Timeline of the American Soviet Jewry Movement

Timeline of the American Soviet Jewry Movement

1953

After the death of Josef Stalin on March 5th (Purim), the Soviet Union retreats from its most sinister policies on Jews, such as the so-called Doctors’ Plot but continues to suppress Jewish religious and cultural life. In the meanwhile, hostility toward Zionism and Israel grow. 

1956

June. A delegation of rabbis, from the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, visits Moscow to ascertain reports about the conditions facing the Jewish community.

1956

Noted Soviet poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, publishes his poem, "Winter Station,containing a strong criticism of official anti-Semitism.

1959

September 25. During a meeting at Camp David, President Dwight D. Eisenhower urges Nikita Khrushchev to resolve issues concerning the status of Jews in the USSR. Eisenhower cites the "deep concern" expressed to him by Jewish groups.

1959

September 14. A cover story by Moshe Decter in the New Leader documents discrimination against Soviet Jews, a major breakthrough in making the public aware of their plight.

1960

October. A study by Dr. William Korey and B'nai B'rith on the Right to Leave and Return submitted to the United Nations. In 1964 it would be adopted by the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry as a fundamental legal statement on the rights of Soviet Jews.

1961

Yevgeny Yevtushenko publishes his poem, "Babi Yar," an attack on official silence about Jewish martyrdom in World War II and current popular anti-Semitism. The poem resonates among intellectuals and others in the West, and is cited by the Soviet Jewry advocacy movement.

1962

Cuban missile crisis.

1963

October 29. Justice Arthur J. Goldberg and Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Jacob Javits meet with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and challenge him regarding Moscow's treatment of Soviet Jews. Trofim Kichko's anti-Semitic book, Judaism Without Embellishment, appears in the Soviet Union during the ongoing anti-religious campaign. It is made available to the United Nations by Morris B. Abram, a member of the US delegation, with the American Jewish Committee. The booklet, with virulent anti-Jewish texts and graphic images, becomes a cause célèbre and is denounced throughout the West.

1963

October. The Cleveland Council on Soviet Anti-Semitism is formed. Together with similar, independent committees it would eventually help create the nation-wide Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

1964

April. The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry is launched at Columbia University to enlist students at American colleges and universities in the advocacy effort.

 

1964

October 15. Nikita S. Khrushchev is removed from power, and Leonid Brezhnev assumes power as First Secretary of the Communist Party, the beginning of the eighteen-year "Brezhnev era."

1964

October 28. Over 10,000 people attend a rally in New York's Madison Square Garden, one of the earliest public demonstrations for Soviet Jews. 

1964

April. Major, national Jewish organizations meet at the Wilshire Hotel in Washington DC. They agree to launch an ad hoc American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry (AJCSJ), a coordinating body to advocate on behalf of Soviet Jews.

1965

September 19-24. Thousands attend a National Eternal Light Vigil, the first public demonstration in Washington, DC organized by the AJCSJ, with the participation of national and local leaders and activists. Some participants remain around the clock.

1965

September. A crackdown against human rights activists and dissidents accelerates with the arrest of writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel.

1965

April. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach debuts his song, "Am Yisrael Hai" at a New York City demonstration. It becomes a rallying cry for the Soviet Jewry Movement.

1966

December 3. At a Paris press conference, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin declares that Jews could leave the Soviet Union, but only on the basis of the principle of family reunification.

1966

July. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing Reform rabbis, undertakes a five-week East European mission to explore the status and condition of Jews, primarily in the Soviet Union. Most sources are closed to the delegation.

1966

Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky are placed on trial for "anti-Soviet propaganda" in the first of a series of similar show trials.

1966

Elie Wiesel's The Jews of Silence is published, calling attention to the plight of Soviet Jews.

1967

Restrictions on Jewish enrollment in top universities expand, stimulating additional Jewish applications to leave.

1967

June 5-10. Israel's victory in the Six Day War stirs pride and strong national sentiment among many Jews in the Soviet Union. Applications to leave for Israel escalate. The Soviet Union again severs ties with Israel.

1968

Launching of Academic Committee on Soviet Jewry, soon to be headed by Professor Hans Morgenthau. The group focuses on Jewish scientists and academics rendered unemployed after applying to leave for Israel.

1968

December. Boris Kochubievsky, charged with anti-Soviet slander, is arrested in Kiev, after campaigning to leave for Israel.

1968

June. House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (Rep., Michigan) introduces a general amendment in support of Soviet Jews. In the next twenty years scores of resolutions are introduced by Members of Congress focusing on individuals and on the general plight of Jews seeking to leave for Israel.

1968

May. An appeal to the United Nations from eighteen Soviet Georgian Jewish families calls for their right to leave the Soviet Union. It is released to the public by Israel, catching the attention of the media and advocates for Soviet Jews.

1969

November 25, 1969. The United States moves to raise the issue of Soviet Jews at the United Nations. For the first time the US delegate, Rita Hauser, brings the issue to the General Assembly.

1969

May 16. Boris Kochubievsky, charged with anti-Soviet slander after campaigning to leave for Israel is sentenced to three years at hard labor, the first known sentencing of a Jewish activist seeking to leave for Israel.

1970

December 10. Human Rights Day. Daily Soviet Jewry vigil is launched opposite Soviet Embassy, in Washington, D.C. The Vigil lasts twenty years.

1970

December 16-24. First Leningrad Trial ends with Jewish and non-Jewish defendants accused of "hi-jacking" an airplane to escape the Soviet Union and fly to the West and Israel, sentenced up to fifteen years; Mark Dymshitz and Eduard Kuznetsov receive the death sentence, commuted to fifteen years of incarceration after international furor.

1970

November. Formation of Committee for Human Rights in USSR, led by Valery Chalidze, Andrey Tverdokhlebov, and Andrei Sakharov.

1970

A heavily publicized press campaign is organized by Soviet authorities to condemn Israel. Soviet Jewish cultural, artistic and scientific personalities are forced to participate.

1970

Fall. Activists of the Jewish Defense League place pipe bombs in the doorways of the Aeroflot and Intourist offices causing a minor diplomatic crisis between the superpowers.

1970

March 3. Thirty-two local independent groups in the US join together to create the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

1971

December 13. Linked to Hanukkah and the struggle for freedom, an inter-organization Freedom Lights for Soviet Jewry rally fills New York's Madison Square Garden, and receives major publicity.

1971

June 6. Adoption of a proposal by major Jewish national organizations and local Jewish federations and community relations councils in the US to reorganize the AJCSJ, to be renamed the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. The idea of a separate New York City entity is also approved, leading to the creation of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.

1971

February 23-25. First World Conference on Soviet Jewry opens in Brussels. The meeting adopts the Brussels Declaration with a commitment to strengthen the advocacy movement, including a World Conference on Soviet Jewry.

1972

October 4. Following the "ransom tax,” Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson proposes legislation linking trade benefits for "non-market" (i.e. communist) nations to the liberalization of their emigration laws.

1972

October 31. A two-page ad in the New York Times denounces the emigration tax and supports Jewish academics and scientists unable to work in the Soviet Union. Sponsored by the Academic Committee for Soviet Jews, it is signed by 10,000 academics from over 100 campuses.

1972

August 3. Supreme Soviet of the USSR introduces a “ransom tax” levied on emigrants and meant to deter Jews seeking to leave for Israel. 

1972

May 22-30. President Richard M. Nixon is in Moscow for a summit meeting with Leonid Brezhnev. Jewish activists are detained in prison during the meeting. The subject of Soviet Jewry dominates press conferences.

1972

April. Jewish activists in the USSR issue "The White Book of Exodus," with scores of personal letters and appeals. It is smuggled out and then published by the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry.

1972

April 30. On "Solidarity Sunday," thousands participate in public demonstration for Soviet Jews in Dag Hammerskjold Plaza near the United Nations. Sponsored by the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry, in cooperation with the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, over 100 local communities across the country organize similar demonstrations.

1973

May 2-9. New York's Mayor, John Lindsay, visits Moscow and discusses Jewish emigration with Soviet officials.

1973

May 4-8. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, on a visit to Moscow, transmits to Soviet officials a list of more than 700 Jews repeatedly refused exit visas.

1973

April 19. 15 Jewish leaders meet with President Richard M. Nixon who argues against support for the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which he sees as an obstacle to détente between the two super powers.

1973

June 17. Leonid Brezhnev arrives in Washington, D.C. for a meeting with President Richard M. Nixon and is greeted by a demonstration of nearly 13,000 people condemning Moscow's policies towards its Jewish minority. Noted actor and folk singer Theodore Bikel, together with the African-American civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, lead a protest march to the Soviet Embassy. 

1973

March 21. The Soviet Union provides an unsigned letter to President Richard M. Nixon announcing the cancelation of the "Education Tax."

1973

February 7. Congressman Charles Vanik co-sponsors legislation similar to that of Sen. Jackson in the House of Representatives.

1973

March 15. Senator Henry M. Jackson submits final version of amendment linking trade between the US and non-market (communist) countries to the issue of free emigration.

1974

December 20. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment is overwhelmingly approved by the US Congress, making US trade concessions and low-interest loans to any "non-market economy" (communist) conditional on "respect for the right to emigrate." 

1974

June 27. President Richard Nixon's second summit meeting takes place in Moscow. The matter of the deprivation of rights for Jews is not resolved.

1975

October 10. Parliamentarians from twelve West European countries form a committee supporting Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union.

1975

January 3. Following a two-year campaign, President Gerald M. Ford signs the Jackson-Vanik Amendment into law, ignoring Soviet objections. The Soviet Union repudiates 1972 trade agreement with the US, in response to its passage.

1975

August 1. President Gerald M. Ford signs the Helsinki Final Act which, among other things, allows for "human contacts," the free movement of people, and the reunification of divided families as basic human rights. Leonid Brezhnev signs for the Soviet Union; the document becomes a global instrument for pressing human rights in the USSR especially Jewish emigration.

1976

July 2. The Soviet Union unveils a memorial at the Babi Yar ravine containing no reference to the thousands of Jews brought there to be killed during World War II by German troops, with help from Ukrainian units.

1976

June 3. President Gerald M. Ford signs into law a bill creating a US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the "Helsinki Commission") to monitor adherence to the Helsinki process. The Commission has the active support of the Soviet Jewry Movement and human rights groups.

1976

February 17-19. Over 1,000 delegates from around the world attend the Second World Conference of Jewish Communities on Soviet Jewry in Brussels. 

1977

June. Following the arrest of Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry is formed in Washington, DC to serve as a public advocacy group. The first co- chairs were Helen Jackson, Jeanette Williams, Paula Blanchard, and Joanne Kemp. The group will go on to “adopt” other Jewish Prisoners of Conscience in the Soviet Union, including Ida Nudel.

1977

October 4. The First Review Meeting of the Helsinki Final Act is held in Belgrade. The US delegation, led by Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg, presses human rights issues, notably family reunification for Soviet Jews. 

1977

March 15. Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, a young Jewish activist and a participant in the human rights movement, is arrested on charges of treason and spying for the US, viewed by many in Washington as a Soviet challenge to the humanitarian provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and as an obstacle to US-USSR détente.

1978

July 14. Anatoly Sharansky is sentenced to three years in prison and ten years forced labor. His case attracts world attention and Sharansky becomes a symbol of Jewish Refuseniks.

1979

April 27. Five Soviet dissidents and Jewish activists, exchanged by the US for two Soviet spies sentenced in the US, arrive in New York City. Mark Dymshitz and Eduard Kuznetsov are greeted at New York's "Solidarity Sunday" before leaving for Israel.

1980

November 11. Major forum to review the Helsinki Final Act opens in Madrid, with US delegation headed by Ambassador Max Kampelman. 

1980

January 22. Andrei Sakharov, noted physicist and human rights advocate, is exiled from Moscow to Gorky after protesting the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. He is an outspoken supporter of Jewish refuseniks.

1981

October 12. More than 100 Hebrew teachers and students in the Soviet Union, working in unofficial groups, protest to Supreme Soviet about efforts to stamp out their efforts by way of harassment and arrests.

1983

March 15. The 3rd World Conference on Soviet Jewry is convened in Israel, with a large US contingent. 

1983

March 29. The Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public is formed in Moscow to combat Jewish emigration activities.

1985

November 19. Israel's Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, makes a pre-Geneva summit appeal to President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, seeking free emigration for Soviet Jews.

1985

March 11. Mikhail S. Gorbachev appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party, promising a new policy of openness (Glasnost).

1986

October 11-12. The second summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev is held in Iceland. A group of US Jewish leaders flies to Reykjavik to brief delegates. 

1986

February 11. Natan Sharansky, after an early release from prison, arrives in Israel.

1986

March. Edgar Bronfman, President, World Jewish Congress and Morris. B. Abram, Chairman, National Conference on Soviet Jewry, visit Moscow in a failed effort to negotiate religious freedom and emigration rights for Jews.

1987

December 6. "Freedom Sunday" March on Washington, DC on the eve of the first Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meeting in the US capital. 250,000 people participate in the largest rally ever organized in the US on behalf of a Jewish issue. The event marks the peak of the Soviet Jewry advocacy campaign in the US.

1988

Coalition to Free Soviet Jews halts annual Solidarity Sunday demonstrations near the United Nations, in New York City.

1989

December. More than 700 Soviet Jews, from 175 non-governmental organizations, and observers from other countries, meet in Moscow at the first national conference of Soviet Jews in over seventy years.

1989

February 12. Reflecting the profound changes unfolding in the Soviet Union, the Solomon Mikhoels International Cultural Center opens in Moscow, with the help of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or "The Joint"), a social welfare agency whose mission is to assist Jews throughout the world.

1989

January. Meeting of the Conference on Security and Economic Cooperation (CSCE) in Vienna. Soviet delegation approves the Final Declaration which includes the Right to Leave and the principle of family reunification.

1990

Nearly 182,000 Jews leave the Soviet Union for Israel; thousands of others to the United States.

1990

December 10. The daily Soviet Jewry Vigil, opposite Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., ends after twenty years.

1990

March 15, 1990. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes President of the Soviet Union.

1991

December 25. Mikhail Gorbachev resigns, after an aborted anti-government coup, and is succeeded by Boris Yeltsin. The Soviet Union dissolves into independent republics.