Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry, records
Scope and Content Note
The collection reflects the activities of Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (after 1991 known as Chicago Action for Jews in the Former Soviet Union) from the time of its inception in the early 1970s until its closing in May 2010. Particularly voluminous are the documents of CASJ’s major programs—International Physicians Commission and Yad L’Yad. The collection contains extensive information on the Refuseniks, those Jews who were denied permission to emigrate from the USSR and often persecuted by the Soviet authorities for requesting such permission. Also included are reports of the individuals, mainly from the Chicago area, who traveled to the USSR to meet with Soviet Jews to offer them moral, spiritual and material support. The collection includes a large body of documents pertaining to the activities of the national organization Union of Councils for Soviet Jews in which CASJ was a council, and whose national president, Pamela Cohen also co-chaired CASJ. The collection features materials documenting the work of the Soviet Jewty Legal Advocacy Center, the legal arm of UCSJ in which CASJ also participated. The collection contains several thousand photographs, hundreds of audio and video tapes, a collection of posters and commemorative pins and bracelets, all pertaining to the Soviet Jewry movement.
List of Abbreviations
- AASJM-Archives of the American Soviet Jewry Movement
- ASJM-American Soviet Jewry Movement
- CAJFSU-Chicago Action for Jews in the Former Soviet Union
- CASJ-Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry
- CSCE-Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
- FSU-Former Soviet Union
- SJLAC-Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center
- UCJFSU-Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union
- UCSJ-Union of Councils for Soviet Jews
- undated, 1961, 1964, 1967, 1969-1970, 1972-2010
- Majority of material found within 1975 - 2010
- Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (Organization)
Language of Materials
The collection is predominantly in English, with Russian.
The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.
Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:
American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011
The American Soviet Jewry Movement was initiated in the early 1960s, when the first public protests were made by American Jews against the suppression of Jewish religion and Jewish national culture in the Soviet Union. Though random and spontaneous initially, those actions started to attract attention of the mainstream Jewish community and incited creation of the organizations dedicated to the support of Soviet Jews. American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry (AJCSJ) and Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) pioneered the movement in 1964. AJCSJ was largely considered as a think tank rather than a defense organization. Its methods emphasized leveraging with the Soviet authorities via the official channels. It proved dysfunctional due to the inner conflicts in tactics and strategy, and failure to secure support of the broader American Jewish community. AJCSJ was restructured and renamed the National Conference on Soviet Jewry in 1971. SSSJ was conceptually limited to working with college students and youth volunteers. A need was felt for a more strategically versatile and more community-oriented organization.
The widely publicized Leningrad Trial incident, in which 34 men and women were accused of hijacking a plane at the Leningrad airport in order to emigrate, prompted many American Jews to protest against the injustices of the Soviet regime, and gave rise to a multitude of grassroots Soviet Jewry Movement organizations.
A network of the Soviet Jewry Movement organizations was created in 1970 by, most notably, Louis Rosenblum of the Cleveland Council on Soviet Anti-Semitism, Si Frumkin of the Union of Council for Soviet Jews, Zev Yaroslavsky of the California Students for Soviet Jews and Harold Light of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews.
Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (CASJ) was a grassroots volunteer organization dedicated to helping Soviet Jews emigrate from the Soviet Union and protecting the Refuseniks - those Soviet Jews who were denied permission to emigrate by the Soviet authorities. It was founded in the early 1970s as a result of the formation of the national organization, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and operated under its guidance, along with approximately 50 other local councils.CASJ monitored Soviet human rights violations, alerting members of Congress, the Administration, the State Department and the Helsinki Commission of the crises affecting Jews in the USSR. The organization provided direct aid and maintained telephone contact with Refuseniks and the families of the Prisoners of Conscience in the USSR.
CASJ served as a Soviet Jewry resource center by maintaining a Speakers' Bureau and developing a Soviet Jewry curriculum and action materials that were provided to religious schools, synagogues, churches, organizations and other community institutions nationwide. CASJ brought former Refuseniks and Prisoners of Conscience to Chicago to speak and work with scientists, attorneys, Congressmen and Synagogues. CASJ advised American travelers who were going to the USSR in order to offer support to the Soviet Jews. Jewish educational materials were supplied to Hebrew teachers who were persecuted in the USSR. CASJ published a monthly news bulletin Refusenik (1979-1997) which provided CASJ membership, the US Congress members, government agencies and Illinois synagogues and organizations with updates on the Soviet Jewry situation.
Among the special programs run by CASJ were Adopt-A-Family, which enabled American families to maintain close personal ties with Refusenik families and Bar and Bat Mitzvah twinning, which symbolically bound young American Jews to their Refusenik peers in the Soviet Union.
CASJ participated in the Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center, a legal arm of UCSJ that analyzed international and Soviet law in respect to Jews in the USSR.
International Physicians Committee was formed in the mid-1980s by a doctor at Northwestern University as a virtual part of CASJ with the mission to monitor the medical condition of Jewish Prisoners of Conscience in the USSR.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the organization continued as Chicago Action for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (CAJFSU). The organization’s mission focused on the Jews who did not or could not leave the territories of the USSR’s successor states.
CAJFSU designed an action program to help the Jews in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) sustain in the face of hunger and illness, to help them address rising Antisemitism, fascism, and xenophobia; help provide spiritual sustinence, address the lack of Jewish education and help them with emigration issues like refusals and separated families.
CAJFSU’s initiatives included Project Sefer, that involved sending thousands of books to the Jewish communities in the FSU, Project Chai, which administered funds for food and continued the Bar and Bat Mitzvah twinning. The major grassroots support mechanism employed by CAJFSU was the Yad L’Yad program that linked synagogues in the Chicago area with the communities in the FSU, involving hundreds of community leaders and activists on both sides of the partnership. The main goal of Yad L’Yad was to provide indigenous Jewish communities with financial and technical support to create their own communal advocacy and defense infrastructure.
CAJFSU continued participation in the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (formerly Union of Councils for Soviet Jews). The UCJFSU bureaus set up in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Almaty and other locations in the former Soviet States were used to monitor Antisemitic, fascist activity.
CAJFSU worked with UCJFSU and local Jewish groups to provide emergency rescue and relief in conditions of war in which Jews had been in danger, such as regional conflicts in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Chechnya.
CAJFSU supported UCJFSU prisoner commission that worked on behalf of the Jewish prisoners of the FSU, whose arrest, procesution and/or incarceration were affected by Antisemitism.
CAJFSU closed in May 2010 due to the lack of funds.
Chicago Action for Jews in the Former Soviet Union: Mission Statement, undated, 1995, 1998, Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry, Records, I-xxx, Box 6/Folder 9, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY.
Chicago Action Publicity and Press, 1986-1987, 1993-1996, Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry, Records, I-938, Box 6/Folder 10, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY.
Dubkin Yearwood, P. (2010, 05 07). No more action: After 38 years, a Chicago organization that has done so much to rescue and care for Soviet Jews is forced to close its doors. Retrieved from http://www.chicagojewishnews.com/story.htm?sid=1andid=253791
Taratuta, A. (2004, July 18). Interview with Lorel Abarbanell. Retrieved from http://www.angelfire.com/sc3/soviet_jews_exodus/English/Interview_s/InterviewAbarbanell.shtml
178 Linear Feet
The records of Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (CASJ, after 1991 known as Chicago Action for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, CAJFSU), a grassroots volunteer organization dedicated to helping Soviet Jews emigrate from the Soviet Union and protecting the Refuseniks. CASJ was founded in the early 1970s as a result of the formation of the national organization, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, which included approximately 50 other local councils. The collection documents the CASJs activities from its inception until it closed in 2010. The collection also features materials related to the activities of CASJ’s umbrella organization, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and its legal arm Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center. The materials include correspondence, memoranda, case files, trip reports, publications, photographs, posters, audio, video, and three-dimensional artifacts.
The collection is arranged into ten series as follows:
- Series I. Subject Files, undated, 1969-1970, 1974-2006, 2010
- Series II. Correspondence and Communication, undated, 1986-1996
- Series III. Refuseniks, undated, 1978-1980, 1982-1998
- Series IV. Trip Reports, undated, 1980, 1982-2002
- Series V. Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center, undated, 1961, 1964, 1967, 1972, 1974-1975, 1977-1996
- Series VI. Yad L'Yad Project, undated, 1975-1983, 1987-2010
- Series VII. International Physicians Commission, undated, 1981-1982, 1985-2005, 2007
- Series VIII. Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, undated, 1973, 1975-1997
- Series IX. Publications, undated, 1975-2007
- Series X. Photographs, Audiovisual Materials and 3D Objects, undated, 1970s-2000s
- Subseries A. Ephemera and 3D Objects, undated, 1988, 1992
- Subseries B. Audiotapes, circa 1980s-1990s
- Subseries C. Video and Film and DVDs, circa 1980s-2000s
- Subseries D. Posters, circa 1970s-1990s
- Subseries E. Photographs and Slides, circa 1970s-2000s
Located in AJHS New York, NY
The records were donated on behalf of CASJ by Hetty Deleeuwe in 2007, by the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2007 and by Susan Futterman in 2010.
The materials in Series IV: Trip Reports were digitized in their entirety with the exception of full newspapers and duplicates. The audio materials in Series X, Subseries B were digitized in their entirety with the exception of audiocassette 15 and a 1" audio reel found in Box 324 and audiocassettes 48, 75, 206, 213, and 215 found in Box 325.
All relevant, playable, non-duplicative VHS videocassettes were digitized and made available online with the exception of copyrighted material and duplicates. Copyrighted material was either not digitized or digitized but limited to onsite access only. For duplicate tapes, links were added to the video digitized from other copies of the same tape.
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.
- American Bar Association
- Brailovsky, Viktor
- Case files
- Commemorative jewelry
- Emigration and immigration
- Former Soviet republics
- Human rights
- International law
- Jews, Soviet
- Nudel, Ida
- Political activists
- Press releases
- Prisoners -- Legal status, laws, etc
- Sakharov, Andreĭ, 1921-1989
- Shcharansky, Anatoly
- Slides (photographs)
- Soviet Union
- Union of Councils for Soviet Jews
- United States
- Wallenberg, Raoul, 1912-1947
- Guide to the Records of Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry undated, 1961, 1964, 1967, 1969-1970, 1972-2010 I-530
- Processed by Andrey Filimonov
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Made possible in part by the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources through The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support "Illuminating Hidden Collections at the Center for Jewish History". Selective digitization of the Records of Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry was made possible through a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Videocassettes were digitized with the generous support of the Blavatnik Foundation.
- September 2015: dao links for NHPRC added by Eric Fritzler.
- July 2017: container list for VHS updated, dao links for video added, sponsor statement and digitization note updated by Leanora Lange.