Records of Action for Soviet Jewry
Scope and Content Note
The collection contains the records of the Action for Soviet Jewry, and records of its legal arm-Soviet Jewish Legal Advocacy Center. The bulk of the collection belongs to the late 1970s-late 1980s. The ASJ records reflect the beginnings of the organization and include documents from the New England Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry as the forerunner of ASJ (before and in 1975). The ASJ administrative records include documents related to establishment of the organization, bylaws, minutes, financial and taxation documentation, correspondence and memoranda, are not complete and are mostly of the first half of 1980s (see Series I).
Some materials of the predecessor of ASJ, the New England Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (NESSSJ) can be found along with administrative files of ASJ (Series I). The NESSSJ activists Bob Gordon and Morey Shapira (moved to California in 1977) were co-founders of ASJ.
As the ASJ activists stressed their first-hand experience in the life of Soviet Jews and gathering information on Refuseniks preferably from Refuseniks themselves, the records of both ASJ and SJLAC contain a large volume of reports on trips to the USSR made by the ASJ activists as well as other ASJM activists (Series VI). Tourists not involved in the Movement on permanent basis, but who wished to help Soviet Jews also provided reports. The reports are searchable according to the date/ period, names of visitors and place names in the USSR.
ASJ gathered a large database on Refuseniks and prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union that contains information on Refuseniks, prisoners and their family members. Along the computer-readable database, geared for a computer system, which is now obsolete, there is a large amount of alphabetically arranged personal files on individual Refuseniks and prisoners (Series II, Series III, Series V). About a dozen of files have restricted access because of the sensitive personal information.
Series IV contains personal folders of the Soviet Jewish refugees in Italy (sometimes called "noshrim", "drop outs" by strongly pro-Israel Jewish activists), who waited for the decision concerning their immigration to the U.S. after leaving the Soviet Union on Israeli visas. All refugees received aid from the American Jewish community via the Joint Distribution Committee. The folders are arranged alphabetically and contain personal and family information of refugees, most of who came to the U.S. by the end of the 1980s.
The collection also includes correspondence, legal documents, memoranda, large volume of press releases (Series IX) and newspaper clippings, pamphlets, publications and reports (Series X). The collection contains a considerable number of photographs and audio recordings of the phone conversations with Refuseniks. There are some posters segregated in the oversize section of the collection.
The ASJ collection is a valuable part of the ASJM materials at the AJHS that reflects the grass roots efforts of American Jews which along with the more official and pro-establishment efforts of organizations like NCSJ (described in "Related Materials" section) helped to bring the American Jewish community together in order to rescue their brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union.
List of Abbreviations
- ASJ-Action for Soviet Jewry
- ASJM-American Soviet Jewry Movement
- CIS-Commonwealth of Independent States (11 republics of the Former Soviet Union)
- NCSJ-National Conference on Soviet Jewry
- SJLAC-Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center
- SSSJ-Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry
- UCSJ-Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry
- undated, 1943, 1964-1994
- Action for Soviet Jewry (Organization)
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
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Action for Soviet Jewry was founded in 1975 in the Boston area as a grassroots organization in response to the struggle of Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate and to live freely as Jews. It emerged as a member organization of the Union of Council for Soviet Jews (UCSJ), on the basis of the New England Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (NESSSJ). ASJ coordinated activities on behalf of the Soviet Jewry in the Boston area, including moral and material support to Jews refused permission to emigrate from the USSR (the Refuseniks) and publicizing the plight of Jewish prisoners of conscience in the Soviet prisons and labor camps as well as trying to appeal to the Soviet authorities to reconsider sentencing and emigration refusals. ASJ maintained a large database on the Refuseniks, prisoners of conscience and immigrants. It supported the activities of the Soviet Jewish Legal Advocacy Center, which mobilized the activists among lawyers to find ways and methods to assist Soviet Jews who were imprisoned or denied exit visas.
ASJ enhanced awareness of the American Jews about the maltreatment of Jews in the Soviet Union through arbitrary denial by Soviet authorities of the basic rights to emigrate, to follow Jewish religious beliefs, to have free access to information about the life of Jews abroad including Israel, of unimpeded study of Hebrew and more. ASJ attracted attention of the American Jews and the general public, of the international community to the USSR's failure to follow and respect its own Constitution and other laws. True to its grassroots origins, ASJ directly involved numerous supporters of the Soviet Jewry cause into concrete work to the relief of the Soviet Jews through fund raising, contacts with local and federal-level politicians on behalf of the Soviet Jews and divided Jewish families, organizing mass rallies, demonstrations, letter writing campaigns to the Soviet leaders and to the Soviet representations in the U.S. ASJ creatively used the opportunities of involving American Jewish families into the Soviet Jewry support campaign through providing pen-pals from the Refusenik and prisoners' families, matching whole families in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. through the "Adopt a Refusenik", "Adopt a Family" programs and organizing symbolic Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies on behalf of the young Soviet Jews within the "Bar/ Bat Mitzvah Twinning Program".
ASJ helped Soviet Jewish refugees in Italy, supporting their right to choose their country of resettlement. The organization also helped Soviet Jewish immigrants to the Boston area adjust to their new life in the US.
ASJ was actively gathering information on the Soviet Jews, Refuseniks and prisoners directly through visiting them or their families in the Soviet Union and using for the trips both ASJM activists and Western tourists not associated with the Movement. Meetings with Refuseniks and their families gave the most complete, accurate and updated information which was systematized and maintained in the form of a database. The extensive database on Refuseniks and prisoners (Series II-III) as well as numerous reports on the trips to the USSR (Series VI) are the results of this activity by ASJ. The data was actively shared with and disseminated among the partners in the Movement and the U.S. government officials, who widely used the information presented by the ASJ and the other Movement structures during official contacts and negotiations with the Soviet authorities. Both the database and the trip reports represent a valuable source for researchers of Soviet Jewry. They give details on the everyday life of Jews in the Soviet Union, with all humiliations and persecutions, which people went through by the hands of the secret police (KGB), Soviet bureaucracy and local antisemites. Many folders reflect the spirit of struggle for human rights and of national activism by the new generation of Jews of 1970s and 1980s in the USSR, who no more were "the Jews of Silence" as described by their brethren in the West which visited the Soviet Jews in 1950 and 1960s.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, its name was changed to Action for Post-Soviet Jewry. Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, Inc. (APSJ) is a private, non-profit, human rights organization dedicated to helping Jews in the former Soviet Union (FSU) as well as participating in general human rights work and humanitarian aid projects.
Overall, the materials from the ASJ collection, as well as from the other collections on the American Soviet Jewry Movement in custody of the American Jewish Historical Society, reflect the unique effort of the American Jewish community to help the Jews in the Soviet Union and to pressure the Soviet communist authorities in order to make them acknowledge and respect the rights of the Jews to leave the Soviet Union freely as well as to intervene on behalf of the Jews who were imprisoned or in other ways persecuted in the Soviet Union. The most celebrated cases of such Jewish activists in the USSR are Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, Ida Nudel, Vladimir Slepak, Iosif Begun, Aba Taratuta and Alexander Lerner, as well as many other less known Refuseniks and prisoners of conscience in the USSR, are reflected in the individual personal folders. Materials for these folders were meticulously collected and arranged by the ASJ activists and can be found by name in alphabetical order in Series II. The trip reports by the ASJM activists and sympathizers who visited Refuseniks and prisoners' families, are an invaluable resource both for research of the Soviet Jewish history and the history of the Soviet Union (Russia, CIS countries) in general: they contain a glimpse into what life was like in the USSR as seen by the eyes of the people from without the Soviet system. Most of the reports describe the Refuseniks met on these trips, their condition, their needs and details from the everyday survival in a totalitarian society. Many of the trip reports are accompanied by photographs taken by the visitors and/or given by the Refuseniks. Many contain wish lists of the Refuseniks which reflect the needs and problems of the everyday life in the USSR.
Though the bulk of the collection reflects the so called "Late Soviet Era" (1980s-early 1990s), the materials in the collection prove that the struggle for the rights of the Soviet Jews was waged almost to the last days of the USSR's existence and that even in the times of the "perestroika" it took an enormous effort of official and inofficial diplomacy to break the wall of silence and repression which surrounded the Soviet Jews. As late as 1985, in the first year of "perestroika" a group of American Jewish musicians from the Klezmer Conservatory Band was detained by the Soviets and expelled from the Soviet Union for just performing in a home concert together with a group of Refusenik and dissident musicians in the city of Tbilisi. (The account of their ordeal can be found in the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Netsky, Gerut, Warschauer, Goldberg folders in Series VI).
The administrative files and other materials of the collection (Series I) are not complete and have chronological and topical lacunae, but along with the other materials reflecting the activities of the ASJ they add to our knowledge of the ASJ operations. Taken together, all the materials form an entity that reflects the multifaceted and creative work of the Jewish activists, their devotion, energy and sense of a mission, which helped to open the gates of the Soviet Jewish emigration of the 1980s-1990s, as well as the struggle of the Soviet Jews for their human and national rights.
108.6 Linear Feet (139 manuscript boxes and 23 [16x20"] oversized boxes)
Language of Materials
The collection contains the records of the ASJ, an organization active in the Boston area, which survives today as Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, as well as those of two other organizations closely related to ASJ: the New England Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and the Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center. The bulk of the collection is from the decade starting in the late 1970s through the late 1980s. The collection includes large databases on Refuseniks, prisoners of conscience and Jewish émigrés. Along with the database spreadsheet forms there are a large number of individual files. Among these files are materials related to Soviet Jewish refugees in Italy from the time of the Ladispoli crisis of the late 1980s. The collection also includes a substantial number of reports from visits to the USSR by ASJ activists and other travelers cooperating with the Soviet Jewry Movement as well as a considerable number of photographs, posters and publications.
The collection is divided into eleven series, as described below:
- Series I: Administrative materials of ASJ, undated, 1970-1989
- Subseries A: New England Student Struggle for the Soviet Jewry records, undated, 1970-1974
- Subseries B: ASJ administrative files, undated, 1971-1989
- Series II: Soviet Jewish Refuseniks and Émigrés Individual Files, undated, 1943, 1964, 1969-1970, 1972-1994
- Subseries A: Former Soviet Refuseniks (Persons who Emigrated or Deceased), undated, 1974-1976, 1978-1980, 1986-1987
- Subseries B: Soviet Jewish Refuseniks, Old Files, undated, 1970, 1972-1987
- Subseries C: Soviet Jewish Refuseniks New Files, undated, 1943, 1964, 1969-1970, 1972-1994
- Series III: Individual Files by South Florida Conference on Soviet Jewry, undated, 1979-1988
- Subseries A: Soviet Refuseniks Casebooks-A Joint Project of Florida Jewish Organizations, 1988
- Subseries B: Publications of South Florida Conference on Soviet Refuseniks, 1979-1988
- Subseries C: Materials on Soviet Refuseniks from Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry, Canadian Jewish Congress and Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, undated, 1980-1981
- Series IV: Soviet Jewish Refugees in Italy, undated, 1984, 1987-1991
- Subseries A: ASJ Relief Activities in Italy, undated, 1989
- Subseries B: Individual Files of Soviet Jewish Refugees in Italy, 1984, 1987-1991
- Series V: Computer Database Records on Soviet Jewish Refuseniks, circa 1979-1988
- Subseries A: Individual Refusenik Household Data Forms and Print Outs, circa 1979-1986
- Subseries B: Lists of Refuseniks by Geographic Location in the USSR, Date of Emigration, Refusenik Master Lists, undated, 1980, 1986, 1988
- Subseries C: Database Field Definitions Manual, 1986
- Subseries D: Special Population Reports, 1986-1987
- Series VI: USSR Trip reports, undated, 1973-1992
- Subseries A: Individual trip information and trip reports, undated, 1973-1992
- Subseries B: Group trips information, 1975-1992
- Subseries C: Organization of trips, aborted trips, 1982-1990
- Series VII: Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center, undated, 1966-1987
- Subseries A: Administrative materials, undated, 1977-1987
- Subseries B: Travels to the USSR--Trip reports, 1973-1987
- Subseries C: Memoranda, newsletters, publications, undated, 1966-1986
- Subseries D: Soviet Jewry information materials, undated, 1970-1987
- Series VIII: Special Projects, undated, 1974, 1975, 1977-1992
- Subseries A: Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning and Other Projects, undated, 1974-1975, 1977-1992
- Subseries B: Klezmer Conservatory Band Concerts, undated, 1982, 1985-1988
- Series IX: Newsletters, Memoranda and Other Published Materials, undated, 1965-1994
- Series X: Newspaper Clippings, undated, 1966-1988
- Series XI: Photographs, undated, 1975-1989
- Subseries A: Photographic materials related to the ASJ activities, undated, 1975-1978
- Subseries B: Enlarged exhibition photographic materials, undated
- Subseries C: Photographs separated from the Series 1-X, undated, 1980-1989
- Oversized Separated Materials, Pins and Pendants, undated, 1973, 1982, 1985-1986, 1988
The records were donated by Judy S. Patkin in 1994.
The trip reports found in this collection contain opinions, statements and allegations that may or may not be substantiated. American Jewish Historical Society and the Center for Jewish History do not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any findings, conclusions, recommendations, opinions or statements expressed in the trip reports.
- Action for Soviet Jewry
- Bar mitzvah
- Bat mitzvah
- Begun, Yosif, 1932-
- Broadsides (notices)
- Case files
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Database spreadsheets
- Drinan, Robert F.
- Emigration and immigration
- Former Soviet republics
- Human rights
- International law
- Jews, Soviet
- Ladispoli (Italy)
- Legal documents
- New England Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry
- News bulletins
- Nudel, Ida
- Political activists
- Press releases
- Prisoners -- Legal status, laws, etc
- Psychological abuse
- Sakharov, Andreĭ, 1921-1989
- Shcharansky, Anatoly
- Shcharansky, Avital
- Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center
- Soviet Union -- Politics and government -- 1953-1985
- Taratuta, Aba
- Guide to the Records of Action for Soviet Jewry, undated, 1943, 1964-1994 *I-487
- Processed by Vital Zajka and Andrey Filimonov
- © 2008
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