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Joel G. Ackerman Soviet Jewry collection

Identifier: P-787

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of materials related to the work of Joel Ackerman at the Northern California Lawyers Committee for Soviet Jews and the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, Marin and the Peninsula. The collection contains background research material, correspondence, individual case files, memoranda, newsletters, and other publications.

The bulk of the collection concerns the activities of the Northern California Lawyers Committee, Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center, and Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, with additional sporadic publications issued by other Soviet Jewry Movement organizations. The collection includes individual case files on Soviet Refuseniks Yosif Begun, Ida Nudel, and Anatoly Sheharansky. In addition there are background research materials related to the Soviet constitution, Soviet legal system and its regulations on emigration, employment, internal passport system, penal system, secrecy topics, postal correspondence and other spheres. The bulk of materials pertain to the mid to late 1970s until the early 1980s.


  • Creation: undated, 1948, 1965, 1967, 1975-1988


Language of Materials

The collection is predominantly in English, with Russian.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Historical Note

The American Soviet Jewry Movement was the effort of thousands of American Jews of all denominations and political orientations to stop the persecution and discrimination of Soviet Jews. It was initiated in the early 1960s and triumphed at the end of the Soviet era, when approximately 1.5 million of Soviet Jews left the USSR for Israel, United States and other democratic countries. The Movement, though not a formal structure but rather a network of loosely connected structures, unified various Jewish organizations and Jewish people from all walks of life, and was instrumental in influencing the U.S. government to pressure the Soviet authorities in order to assure freedom of emigration for Soviet Jews. It was perhaps the most influential movement within the American Jewish community in the 20th century.

As a lawyer active in the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, Marin and the Peninsula and chairman of its Soviet Jewry Commission, Joel Ackerman also took an active part in the work of the Northern California Lawyers Committee for Soviet Jews.

The Jewish Community Relations Council served as an umbrella for local Jewish communities and synagogues in the Bay Area, and centralized and coordinated Soviet Jewry movement efforts made by individual local organizations. Its primary activity was to aid in the development of Soviet Jewry related programs by local organizations and to represent the entire Jewish community in regards to public policy.

Ackerman served as Chairman of the Soviet Jewry Commission of the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, Marin and the Peninsula from 1979 through 1982 and as Vice-Chairman of the Northern California Lawyers Committee for Soviet Jews, a group of attorneys, judges, professors and law students concerned with the Soviet government's legal treatment of Soviet Jews. The Committee's work included monitoring criminal cases involving Refuseniks, violations of Soviet and/or international law, and general principles of human rights. In addition the Committee provided legal support to Refuseniks through letters, legal briefs and other means, and presented seminars and published articles related to Soviet criminal law. The committee's newsletter, "Soviet Jews under Soviet Law," contained articles on Soviet law and information on recent cases. The Committee was affiliated with, among other organizations, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

In both capacities, Ackerman testified and presented documentation concerning Soviet interference with Refuseniks' mail to the House of Representatives Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, Subcommittee on Investigations. He also served as a member of the Executive Board of the Soviet Jewry Action Group, another Bay Area organization, and as a volunteer with the Jewish Family Service helping newly arrived Soviet Jewish immigrants learn English and become acclimated to living in the United States.


5 Linear Feet (10 manuscript boxes)


Contains newsletters and related documents composed by San Francisco area organizations pertaining to Soviet Jewry. The newsletters are composed by American Jewish activists on behalf of Soviet Jewish refuseniks and refugees. The documents provide insight into the daily lives of Soviet Jewry and the American Jewish fight for Soviet freedom during the 1970s and 1980s. The newsletters document different organizations and attempts to aid Soviet Jewry, their status and their plight. Organizational newsletters included are from such organizations as: The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Bay Area Council on Soviet Jewry and Northern California Lawyers' Committee for Soviet Jews. Highlights of the collection include UN Human Rights documents, the Pesach Project (1978-1979) and Twinning programs for Bar/Bat Mitzvah.


The collection is arranged into five series as follows:

  1. Series I: General correspondence and meeting memoranda, 1975-1985, 1987
  2. Series II: Special projects by the Soviet Jewry Movement organizations, undated, 1978-1987
  3. Series III: Source materials and information on the legal status of Jews in the Soviet Union, undated, 1948, 1965, 1967, 1975-1986
  4. Subseries A: International human rights documents, undated, 1948, 1965, 1967, 1975-1977, 1980
  5. Subseries B: General information on Soviet administrative and political system, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1983, 1985
  6. Subseries C: Information on Soviet Legal System, undated
  7. Subseries D: Legal Status of the Soviet Jewry, undated, 1976-1982, 1984-1986
  8. Series IV: Individual case information on the Soviet Jewish activists and Prisoners of Conscience, 1979, 1983
  9. Series V: Printed and Near-print Publications, 1974-1988

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated by Joel G. Ackerman in 2003.

Guide to the Joel G. Ackerman Soviet Jewry Collection, undated, 1948, 1965, 1967, 1975-1988   P-787
Processed by Vital Zajka and Andrey Filimonov
© 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • December 2020: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States