Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, this blog contains random musings of a journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and occasionally-ranting rabbi, taken from Shabbat-O-Grams, columns, speeches, letters, sermons and thin air. "On One Foot," the column, appears regularly in the New York Jewish Week, as well as a blog for the "Times of Israel."
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The Forgotten Revolution: The March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, 25 Years Later
This week at the G.A., the annual gathering of Jewish
federations, Elie Wiesel and Natan Sharansky sat together to reminisce about
what may have been the most significant and successful revolution in the Jewish
world of the past half century, yet one no one ever talks about.
The struggle to free Soviet Jewry, a 25 year battle, not
only succeeded in tearing down barriers to immigration and Jewish identity, it
helped to bring down the iron curtain.
It did so bloodlessly, and it galvanized the American Jewish community
as it had never been galvanized before and hasn’t since. It enabled Jews to project pride and political
clout in a manner that presaged AIPAC, despite being opposed or only tacitly
endorsed by much of the Jewish establishment.
In fact, it was primarily student led, or as Sharansky’s KGB captors
scoffed “A bunch of students and housewives.”
Yet somehow, these students helped to push an agenda that promoted human
rights for all people and, through the Jackson-Vanik
amendment, became a prime instrument of U.S. policy to pressure the Soviet
Twenty five years ago, on December 6, 1987, 250,000 Jews
marched on Washington to demand freedom for Soviet Jewry. The numbers exceeded everyone’s expectations,
and coming as it did on the eve of a Reagan - Gorbachev summit, historians now
know that it made a huge difference in accelerating the process of
liberation. For American Jews, it was a
cathartic do-over, a chance to redeem ourselves from the perception that we had
not done enough to help our brothers and sisters during the Shoah. It was a huge moment. For those of us who were there, it was
unforgettable. It was, for me, the first
major community event I attended after moving to Stamford and it cemented
relationships with other community leaders. See my photo essay below. maybe you'll recognize some of the people, including Natan Sharansky (newly freed), Sen. Lautenberg, Bob Dole and many from our Stamford group.
AND SAVE THE DATE OF
SHABBAT MORNING, DECEMBER 8, WHEN, IN HONOR OF THIS 25TH
ANNIVERSARY, WE WILL BE HOSTING GAL
BECKERMAN, opinion editor at The Forward AND AUTHOR OF ”When
They Come for Us, We’ll be Gone,”- The
riveting story, never before told, of the three-decade struggle that became a