The Beginnings of
However, after consulting with other
information sources, we concluded that the rabbi’s assurances and
warnings were not valid. We'd had considerable background experience
during the prior four years, reading widely, and conferring with
Jewish activists, leaders and historians, and were able to evaluate
organizational denial, hang-ups, and timidity. Accordingly, we
resolved to act on our own to create a strong movement that would
raise public concern about the dangerous circumstances of Soviet
Jews. By 1975 this effort would culminate in the Jackson-Vanik
amendment, followed in the next two decades by a major exodus of
Jews leaving the USSR for Israel and the United States.
The Soviets had a poor wheat harvest in 1963, and President Kennedy announced the release of wheat for shipment to the USSR. Don Bogart and I quickly wrote a telegram to the president suggesting that some of the U.S. wheat shipment be allowed for Jewish matzah, which was prohibited in the USSR. With signatures from almost all local rabbis, and copies to United Press and the Associated Press, our telegram was printed in newspapers all around the country. This was a first step toward our goal of making the plight of Soviet Jews a conversation topic in many homes!
Strengthened by this success, we persuaded a distinguished board of directors to head a newly formed Cleveland Committee on Soviet Anti-Semitism (CCSA). Cleveland mayor Ralph Locher served as Chairman.
In our dedication, we proceeded at a frantic pace, one project after another, determined to open the world’s heart to this most important and urgent of problems. We were supported by Irv Levine of the American Jewish Committee, Israeli Consul Meir Rosenne who sent us weekly translations of the pertinent Soviet press, and by Max and Leonard Ratner, and the AHS foundation, who sent cash.
We wrote editorials for Cleveland newspapers and mailed them and other editorials to over 40 Jewish weeklies. We prepared a booklet entitled "Appeal to Conscience", directed to chairman Khrushchev, signed by Mayor Locher and released with press fanfare. Dave Gitlin prepared a slide show to accompany informational lectures. We delivered about 60 such talks in northern Ohio. West Temple artist Mort Epstein prepared a visually striking poster and stamps that were available to satellite groups that we helped form in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Florida. Rabbi Litt became host of a weekly radio program featuring news about Soviet Jews. Youth groups picketed Soviet dance performers and carried petitions to Soviet consuls. We developed and distributed nationally a literate newsletter, Spotlight. We publicized an anti-Semitic Soviet booklet and its "Stuermer-like" cartoons. There were dozens of projects, many of which made national news.
When a Soviet Jewish editor was sent to America by Moscow to allay concerns about Soviet Jews, Cleveland was his first stop. We immediately challenged him to a public debate. Our challenge was carried on the front page of the Cleveland Press alongside the news of Kennedy’s assassination. When the Soviet group refused to debate, we celebrated a significant PR victory. We had made major efforts to publicize the viciously anti-Jewish "economic crimes trials", which the soviets terminated after wide publicity. The unceasing efforts of our group had sparked wide interest and made people aware of the plight of Soviet Jews. Holding a demanding research and teaching job, I was getting little sleep during a two year initial period. Exhausted, we recognized the need for new initiatives.
In 1964, fresh impetus came from our temple president Lou Rosenblum, a division head at the space agency NASA. Abe Silverstein, NASA chief and honorary chair of our Cleveland Committee on Soviet Anti-Semitism, gave Lou full backing, knowing his administrative skill. Within six months Lou was essentially in charge of new initiatives, directed largely to promoting an exodus for Soviet Jews who were now feeling safer in applying to emigrate. Lou persevered in a super-human, decades-long effort, supporting the Jewish "refuseniks", and culminating in the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Although the Cleveland Jewish Federation opposed our efforts at first, they later joined strongly under leadership of Bennett Yanowitz and Sid Vincent, and when Soviet émigrés started to appear in Cleveland, CJF performed well in helping find housing and jobs.
Our Cleveland group was one among many that made significant contributions to the goal of saving Soviet Jewry, an outcome that Rabbi Silver could not have contemplated on that autumn day in 1963.
Many played pivotal roles in this struggle. Among these are Jacob Birnbaum and Glenn Richter whose New York "Student Struggle to Save Soviet Jews" was among the first activist groups. Harold Light and Zev Jaroslavsky were highly effective in California, and Mark Talisman, a Clevelander, was important in creating "Jackson-Vanik". Some Cleveland people were central in stirring attention to the problem: Rabbi Daniel Litt, Lenore Singer, Don Bogart, David Gitlin, Mort Epstein, Henry Slone, Abe Silverstein, Gerald Tauber, Anne and Goldie Robinson, Marvin and Ieda Warshay, Maish and Carole Mandel, and Max and Leonard Ratner. Others also played strong roles: Jerry Cohen, Robert Steinberg, Rabbi Phil Horowitz, Herman Mark, Alan Riga, Irene Eber, Frank Stern, Rhoda Rosen, Reuben and Dorothy Silver, Al Gray, and many others who visited refuseniks in the USSR. Jim Caron and Milane Abrams led a youth movement that made a major impact. ●
|An Editor's Note|
Photo: Marc Golub