Vox Tablet

Back in the USSR

Gal Beckerman recalls the Struggle for Soviet Jewry, which reinvigorated a tradition of Jewish political engagement

September 22, 2010
A Soviet Jewry demonstration in San Francisco on Simchat Torah, 1983.(American Soviet Jewry Movement Photographs Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society)

A Soviet Jewry demonstration in San Francisco on Simchat Torah, 1983.(American Soviet Jewry Movement Photographs Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society)

More than two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, the history of discrimination against Jews there and the reprisals against those who sought to leave are a distant memory for many—as is the Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the U.S. movement that formed in response. One way the movement raised awareness of Soviet Jewry was to encourage American Jewish teens to adopt a Soviet “twin” with which they shared their bar and bat mitzvah celebrations—as journalist Gal Beckerman did at his bar mitzvah in 1989. When he wondered recently what became of his twin, Maxim Yankelevich, Beckerman’s curiosity led him to write When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, a comprehensive study of the movement. He joined Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss the movement’s beginnings, some of the key refuseniks—including Natan Sharansky—whose plight galvanized American students, and the secret role Israel played in fomenting Western sympathies for those refuseniks.

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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