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Involvement in the Soviet Jewry Movement — by Louis Rosenblum
The Government of Israel — The Elephant in the Room
Office Control Crumbles

Office Control Crumbles

With the advent of the UCSJ, the dynamics of the Soviet Jewry movement altered dramatically. Across North America new grass root groups emerged. From the 6 member councils, the UCSJ grew rapidly: by 1971 to 10; 1972 to 16 (including two Canadian councils); 1973 to 18; and by 1985 topped out at 32. Two grass roots organizations — the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (New York City) and the Minnesota Action Committee for Soviet Jews — opted not to affiliate formally with the UCSJ. Nevertheless, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, they worked with us hand-in-hand on crucial national undertakings. As mentioned earlier, we established productive relationships with independent activists in Israel. But central to all of our work were the close, regular communications established from 1971 on with Jewish activists in the USSR. (That story will appear in future editions of this chronicle).

In 1970, when the UCSJ entered the scene, the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry (AJCSJ) had been on stage for six years. Starved from the cradle — absent a budget — it was a feeble, fitful advocate for Soviet Jewry. With the arrival of the UCSJ, the Jewish establishment and the Office saw trouble ahead. The result was the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ). Two insiders, Al Chernin of the AJCSJ, and Jerry Goodman, NCSJ’s first executive director, give their take on events in Memoranda of Meetings with Al Chernin and Jerry Goodman, November 28, 1977:

Jerry Goodman: “In 1970, because of the activity of the Jews in the Soviet Union, the growth of JDL (Jewish Defense League), the growth of the militant activists and the activity of Lou Rosenblum and the Union of Councils, there was pressure to reorganize the American Conference. The real pressure came from 'our friends' who were afraid of JDL and the Union of Councils speaking for the Jewish community.…[T]he old AJCSJ was restructured, and final approval was given to the organization of the NCSJ, which was to be an organization without a community arm.”

Al Chernin, regarding NCSJ policy: “'our friends' and the NCSJ chairman play a major role in determining the line and direction.”

To view Memoranda, click here.

Jerry Goodman   Al Chernin

Overall, 'our friends' — Levanon & Co. — got half a loaf. The NCSJ started up in June 1971, funded by the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (CJFWF). Based in Washington the NCSJ was limited to political liaison with the Administration and Congress and issuing press releases. It was not allowed to contact or supply information to communities. That function was reserved for the AJCSJ — hamstrung, without funding.

In contrast, the UCSJ used the talents and resources of local councils to engage tens of thousands of people countrywide in a variety of collective activities, for instance: greeting cards, telephone calls, packages, and financial aid to Soviet Jews, boycott of Pepsi-Cola and initiation and support of Congressional legislation linking trade benefits for the USSR to freedom of emigration (see below).

next >  The Why and Wherefore and the Woe


© 2009 Louis Rosenblum

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