Passover Revisited: Philadelphia's Efforts to Aid Soviet Jews, 1963-1998

Passover Revisited: Philadelphia's Efforts to Aid Soviet Jews, 1963-1998

Passover Revisited: Philadelphia's Efforts to Aid Soviet Jews, 1963-1998

Passover Revisited: Philadelphia's Efforts to Aid Soviet Jews, 1963-1998

Synopsis

Placed within the context of the international Soviet Jewry movement, this book argues that Philadelphia's Jewish community was the most organized and effective Soviet Jewry advocacy network in the world. Through its Soviet Jewry Council (SJC), Philadelphia overcame intramural disputes that plagued most communities by blending grassroots groups with establishment agencies and developed intricate coalitions with interfaith organizations and the black clergy. SJC programs helped reinvigorate Jewish customs in the Soviet Union and relieved starvation and suffering among elderly Soviet Jews.

Excerpt

The Soviet Jewry movement was one of the extraordinary events in American Jewish history. More than a million and a half Soviet Jews were taken out of the Soviet Union and Russia, often against the bitter opposition and harassment of Soviet authorities. This was—and continues to be—one of the great exoduses in the entire Jewish experience, comparable to the large-scale immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe to the U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century.

What was so special about this is that it was fundamentally a grassroots movement. It took place in hundreds of communities. Thousands of people engaged in protests and pressed our government and other countries throughout the world to force the hand of an oppressive regime. Thousands of Jews and non-Jews visited the Soviet Union to express their solidarity with “refuseniks,” those who sought to leave and suffered various penalties for seeking to do so.

Philadelphia was one of the centers of this movement. In 1999, the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, which is associated with the American Jewish Committee, published its first book on this largely untold story, A Second Exodus: the American Movement to Free Soviet Jews (Brandeis University Press). We are pleased to take the second step now, an analysis of how one community, Philadelphia, organized itself and took a leadership role in this extraordinary movement. In asking Dr. Andrew Harrison to undertake this study, we found a fine young historian with both the talent and interest to explore this subject. We wish to express our grateful appreciation to Constance and Joseph Smukler who provided the funding for this project and Associated University Presses for publishing this important story.

Murray Friedman, Director

Nancy Isserman, Associate Director

Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, Temple University.

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