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December 9, 2016 / 9 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Union’

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.

Daniel Eisenstadt and Michael Granoff

Former PM Shamir Remembered For Saying Little, Standing Strong

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

WASHINGTON – When Yitzhak Shamir was Israel’s prime minister, he liked to point American visitors to a gift he received upon his retirement after many years serving in the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service.

It was a depiction of the famed three monkeys: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

“He didn’t say anything,” recalled Dov Zakheim, then a deputy undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration. “He just smiled broadly.”

Shamir, who died Saturday at 96, had the reputation of a man who said the most when he said nothing at all, his American interlocutors recalled. He used that reticence to resist pressure from the George H.W. Bush administration to enter into talks with the Palestinians and other Arab nations.

“He was the most underrated politician of our time,” Zakheim said. “He sat on the fence on issues until the fence hurt.”

Shamir’s willfulness was borne of the conviction that his Likud Party’s skepticism of a permanent peace with the Arabs represented the majority view in Israel, and that the world had to reconcile itself to this outlook, said Steve Rosen, who dealt with Shamir as the foreign policy chief for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“He would argue that the world will never prefer us – the Likud – over Labor, but when the world sees that we are the Israeli majority, they will have to deal with us,” Rosen said. “We will not succeed in being more popular than the others, but we are right.” There was inevitably a personal element to his clashes with the elder President George Bush, said Zakheim.

“He had his difficulties with the United States in part because he came from such a different place than George H.W. Bush,” he said. “One was a product of old-time Jewish Lithuania whose father was shot in the face by the neighbor when he was looking for protection from the Nazis, the other was an aristocrat. Since most relations at that level are personal, that always complicated matters.”

His detractors, while praising Shamir’s patriotism, also fretted that his steadfastness cost Israel during his terms as prime minister.

Douglas Bloomfield, in 1988 the director of AIPAC’s legislative arm, recalled in his weekly column how Shamir, then the prime minister, was blindsided by President Ronald Reagan’s decision in his administration’s closing days to recognize the reviled Palestine Liberation Organization.

“The premier’s chief of staff immediately phoned his contacts on Capitol Hill urging them to ‘start a firestorm of opposition’ to block the move,” Bloomfield wrote. “It was too late. Too many members of Congress shared the Reagan administration’s frustration with what they considered Shamir’s intransigence and did not seriously object when Reagan decided to recognize the PLO on his way out the door as a favor to his successor.”

During his tenure, Shamir clashed with much of American Jewry when he flirted with changing the Law of Return to define Jews according to strictly halachic terms to satisfy potential Orthodox coalition partners, and also because of his insistence on settlement expansion.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said Shamir – unlike other contemporaries like Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon – had little experience with or understanding of American Jews.

“Shamir was a whole different story, these weren’t issues he cared about at all,” recalled Yoffie, who at the time Shamir was prime minister headed ARZA, the Reform movement’s Zionist wing. “He had no experience with them, he had far less contact with American Jewry, it wasn’t part of his background, he didn’t spend a lot of time here giving speeches.”

Yitzhak Shamir

Shamir was a politician dedicated to advancing his principal goal, which was maintaining Israeli control of the lands won in the 1967 Six-Day War, Yoffie said; when reaching out to the Orthodox advanced that goal, he did so, and when backing away from changing the Law of Return made more sense in order to preserve the alliance with U.S. Jews, he did that too.

“When he realized there would be this profound breach, he backed away,” Yoffie said. “When you’re a hardheaded realist and Greater Israel is your goal, you need allies.”

Ron Kampeas

‘I Will Absolutely Fight For You’: An Interview With Would-Be State Senate Candidate David Storobin

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

If the stars are aligned in his favor, attorney David Storobin will become the first immigrant from the former Soviet Union to serve as a New York state senator. Born in Russia in 1979, Storobin hopes to run for the State Senate seat left vacant when Carl Kruger resigned last month due to federal corruption charges.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has neither announced a date for the special election nor stated whether he even plans on holding one (if not, Kruger’s district will remain unrepresented until January 2013). Nonetheless, most pundits believe Cuomo will declare a special election for some time in March or April. The presumptive candidates are Storobin (Republican) and New York City Councilman Lew Fidler (Democrat).

The Brooklyn district Storobin hopes to serve – the 27th – covers Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Flatbush and Midwood, among other neighborhoods.

The Jewish Press: Why are you seeking Kruger’s Senate seat?

Storobin: Because I believe what’s been happening in recent years is shameful – for multiple reasons. One is corruption. We keep on having people in the Democratic Party arrested for bribery, corruption, and other ethical violations.

I also think that pushing through gay marriage was an outrage. People representing very socially conservative areas such as Boro Park, Flatbush, Midwood, Brighton Beach and so on voted completely against the people they’re supposed to represent.

We need somebody who’s going to be [in the State Senate] – not to take bribes or promote some agenda that nobody in this part of Brooklyn wants – but to actually support the people and represent their ideas.

Do you think you can beat Lew Fidler? Some people argue he has done so much for the Orthodox Jewish community that you don’t stand a chance.

The people who say that are affiliated with Fidler. He takes credit for every law he has ever voted for, but the reality is that when he had to take sides, Fidler didn’t side with the observant Jewish community or the Russian Jewish community – which are the two dominant communities in this district.

He’s taken sides with the LGBT community, but that’s not what this district is predominantly about. He’s far to the left of the average person in this district. He’s even far to the left of local Democratic politicians. I’m actually having a hard time thinking of one other person on the City Council who has really taken the charge [on gay marriage] as much as Lew Fidler.

So you believe you can beat him?

Absolutely. This district was the second most Republican district in all of New York State during the 2008 presidential elections. There were only two districts in the whole state where Republicans won by double digits. This was one of them.

If you look at the election for Congress where Bob Turner ran against David Weprin, Turner wound up winning two-thirds of the vote [in this part of Brooklyn]. If you look at the race for mayor, governor, attorney general, comptroller – race after race after race, this district goes Republican.

Some people claim the only thing most New York Orthodox Jews care about in local elections is entitlement programs and government funding. Republicans generally oppose entitlements. How, then, do you expect to garner the Orthodox vote?

There’s certainly a need to protect and support things like Social Security, education, and support for yeshivos and non-profits. All of those things are necessary, and if I am elected I will absolutely fight for all of those. What I’m against is waste, fraud and outright punishment of successful people.

In addition, [I would remind people that] a state senator is more able to help in the majority than in the minority. Republicans, I believe, have controlled the State Senate for 40 of the last 42 years, including right now. [I will be] able to work with the majority, which will be a big, big benefit to the district. Lew Fidler will not be in a position to do that.

Aren’t Republicans supposed to oppose entitlement programs?

It’s wrong to suggest that Republicans just want to cut and don’t want to help. Obviously every Republican is different. I don’t speak for the Republican Party. I speak for myself.

An article on Yeshiva World News claims that Dov Hikind and David Greenfield plan to endorse Fidler. Does that concern you?

I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. I think a lot of the reports may not necessarily be accurate.

But what if you don’t get their endorsements?

I would definitely prefer to have their endorsements, particularly Dov Hikind’s. I met Dov Hikind for the first time when I was a child. I’ve always respected him. I think he’s a great man, so I would definitely want his endorsement.

What would you say to someone who asks himself, “Why should I vote for Storobin? I never heard of him before. Who is this fellow?”

Elliot Resnick

New Statistics on Christians in Israel

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

A new report released by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics sheds light on Christians living in Israel.

In 2011, 154,500 Christians lived in Israel, 2% of the State’s population.  Of those, 80.4% (124,218) are Christian Arabs.  The remainder are primarily immigrants who came from the former Soviet Union with Jewish members of their families under the Law of Return, as well as Ethiopians, Phillipinos, and Romanians.

The largest Christian Arab town is Nazareth (22,200), followed by Haifa (13,800) and Jerusalem (11,600).  The largest population of non-Arab Christians resides in Tel Aviv and its environs, followed by the Haifa area, the south, and then the Jerusalem region.

The average age of Christian bridegrooms at the time of their first marriage was 29.1 In 2009, approximately 1.5 years older than the Jewish grooms, 2 years older than Druze grooms and 3.5 years older than Muslim grooms.  The average age of Christian brides was 24.5, about a year younger than Jewish brides, 3 years older than Druze brides, and 4 years older than Muslim brides.

The average number of minor children in Christian families is 2.2, with 2.3 in Jewish families and 3.1 in Muslim households. The Christian population growth rate is 1.3%.

According to the statistics, Christian Arabs had the highest rate of success on matriculation exams in the country in 2010, with 63% of Christian 12th graders earning certificates, compared with 58% of Jewish students, 55% of Druze students, and 46% of Muslim students.

Malkah Fleisher

Kissinger Apology Falls Short

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

‘Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except, of course, Henry Kissinger’s publicists and strategists who decided that the slowest news day of the year was the perfect time for him to apologize, sort of, for telling Richard Nixon in 1973 that “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

They may finally have realized – an apt epiphany given the season – that by not issuing such an admission of regret earlier, Kissinger had violated his own maxim that “whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately.” They probably also hoped that no one would pay attention over a holiday weekend and that what has become the most embarrassing contretemps (that’s French for public relations train wreck) in the former secretary of state and Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s illustrious career would fade into oblivion.

Not so fast.

For almost two weeks since the now infamous Oval Office remarks first appeared in The New York Times, Kissinger had refused to acknowledge that he had said anything inappropriate. He at first tried to get out from under his predicament with a disingenuous statement that “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time.”

Without expressing any contrition whatsoever for what even some of his Jewish defenders deemed to be a “disturbing and even callous insensitivity toward the fate of Soviet Jews,” Kissinger’s statement contended that he and Nixon had, in fact, raised Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union “from 700 per year to close to 40,000 in 1972.”

He and the president feared, the statement continued, that efforts to make “Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue” through Congressional legislation – to wit, what became the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment – “would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed.”

Unfortunately for Kissinger, he seems to have gotten his facts wrong. As Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs in the Reagan administration, pointed out in the Forward, “Kissinger’s analysis is not reflected in the actual emigration data. He was close on the 1970 emigration figure, which was 1,027. His quiet diplomacy during detente did increase that number to an annual average of 20,516 from 1971 to 1974. But after Jackson-Vanik’s passage in 1974, the average for 1975 to 1978 dropped only slightly to 18,271 annually. Then, in 1979, the number of emigrants jumped to 51,320, much more than anything achieved under the Nixon-Kissinger policy.”

According to Schifter, it was only after the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing “serious deterioration of U.S.-Soviet relations” that Soviet Jewish emigration figures “dropped sharply, reaching a low of 876 in 1984.”

When the furor over the “gas chambers” remarks not only failed to subside but also produced a Clyde Haberman column in The New York Times that considerably raised the temperature, three prominent American Jews wrote a letter to that newspaper chastising Kissinger’s critics. “Never,” they insisted, “have we heard him speak in a disparaging way about the Jewish community.”

The bleeding didn’t stop. During a protest demonstration outside Kissinger’s Manhattan office, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio denounced Kissinger’s remarks as “monstrous,” and the next wave of Anglo-Jewish weeklies across the country brought new excoriations.

It was then and only then that Kissinger bit the bullet and did what he should have done in the first place. In a Washington Post op-ed posted online last Friday, Dec. 24, and published on Sunday, Dec. 26, Kissinger wrote, “References to gas chambers have no place in political discourse and I am sorry I made that remark 37 years ago.” His comments, he went on, were “in a kind of shorthand that, when read 37 years later, is undoubtedly offensive.”

What are we to make of this reluctant quasi-apology? To be sure, the requisite expression of remorse, albeit palpably grudging, is there, almost like the allocution a defendant has to make in open court before the judge accepts a guilty plea. And yet, terminal damage to Kissinger’s reputation has, I think, been done.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Kissinger And The Moral Bankruptcy Of Détente

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history.

But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision.

Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning two million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes.

But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.”

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of six million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference.

Jonathan S. Tobin

Jewish Ingratitude To Evangelicals

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Every year Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews raises about $100 million, mostly from evangelical Christians in the United States, for distribution to social-welfare projects in Israel and the former Soviet Union. This is a staggering sum, making the fellowship arguably the largest foundation for Jews in need in the world.
 
One would think that we in the Jewish community would show immense gratitude for such love. I therefore found it extraordinary, not to mention embarrassing, to hear that there is a growing campaign among elements in the Israeli rabbinate to discredit the organization and forbid Jewish organizations from benefiting from its funds.
 
The worst of all character traits in Judaism is to be an ingrate. Denying the goodness that others perform on your behalf leads to a closing of the human heart. No one wants to be taken for granted.
 
So great is the emphasis on appreciation in our religion that our greatest prophet, Moses, is commanded by God not to strike the Nile River and turn it into blood in the first plague against the Egyptians because that same river had saved his life when he was a baby.
 
Later, in plague number three, God will again warn Moses against smiting the dust of Egypt and turning it into lice because the dust had saved his life when he had to bury the body of a murderous Egyptian taskmaster.
 
Imagine that. A man who speaks to God face to face is told he must show thanks to water and dust. But such is the extent to which Jewish values demand gratitude.
 
Over the past two decades evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s most staunch and reliable friends. Pastors like John Hagee, my friend Pat Robertson and countless others have galvanized colossal Christian support for Israel.
 
Even in the peak period of suicide bombings during the Second Intifada, when tourism to Israel fell off a cliff, evangelical Christians still came in their millions. The same is true of stalwart Christian political support for Israel. While President Obama continues to bully Israel over apartments in Israel’s undivided and eternal capital, Jerusalem, evangelical Christians have a litmus test for their elected leaders: Don’t support Israel? You’re out.
 
As I write these lines, former president George W. Bush is enjoying something of a renaissance with the publication of his new book, Decision Points. Bush, by almost any standard the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, writes at the beginning of his book how he turned his life over to Jesus, and there can be no question that there is a direct link between his deep Christian faith and his love and unyielding support for Israel against those who seek its annihilation.
 
I am well aware of our immense differences with the Christian evangelical community. I would venture to say that I have conducted more debates over the past decade against leading Christian scholars and missionaries than any other American rabbi (most of which are available on YouTube).
 
Jesus was an observant Jew who ate kosher, honored the Sabbath, donned tefillin, insisted on the indivisible unity of God, and fought for the independence of the Jewish nation against the brutal oppression of Rome, beliefs for which he was ultimately crucified.
 
   It would behoove Christians to realize they have much more to gain from learning about the authentic historical Jesus from Jews than from any misguided attempts at converting them. Indeed, not only must these attempts be emphatically resisted by the Jewish community with overwhelming scholarship, but Christians should learn from Jews to reject any deification of Jesus, which he, as a Pharisee, would have seen as the ultimate sacrilege (and which is the subject of my upcoming book on the Jewish Jesus). They should follow Jesus as teacher rather than a god.
 
But whatever our theological differences with evangelicals, none of this negates the unparalleled kindness and friendship they show Jews and the Jewish community. To say they do this merely to convert us, or because gathering Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse, is to perpetrate a sacrilegious act of character assassination. Bible-believing Christians support Israel out of feelings of deep love and brotherhood.
 
The man more responsible than anyone else for building this bridge between Christians and Jews is the aforementioned Rabbi Eckstein, a man whose efforts, with Christian support, feeds thousands of hungry Jewish children and Jewish elderly every day in Israel and abroad.
 

Israel is a nation that dwells alone, with few friends and many prejudiced enemies. Rather than rabbis and lay leaders attacking Christians as having nefarious motives for their charity, we should offer thanks and gratitude to hard-working Americans of faith who believe, as the Bible says, that through Israel all the earth is blessed.

 

 

 

   Rabbi Shmuley Boteach heads This World: The Values Network, which seeks to heal America through universal Jewish values. A best-selling author of 24 books, his most recent work is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

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