of a deep commitment to the struggle for the fight for the human and civil rights of the Jews of the Soviet Union.

 

I recall in particular one headline-making event we staged on a little outcropping in the middle of the East River, opposite the United Nations. Soviet Premier Brezhnev was due to address the opening session of the General Assembly along with other world leaders. In the months before, I had arranged with New York State officials and legislators to provide us the deed to the island, which we dubbed “Soviet Jewry Freedom Island.”

 

Percy, as Manhattan borough president, was joined by Robert Abrams, who was then Bronx borough president, and several other officials including Rabbi Gil Klapperman, the chairman of the Soviet Jewry Conference, and Sister Rose Thering of Seton Hall University, whose memory we all cherish.

 

We proceeded to the island on a small boat provided by the late philanthropist Sam Hausman. A large tugboat we rented filled to capacity with camera crews, reporters and members of press to cover this unique demonstration followed us. We approached the little outcropping, which some say was made from rubble left when they built the subways or the Queens tunnel; others said it dated to a much earlier period.

 

Whatever the true history, this very small area, strewn with litter collected over the years, was our target.

 

As we approached the tiny island, the rudder got caught in seaweed. When the captain couldn’t get it restarted, Sutton pulled up his well-coiffed sleeve and put his arm over the side of the boat. As he was reaching into the polluted water of the East River, a reporter yelled at him, “Mr. Borough President, is there anything you won’t do for Soviet Jews? Sutton looked up and said, simply, “nothing.”

 

He proceeded to disentangle the rudder, which enabled us to proceed to the island. There, the dignitaries disembarked and we collectively unfurled a 20-foot wide, 6-foot high banner reading “Soviet Jewry Freedom Island.”

 

After the members of delegation made brief statements, we were approached by a police launch that came to remove us from the island following a protest by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, who was, in turn, acting on a complaint by the Soviet ambassador. We looked at the all-glass back of the U.N. building, and every inch of window was filled with diplomats and envoys watching the spectacle.

 

The police, seeing that the two borough presidents were there, radioed back, asking, “What are we to do? The borough presidents are here!” They were obviously not about to act rashly and were relieved to hear that we were not planning a permanent settlement. It was all very congenial. After continuing with the demonstration for a while, the delegation departed, leaving the sign in place, which remained there during the opening of the General Assembly.

 

We returned to shore, where reporters waiting anxiously. The next day, it was front-page news from New York to Hong Kong, but not in Moscow. Sutton’s quote led NBC news.

 

I often have had the opportunity over the years to recall with Sutton some of our past adventures. They were a source of pride and inspiration to him, as they were to many others.

 

With his passing, his friendship and his devotion to causes we shared should be remembered.


 

Malcolm Hoenlein is the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the former executive director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/guest-editorial-percy-sutton-champion-of-soviet-jewry-2/2009/12/30/

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