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How We Freed Soviet Jewry

Twenty-five years ago today, a rally of 250,000 people changed the fate of Jews worldwide. An oral history.

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(Courtesy Scott Lasensky)

Green: We wanted to let the Soviet government know that this was our issue, and we were fighting and we weren’t going to stop. We wanted to let the American government know that this was important not just to the Jewish community, but to the American community—that this was a human rights issue that we cared about. And the message was also to Soviet Jews themselves, who always heard about the rallies, always, either on Voice of America, or they saw pictures of it, and they could know that they weren’t alone and that people were working for them.

Sam Kliger (former refusenik): It was broadcast on Voice of America and Radio Liberty, but only a very few people could listen to it. I did not know it would be broadcast, because of course Gazeta Pravda didn’t report that this march was happening, and there was no Internet at that time, no cell phones, in many cases even no regular telephones. But one person told another that there was this huge march in Washington, and it was a big, big boost.

Cohen: In the end it was definitely celebratory. Peter, Paul and Mary were there, Pearl Bailey was there. For me, I was swept up by the fact that Natan was there, and Vladimir Slepak was there. We’d never met, until that day.

Zacks: I was on the dais, and I introduced the vice president. He came to this rally, and he knew the political tension that would exist between his role as vice president and his role as a citizen. The following day he was going to be part of the group meeting with Gorbachev and President Reagan, but the vice president elected to come because he wanted to be there.

Goldstein: The only thing that’s not memorable was the speeches. It was all the usual stuff, except when Sharansky spoke. I was on the dais for some of it, but then I got down and stood with my family. There was no place for the wealthy and the rest of it—that was one of the beauties of the thing.

Sharansky: When I was speaking, I was improvising, because I never wrote speeches. That day was easy for me. I said, Look, how many times did we hear there will be rain, there will be no demonstration, and now there is sun, and you are all here.

Saperstein: People would say, Who did the opening narration? I used Gunter Hirschberg, who had been cantor at Temple Rodeph Sholom. He had a magnificent voice, an extraordinary basso profundo voice, and having been born in Germany but raised in Britain, he spoke in a British accent. So, you had this guy who looked like Cesar Romero and to many people sounded like the voice of God.

From the podium, it looked like an endless sea of Jews. It was as if the horizon ended with the crowd.

Cohen: From the podium, it looked like an endless sea of Jews. It was as if the horizon ended with the crowd. There was nothing else. It was a huge, huge, huge crowd. And it was cold! It was a very cold day, and people were all bundled up and wearing earmuffs and jumping in place and huddled together, and you could see their breath. But there was this tremendous, tremendous electrical excitement that warmed everybody. And I don’t think anyone wanted to leave.

Leonard Fein (author and former editor of Moment): There was a certain point where I was up near the mike, and I announced this was a reunion for the Jewish people. “Let it begin here and now—there is a tent here by the stage for lost children, so please go reclaim them now.”

Zeidman: We were staying at a little place, a Holiday Inn or something on the other side of Independence, so we walked across the Mall to where the march was, and our 7-year-old kid wanted a popsicle, and then the New York Times got him. We made the whole march, and then we got on the buses with everyone else from Houston for the plane ride home.

Osadchey: We timed it so we got back in time for a community rally that evening in Houston. Pete Yarrow had been at the march, and they played his song “Light One Candle” as we all came into the sanctuary.

Sharansky: Afterward, there were some receptions, the American Jewish Committee gave some prizes, the UJA had some things for donors. I didn’t really understand these things yet. And then I went back home. I felt my mission—frankly, I thought, that’s it. Now it’s enough to be a Soviet Jew, and I can start a normal life.

Goldstein: Reagan said to Gorbachev, “Yesterday I had 250,000 people in my backyard saying, ‘Let my people go.’ Until you do what they want, nothing will happen.” And after that, things changed. So, to me it ensured Israel’s survival and it brought down the Soviet Union. It was the high point for my generation’s lives as Jews.

Davis: I didn’t think at the time that it was such a big deal. It seemed to me that the movement had won. History is such a funny thing—all you can say is that these things all happened at the same time, and the Jews got out of the Soviet Union. I do know that what it did for us was probably more than it did for them in terms of creating a sense of unity, of pride, and a feeling that Jews around the world were responsible for doing something and that they could do something for each other.

Sharansky: It was the final act in this long, long struggle of American Jewry. A whole generation of American Jews lived and fought this issue. It was their struggle.

(American Jewish Historical Society)

***

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Poupic says:

My memory of that time is horrible. I belonged to the Jewish center in Van Nuys, Ca. Boot were set up for the Pourim festival. One of them was manned by young Jews to support Soviet Jews. Suddenly the boot was gone. I found out that the management closed it with the claim: “This is political!” I went on stage. Grab a microphone and told the audience what I thought of Jews who described Jews in danger as a “political issue.” The horrible screams of “Cut the Mic” “Get him off the stage!.’ I told them right there while holding my baby what I thought of “Jews” like them. I never came back to that Jewish center. US Jews today are exactly mostly the same. Israel has always been under the threat of destruction. Building in liberated Jerusalem upsets them, Israel defending itself from thousands of missiles scheduled with schools start upsets them. They speak of the poor Gaza children that in fact are used are shields fro the terrorist aiming missiles at Israeli civilians. Most US Jews have lost what it means Israel arevim ze la ze. I never set foot even today in any Jewish Center that in fact are just country clubs paid in great part by taxes.

It was a cold, but incredible day. Whole families came out with babies, young and old, united in a cause. Shame we cannot reignite that spark of concern for Israel today.

I was 8 yrs old when I came to the US with my family. We arrived in 1979. I will always be greatful to the community that sponsored us. I am now very active in that Jewish community and have my own family. Thank you to all those people who cared about us.

WOW,

I hope the Arabs don’t read this or Israel is in trouble:

Twenty-five years ago today, an estimated quarter of a million Americans, most of them Jews, flooded the Mall in Washington, D.C., to demand freedom for the refuseniks—Jews living inside the Soviet Union who were denied permission to leave the country.

Today, an estimated quarter of a million Americans, most of them Muslims, flooded the Mall in Washington, D.C., to demand freedom for the Palestinians – Muslims & Christian Arabs living in Refugee Camps inside Israel who were denied permission Right of Return to their homes & lands, which Israelis stole from them.

Do you think it might work?

Congratulations, Allison. You present a thrilling memorial of a real historic event. One name you quote stands out for me, Rabbi Shaul Osadchey, whose Bar Mitzvah I conducted at Valley Beth Israel in Los Angeles! Another name not mentioned here but important in the Soviet Jewry movement is Si Frumkin of blessed memory. He and Glenn Richter of New York were co-winners of our Cohon Award for their part in rescuing those million Russian Jews. This anniversary should be a holiday on our calendar.

With a group of committed friends from Vancouver, Canada we flew all night to arrive in Washington for the March. We were from the Vancouver Chapter of Canadian Jewish Congress, Soviet Jewry Committee. I remember changing planes twice and in each airport seeing groups of people wearing their T-Shirts all on their way to Washington. I will never forget the experience of being apart of such a huge mass of people with the same purpose. Renee Switzer

genelevit says:

No, it will not. Palestinian refugee camps are not inside Israel but inside territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It is Palestinian leadership that prevents refugees from becoming equal with other Palestinians. In order for something to work, Larry, you need to have some knowledge.

The Right of Return is a farce. Palestinians are the only refugee group in the world where refugee status is passed on. The Arab world could have solved this problem long ago, but they continue to keep them in camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Palestinians are nothing more than political pawns to the Arab world as they continue to try to destroy and delegitimize the Jewish State. And simpletons like you bought this distorted narrative.

Plumbline says:

Isaiah 43:6……
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’ Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth—

Plumbline says:

Isaiah 43:6……………..
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’ Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth—

Natan79 says:

Similar experience in New York, at Columbia University.

Poupic says:

Thank you for joining me in this. US Jews celebrating “their” help for Soviet Jewry makes me sick. There was a stream in those so called Jews that the Soviet Union was the ultimate savior of humanity, the dream of justice for all while ignoring the extermination of Jewish anything there. The remnant of this kind of attitude makes many US Jews feel sorry for the “poor Palestinians” who’s charters specifies that they exist for the express purpose of destroying Israel and replacing it with a Islamic state.

Poupic says:

Yes! Not only is Israel in trouble with Jews like you who posts such a lie as if it was the truth. Maybe they posted this but must you post it as if supporting them? Maybe you do too. I would not be surprised. The fact is a total negation of this garbage. Israeli Arabs are full citizens to the point that an Israeli Arab judge, a member of Israel Supreme Court read the verdict against an ex- President of Israel. As for Christians, they thrive, their religion is protected in Israel as are all religions. Contrast this with all the neighbors where Christians suffer and those who can escape the Islamic paradise. In the PA area, Bethlehem a Christian town has now a Muslim majority. Christians are fleeing for their life from the PA area as they do anywhere else in the Arab world.

Has it been 25 years already? Wow. A shout out to the students from George Washington University on the ground who were willingly pressed (orange dishwashing gloves and armbands for all) into service to try to help guide the masses of people. It was an awesome day!

Elaine Grae says:

Thank you, Allison Hoffman for reminding me of this awe inspiring day! I was a member of the 35′s for Soviet Jewry in Glasgow, Scotland and eventually went to Israel and had come to live with my family in New York when I heard of this rally. I joined it through New City Jewish Center (N.Y.) which had several buses going that day. I was not disappointed and the unity of the Jewish Americans really took my breath away! I wish I could say the same now but think it will take another crisis to bring our people together again.
Elaine Grae (Epstein)

Judy Lash Balint says:

Yes, the gathering was momentous and all of us who took part felt an impressive sense of solidarity, but, as Pam Cohen notes in the article, 1987 was just another year in a decades-long movement to free Soviet Jews. Many of us in our own communities had spent years by that point trying with varying degrees of success to energize the amcha to speak out. Too often, the activists were given the cold shoulder by the Jewish establishment, many of whom were operating under the “sha shtill” philosophy.

Jay Rothschild says:

This article gives the impression that the rally delivered the knockout punch. Perhaps. However, it was along uphill battle. I had been to the Soviet Union twice and met with refusniks. These were unbelievably brave people who put their lives on the line. Modern day Macabees. Who can forget Silva Zalmanson who with her group tried to steal a plane out of the Soviet Union. Her and their trial started a world wide demonstration. The first time I heard of Soviet Jews was back in the 50′s from my Rabbi Israel Miller. Letters and meetings with our congressmans educated them re. Soviet Jewry. Who can forget the second Brussels Conference. Jews coming from all over the world united. Who can forget the work of Glen Richter and Jacob Birnbaum. Jerry Goodman and Myrna Scheinbaum were great organizers. However, most of all was the state of Israel who paid the ransom money to redeem Soviet Jews. Yes the march was great but it took so many years to finally bring the Iron curtain down. I always like to believe that the Soviet Jewry movement played a large part in that.

Twenty five years ago! My memory is fading. I came down from Boston. I can’t even remember if I flew or took a bus. One memory is clear. We marched through the streets of Washington There was the occasional group chant, “Let my people go!” But what I remember most was the sober, solemn silence . The Quiet. A religious, spiritual protest. The silence was powerful.

It was definitely a great day. We had a motivated community then. Now, not so much.

genelevit says:

I posted a movie on the u-tube in which I compared Soviet anti-Zionist documentaries of the 70ties and 80ties to the nazi anti-Semitic movie “The Eternal Jew” to the present day anti-Zionist movies made by David Duke and human rights advocates:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyKXr3HsE7g

Shalom genelevit,

EVERY JEW IN THE WORLD NEEDS TO GOOGLE:

THE SECULAR ZIONIST AGENDA FOR A JEWISH STATE

Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons

P.O.B. 1775, Kiryat Arba

90100, Israel

tel and fax: 02-9961252 (within Israel),

972 2 9961252 (from outside Israel)

e-mail: chaimsimons@gmail.com

August 2007

Shalom LM,

YOU NEED TO GOOGLE:

THE SECULAR ZIONIST AGENDA FOR A JEWISH STATE

Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons

P.O.B. 1775, Kiryat Arba

90100, Israel

tel and fax: 02-9961252 (within Israel),

972 2 9961252 (from outside Israel)

e-mail: chaimsimons@gmail.com

August 2007

Shalom Jay,

Many do not realize is that the Maccabees themselves became a destructive force to Judaism.

For many years, Hanukkah symbolized the overthrow of pagan Gentile influence from Jewish spirituality, and the rededication to God and the Mosaic Law. However, history reveals that the wrath which was dealt out by the Maccabees did not end the path of disaster which Israel had been treading. Whether reading ‘Gentile’ historical or Jewish resources, the end result was that the Maccabees became power hungry and corrupt. What started out for many as a zealous spiritual endeavor based on wrath, became immersed in corruption, murder and destruction, and the eventual act of Jews killing Jews. The war and rebellion became a civil war. According to Josephus in his Antiquities, within 65 years of the initial revolt, a challenge was put forth by a number of Pharisees towards one of the corrupt leaders of the Maccabees, one Alexander Janneus. During the Feast of Tabernacles, Alexander who was performing as high priest, corrupted the libation ceremony by pouring the water over his feet instead of on the altar as the Pharisees had decreed. In response, the religious Jews pelted him with lemons. It was after that time that Janneus had a partition-wall of wood built around the altar and the temple, where it was only lawful for the priests to enter. In this way, he kept the multitude of Jews from coming at him. Outraged by the lemon incident, Janneus ordered his soldiers to slay 6,000 of the Jews, resulting in a civil war which lasted six years and by the end, approximately 50,000 Jews were killed. At the end of the war, the Jewish soldiers were ordered by Janneus to crucify 800 of the Pharisees. He then ordered the throats of their children and wives cut, while they watched.

The initial Revolt lasted about four years, from 167-163 BC. By 66 AD, the Zealots again revolted against their Gentile oppressors. Just as with the earlier Maccabees, again the revolt ended with Jews killing Jews, and many would agree that it changed the course of Jewish history forever. Many know that by 70 AD the Romans destroyed the Temple, burned Jerusalem, and slaughtered thousands of people.

History has a habit of repeating itself!

Poupic,
Do you actually think he is Jewish??? I really doubt it. Then again stranger things have happened… lol

Poupic says:

Just a regular run of the mill US Jew.

I came with a group of 15 students from The University Of Kansas! It was an inspirational trip to come from a small town to a large gathering to help fellow Jews! We felt part of something bigger than us. We felt part of the American Jewish community that had experienced freedom of religion and no anti-semitism. We shouted proudly as American Jews, “Let my People Go.”

I remember those days. This was a way for Russia to empty their prisons or criminals who would stop in Israel for a new ID who then traveled on to NYC, which was the birth of the Russian Mafia in the US.

WIKIPEDIA: Ex-Soviet organized crime

Ex-Soviet organized crime in Israel [and the US] began with the mass immigration of Russian Jews to Israel in 1989.[4] The Russian mafia saw Israel as an ideal place to launder money, as Israel’s banking system was designed to encourage aliyah, the immigration of Jews, and the accompanying capital. Following the trend of global financial deregulation, Israel had also implemented legislation aimed at easing the movement of capital. Combined with the lack of anti-money laundering legislation, “Russian” organised crime found it an easy place to transfer ill-gotten gains. In 2005, police estimated that Russian organised crime had laundered between $5 and 10 billion in the fifteen years since the end of the Soviet Union. Even non-Jewish criminals such as Sergei Mikhailov, sought to get an Israeli passport, using fake Jewish documentation.[5]

mouskatel says:

Yes, I agree. Flood the mall and demand that the PA tear down the refugee camps and accept Israel’s generous offer for a Palestinian state and the right of return to that state.

BARBARA STERN says:

THE MARCH WAS A GREAT SUCCESS NOT AS AS A MOBILIZING FORCE BUT REALLY AS RECOGNITION OF THE MANY WHO BELIEVED THAT THEY COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE . THE FACT THAT NATAN SHCHARANASKY, VLADIMIR SLEPAK AND OTHERS WHO WERE IN THE LEADERSHIP OF THE MOVEMENT IN THE USSR AND HAD BEEN IMPRISONED FOR IT WERE PRESENT ON THAT REMARKABLE DAY IS TESTIMONY THAT EFFORTS OF JEWS AND PEOPLE OF GOODWILL IN THE WEST, COUPLED WITH THE BRAVE RUSSIAN JEWS WHO PUT THEIR LIVES ON THE LNE BROUGHT ABOUT THE VICTORY. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF BOOKS BEING WRITTEN TODAY . THE AMAZING THING IS THAT EACH ONE THOSE WRITING THE BOOKS BELIEVE THAT THEY OR THE GROUPS OR ACTIONS THEY ARE MEMORIALIZING BELIEVE THAT THEY WERE THE ANSWER TO THE FINAL VICTORY AND THEY ARE RIGHT. TOGETHER, THEY BROUGHT IT ABOUT.

ONE GROUP NOT MENTIONED WHO WERE PRESENT AT THE MARCH WERE SOME 500 CANADIANS – WHO CAME TO WASHINGTON ON A CHARTERED PLANE – DONATED BY A BENEFACTOR FROM MONTREAL. MIDDLE POWERS LIKE CANADA, GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE HAD A BIG HAND IN THE FINAL OUTCOME. IT WAS VITAL THAT THE ISSUE OF FREEDOM FOR SOVIET JDEWS NOT BE SEEN AS A US/USSR CONFRONTATION. FOLLOWING THE MARCH, SUDDENLY THOSE WHO DID NOT BELIEVE THAT IT WOULD REALLY EFFECT CHANGE – MANY OF THE IN THE JEWISH LEADERSHIP, DID BECOME INVOLVED. WHAT IS SAD IS THAT YOJNG PEOPLE TODAY FOR THE MOST PART KNOW VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE SOVIET JEWRY STRUGGLE. THEY ARE UNAWARE OF THE DIFFERENCE THEY CAN MAKE IN BECOMING INVOLVED IN A WORTHY CAUSE – ISRAEL NEEDS THEM NOW TO STAND UP AND BE STRONG – MAYBE NOW IS THE TIME FOR ANOTHER MARCH IN WASHINGTON – THIS TIME FOR THE STATE OF ISRAEL WHICH IS STANDING VIRTUALLY ALONE.

Shalom,

ALL Israelis need to purchase this book:

Among American Jews, Zionism Is in Retreat
As Its Irrelevance to Their Lives Becomes Clear

The American Council For Judaism
Allan C. Brownfeld

Issues

Fall 2012

THE CRISIS OF ZIONISM

by Peter Beinart,

Times Books,

289 Pages,

$26.00

There can be little doubt that the philosophy of Zionism — Jewish
nationalism —is in retreat among American Jews. Zionism holds that
Judaism is not a religion of universal values, but an ethnicity. It
believes that Israel is the “homeland” of all Jews and that those living
outside of Israel are in “exile.” Zionists urge emigration to Israel,
“aliyah,” as the highest Jewish value.

Time after time in the Jewish Bible we can see the arrogance of the Jew right before he was punished by YHWH & the same thing WILL happen again. Its just a matter of time.

“Moral Promiscuity”

The attempt to silence Israel’s critics as anti-Semitic, Beinart charges, is a form of “moral promiscuity” which “constitutes terrible abuse of the authority that Jewish leaders enjoy as a result of the history of Jewish suffering. It constitutes a kind of desecration, analogous to taking a sacred object and putting it to profane use. But most of all, it represents an unwillingness to accept that the world has changed, that although Israel still faces threats and anti-Semitism
still exists, Jews today wield power, both in Israel and the U.S. With power comes the temptation to abuse it, and using the charge of anti-Semitism to shield Israel from criticism is the best way that Israel does exactly that.”

The philosophy which dominates the thinking of Israel’s current leadership, in particular Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is that of Revisionist Zionism which, Beinart believes, turns its back on Judaism’s humane and prophetic tradition. Revisionism’s leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, writes Beinart, did not like the Jewish belief “that they carried a moral message to the world. In his telling, the story of Jewish history went roughly like this: Once upon a time, when they still lived on their land, the Jews had been warriors, renowned for their fierce resistance to the empires of the day … The problem began, according to Jabotinsky and the Revisionists, with the prophets. Abba Achimeir, one of Jabotinsky’s most militant disciples, was particularly hostile to Isaiah, who challenged the Judean kings to ‘seek justice, relieve the oppressed.’ The Revisionists … often scorned those passages suggesting that Jews were tasked with a special ethical mission. ‘The Bible says ‘thou shalt not oppress a stranger for ye know the heart of the stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt,’ wrote Jabotinsky in 1910. ‘Contemporary morality has no place for such childish humanism.’”

Benjamin Netanyahu inherited his Revisionist philosophy from his father. In 1939, Jabotinsky cabled the 36 year old former editor of a Revisionist newspaper in Palestine, Benzion Netanyahu, and summoned him to New York. Netanyahu complied and, until Jabotinsky’s death the following year, worked as his private secretary. Beinart writes that, “Jabotinsky’s influence permeates Netanyahu’s writing. First, the yearning to recover the lost glory of Jewish militarism. ‘The prowess of Jewish youth in Palestine should serve as a warning that the blood of the old warrior race is still alive in the Jewish people,’ exulted an unsigned Zionews editorial during the time Netanyahu served as editor.”

Examples of Racism

Benzion Netanyahu’s writings are filled with examples of “racism,” Beinart shows: “In an essay in 1943, he called Arabs ‘a semi-barbaric people, which lacks any democratic traditions and is fired by religious fanaticism and hatred for the stranger.’ Later, during Netanyahu’s editorship, an unsigned editorial in Zionews described the Arabs as ‘Ishmael, the wild man of the desert.’ Netanyahu conjured the same image 66 years later, when asked by MAARIV why he didn’t like Arabs. ‘The Bible finds no worse image than this of the man from the desert,’ the old man replied. ‘And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases. The tendency toward
conflict is the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His
personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement … His existence
is one of perpetual war.’”

For Benjamin Netanyahu, Beinart notes, “It is always 1938. After Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, Netanyahu called Peres ‘worse than Chamberlain.’ In A Durable Peace, Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly compares the West Bank to the Sudetenland, which the Nazis cleaved from Czechoslavakia en route to overrunning the entire country. Dismantling Jewish settlements, he argues, would mean a ‘Judenrein’ West Bank and a ‘ghetto-state’ within Israel’s 1967 borders. If it is 1938, then Jews have no moral responsibility except to survive. … One of the most remarkable features of A Durable Peace is Netanyahu’s tendency to
approvingly quote imperialists expressing racist views of Arabs. He quotes Winston Churchill as saying, ‘Left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a thousand years have taken effective steps toward the irrigation and electrification of Palestine.’ He cites Col. Richard Meinertzhagen, Britain’s chief political officer in Palestine after World War I, as opining, ‘The Arab is a poor fighter, though an adept at lootings, sabotage and murder.’”

Sadly, in Beinart’s view, “American Jewish politics remains dominated by an establishment that defines support for Israel more as support for the policies of the Israeli government than as support for the principles in Israel’s declaration of independence. But the American Jewish establishment is dying, literally. The typical large American Jewish organization is run by a man in his sixties, who when he meets his large donors, is among the youngest people in the room … All have built their careers on stories of Jewish victimhood and survival. None
accept that we live in a new era in Jewish history, in which our challenges stem less from weakness than from power … Young American Jews are far less likely to build their identity around victimhood … For the most part, young Jews are not redefining American Zionism. They are abandoning American Zionism.”

Meh, it’s not even worth the $13.82 for a used copy on Amazon.com

I-m not for nor against the spread of Jewishm … If it Jew… they have the right… if it ia Jewism – which is Kazahr and to Jew at all I´d say NO… No Zionists in our back yard…. Donah..//

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How We Freed Soviet Jewry

Twenty-five years ago today, a rally of 250,000 people changed the fate of Jews worldwide. An oral history.

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