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Set an empty chair at your Seder table

Let us consider placing an empty chair at our Seder tables.

As one of the oldest persons at the Passover Seder I will attend this Friday evening, I plan to rise early in the Seder when we are explaining the many features of our table, point to that empty chair and ask:

Why is this empty chair at our Seder table tonight?

Starting around 1965 an empty chair at a Seder showed support for the Jews in the Soviet Union who were not free to practice our faith. The struggle to free them was won and in the 1970s and '80s millions of Jews left the Former Soviet Union for Israel and the United States. Tonight this chair honors those who worked to free and then to welcome them. It celebrates what was a 20th century Exodus.

Let this chair also help turn our thoughts to our ancestors who had the wisdom and courage to come to this wonderful country. Where would we be without them?

And let this chair also be a gesture of openness, of welcoming the stranger, at a time when many talk about building walls.

Arnold Berger
Cleveland, Ohio  April 20, 2016

See this letter as it appeared in the April 19, 2016 Cleveland Jewish News.


The grass-roots effort to free Soviet Jewry began in 1961 when members of Cleveland's West Temple became concerned about what seemed to be yet another abandonment of the Jews. The group organized and grew, first locally, then on a national scale. Dr. Louis Rosenblum, a scientist at NASA, was its leader.

In 2007 -08 this website published 30 pages by Dr. Rosenblum to tell the story of how Clevelanders played leadership roles in the freeing of Soviet Jewry. In later years we helped him add to his web memoir. Now past 90, Lou lives west of Boston, MA, near his children. We are still in contact and hope to add more pages.

Lou and Arnie 2008

In 2010 Gal Beckerman's book When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry was published. It received the 2010 National Jewish Book Award. The book tells of Cleveland's leadership role.

In 2011 a chapter by Dr. Rosenblum was included in Remembering Cleveland’s Jewish Voices, edited by Dr. Sally H. Wertheim and the late Alan D. Bennett (Kent State Press).

The tale of the campaign to free Soviet Jews seems well told. What is the untold story?

It is the story of resettlement -- the many years when synagogues, social agencies, countless community volunteers and our Jewish Federation worked together to welcome thousands of new Clevelanders and help them find their way.

Weeks after this page was published a report on Cleveland's efforts
 to resettle Jews from the Former Soviet Union was found.
Read Rachel Davidson's report.


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