Thursday, December 06, 2012

March for Soviet Jewry 25 Years Later

Twenty-five years ago today on Sunday, December 6, 1987, I headed off to Detroit Metropolitan Airport with my mother. Downstairs at the airport by the baggage claim we were divided into one of three chartered airplanes to fly to Washington D.C. for the march in support of Soviet Jewry. Those who were present at the March are encouraged to contribute their memories to the 25th anniversary website.

I was a 6th grader at Hillel Day School where we learned of the plight of Soviet Jewish Refuseniks who couldn't leave the Soviet Union and were prohibited from practicing Judaism. That day with thousands of other like-minded Jews was a memorable experience for me.

Soviet Jewry March 25

I remember eating bagel and lox on the plane which was donated by Paul Borman, a Detroit philanthropist who owned Farmer Jack -- a local grocery. I also remember being led in Jewish songs on the chartered plane by the late David Hermelin, another noted philanthropist in Detroit.

When we arrived in Washington we boarded buses to the National Mall where we called for the immediate mass emigration of Jewish refuseniks out of the oppressive Soviet Union. The entire Detroit delegation, wearing our white "Let My People Go" hats, marched from the Washington Monument to the Capitol Building. We sang "Hinei Mah Tov" and heard from Vice President George Bush, Elie Wiesel, and then Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky.

It is truly amazing how far we have come in the past 25 years. The 250,000 marchers made a difference as did all of the people who carried books and Jewish ritual items to the Former Soviet Union. When I was in Berlin with a group of rabbis in February 2011 I learned firsthand so much about the plight of the Refuseniks. Many Jews from the Former Soviet Union emigrated to Berlin and I had the privilege of hearing their story.

On this 25th anniversary, I am recalling that memorable day in Washington and thinking about my bar mitzvah in October 1989 when I celebrated this life-cycle event with my Russian twin. May our people no longer know the oppression that our brothers and sisters in the Former Soviet Union experienced.


katep said...

I think my 7th graders (congregational religious school) think I'm crazy when I tell them about the struggle of Soviet Jews and the advocacy we participated in (they are also oblivious to the struggles of aparthied). It is a good thing that the students don't have a lot of current reference to Jews not being able to practice freely, but it is still an important part of Jewish History.

Alan Jay Gerber said...

most likely , this march was about the only one I couldn't ironic, because I was at just about every major confab and every march in NY and DC...
and truth be told, if is weren't for the leadership of SSSJ none of these activities would have been possible.
All the boasting today concerning the involvement of AJC, and other establishment organizational types is all founded on pure legend..... Yashar koach to you for your valiant efforts.
kol tuv,
Alan Jay Gerber