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Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, records

 Collection
Identifier: I-410, I-410A

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of two parts, which reflect two different acquisitions of Union of Councils for Soviet Jews materials by the American Jewish Historical Society. They are defined as Part One and Part Two and have respective collection numbers of I-410 (1948, 1954, 1963-1965, 1967-2000) and I-410A (1968-1994). See the arrangement note for details of how the two parts have been described.

Scope and Content Note for I-410 (Part 1)

The collection contains the records of the UCSJ, an umbrella institution for approximately 50 grassroots organizations. The bulk of the collection dates 1980-2000, with a particular focus on the early 1990s, the period during and shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The collection includes extensive material relating to the Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center, an affiliate of UCSJ, as well as material on its Yad L'Yad program, individual files on Refuseniks, individual post-Soviet Jewish case files, and immigration and human rights background information.

The collection details the legal aspects to the Soviet Jewry Movement, USCJ programs, and aid and human-rights monitoring given to post-Soviet Jewish communities. Information on the Soviet legal system and repression, international human rights documents, and U.S. legislative action is also present.

The collection includes administrative records, bulletins, case files, correspondence, funding proposals, legal documents, memoranda, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, photographs, press releases, publications, reports, and transcripts. Although a large number of documents are photocopies, the collection includes a number of original letters from public figures such as President Bill Clinton and Senator Edward Kennedy.

Scope and Content Note for I-410A (Part 2)

The records documenting the UCSJ's operations, programs, and campaigns mostly relate to the 1980s when the rescue movement reached its pinnacle of success and international attention. The files from the early 1990s relate primarily to the UCSJ's activities following the Soviet Union's collapse and its continuing work on behalf of human rights. The records include a large volume of individual case files regarding prisoners of conscience, Refuseniks, and those allowed to emigrate to the West.

Dates

  • undated, 1948, 1954, 1963-1965, 1967-2000

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is predominantly in English, with Russian and Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility and several folders containing sensitive personally identifiable information, marked (RESTRICTED) in the folder list.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives 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

email:reference@ajhs.org

Historical Note<extptr actuate="onload" altrender="Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry staff at a mid-year conference in San Francisco, March 1979" href="http://digital.cjh.org/webclient/DeliveryManager?pid=2553812" show="embed" title="Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry staff at a mid-year conference in San Francisco, March 1979"/>

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, those actions started to attract attention of the mainstream Jewish community and led to creation of the first organizations devoted specifically to the support of the Soviet Jews, namely the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry (AJCSJ) and Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) in 1964. The former, due to the conflicts in tactics and strategy, proved to be dysfunctional and failed to effectively pursue the goals set at its creation. It placed emphasis on the work using the official channels, but lost dynamism and was considered by many as rather a think tank than a defense organization. It was replaced by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry in 1971. The latter organization, SSSJ, limited itself to work mostly within the college students' ranks and among youth volunteers. A need was thus felt for a more broadly determined 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 injustice of the Soviet regime, and multiplied grass roots organizations.

A broad-based grassroots network was created in 1970 by, most notably, Louis Rosenblum of the Cleveland Council on Soviet Antisemitism, 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.

Originally founded as a confederation of six grass-roots organizations, Union of Council for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) eschewed the inefficiencies that afflicted the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry by establishing its own strategy. UCSJ initiated wide scale person-to-person contact with Soviet Jews via mail and phone, as well as effectively engaging volunteer American travelers to the Soviet Union. UCSJ representatives were tasked with locating and making contact with Refuseniks in order to research and coordinate relief for their cases. UCSJ shared its know-how and extensive information database with a wider American Jewish community. Eventually, UCSJ's methods were adopted by organizations like the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

Among the widely successful programs developed by UCSJ were "Adopt-a-Family" (matching American and Soviet Jewish Refusenik families), "Adopt-a-Prisoner" (sending packages and monitoring the conditions of imprisonment for the Soviet Jewish Prisoners of Conscience), Bar and Bat Mitzvah Twinning (matching Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in America with those in the USSR in order to perform in absentia ceremonies for the children in the USSR, who were barred from the Jewish coming of age rituals by the Soviet law), and Tarbut (sending literature on Jewish culture and religion to the USSR). UCSJ regularly published newsletters and reports including Alert (1974-1989) and Quarterly Report (1982-1990), and later Refusenik Update, Congressional Handbook for Soviet Jewry, and Antisemitism in the USSR-Status Report.

The Union of Councils became a pivotal communications hub for the Soviet Jewry movement, maintaining extensive contacts, chiefly by telephone, and tracking the status of Soviet Refuseniks and Prisoners of Conscience. UCSJ was regularly the first among the Soviet Jewry Movement organizations to receive important news from Soviet Jewish activists, relaying crucial updates on Soviet Jewry to the media and United States elected officials. From 1971 to 1991 a Soviet Jewry Congressional Vigil headed by House Representatives Tom Lantos (Calif.-D) and John Porter (Ill.-R) was held largely due to the efforts of UCSJ. UCSJ received broad recognition for its successful advocacy of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1973. In 1976 President Jimmy Carter pledged via telegram to UCSJ to support the "full religious and cultural opportunities for Soviet Jews," as well as their right to emigrate. He declared that "he would not hesitate to use trade to effectuate that purpose." 1 UCSJ was instrumental in initializing national and international campaigns of support for the Soviet Jewish Prisoners of Conscience including Anatoly Sharansky, Vladimir Slepak, Ida Nudel, and Vladimir Begun, making them household names in the American Jewish communities as well as to many non-Jewish Americans, and providing material and moral support for their families and relatives. In 1987 the UCSJ national president Pamela B. Cohen of Chicago made an unannounced visit to the Soviet Union where she met with hundreds of Refuseniks.

In discord with the views of several other major American Soviet Jewry Movement organizations and the Israeli government, which advocated for the emigration of Soviet Jewry from the USSR in order to re-settle them exclusively in Israel, UCSJ defended the right of Soviet Jews to choose their place for immigration, not limiting their destinations to Israel alone. This position was particularly disagreeable with the Soviet authorities, who treated Jewish emigration as repatriation (nominally provided for by the Soviet law) rather than a human rights issue.

In discord with the views of several other major American Soviet Jewry Movement organizations and the Israeli government, which advocated for the emigration of Soviet Jewry from the USSR in order to re-settle them exclusively in Israel, UCSJ defended the right of Soviet Jews to choose their place for immigration, not limiting their destinations to Israel alone. This position was particularly disagreeable with the Soviet authorities, who treated Jewish emigration as repatriation (nominally provided for by the Soviet law) rather than a human rights issue.

Two affiliated organizations, the Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center (SJLAC) and the Medical Mobilization for Soviet Jewry provided efficient analytical, logistical and technical support for the activities of the UCSJ.

UCSJ remained active after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the beginning of mass Jewish emigration to Israel, the United States, and other Western countries. UCSJ local representation committees were established in most of the states of the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Currently, UCSJ monitors anti-Semitic activities in the Former Soviet Union. The organization is now officially called Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. 2
  1. 1 American Jewish Year Book, 1978 (New York: The American Jewish Committee, 1978), 83.
  2. 2 History - UCSJ. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.ucsj.org/our-work/history/

Extent

160.5 Linear Feet (107 bankers boxes, 83 manuscript boxes, 3 OS1 boxes, 3 oversized folders and 1 MAP folder)

Abstract

The collection contains the records of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ), an umbrella institution for approximately 50 grassroots organizations active in the movement to free Soviet Jews. The records documenting the UCSJ's operations, programs, and campaigns relate primarily to the 1980's, when the rescue movement reached its pinnacle of success and international attention, and to the 1990's, reflecting UCSJ's work on behalf of human rights after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The records include materials of UCSJ individual councils; materials by the Soviet Jewry Legal Advocacy Center, an affiliate of UCSJ; and a large volume of case files of Prisoners of Conscience, Refuseniks, and Soviet Jews who were allowed to emigrate to the West.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Provenance

The records were donated on behalf of UCSJ by Sheldon Benjamin in 1984, by Micah Naftalin in 2003, and by the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2007.

Digitization Note

The audiocassettes in Part 2, Series VIII, Subseries A were digitized and made available in their entirety. All relevant, playable, non-duplicative VHS videocassettes in Part 2, Series VIII, Subseries B 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.

Related Material

The Records of Union of Councils for Soviet Jews is one individual collection within the Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement (AASJM) located at the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Other Soviet Jewry Movement collections at AJHS include the records of Action for Soviet Jewry (I-487), the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (I-181 and I-181A), the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews and Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal (I-505 and I-505A), Houston Action for Soviet Jewry (I-500), Seattle Action for Soviet Jewry (I-507), The Jewish Chronicle Soviet Jewry Collection (I-523), B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum Soviet Jewry Movement Collection (I-529), Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (I-530), Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (I-538), United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (I-543), Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans (I-547), Jewish Defense League (I-374) the papers of Joel Ackerman (P-787), Julia Mates Cheney (P-806), Jerry Goodman (P-863), Laurel and Alan J. Gould (P-866), Carolyn W. Sanger (P-870), Leah Lieberman (P-869), Si Frumkin (P-871), Elaine Pittell (P-873), Sanford A. Gradinger (P-880), Shaul Osadchey (P-882), Leonard S. Cahan (P-883), Doris H. Goldstein (P-887), David H. Hill (P-888), Margery Sanford (P-889), Pinchas Mordechai Teitz (P-891), David Waksberg (P-895), Pamela B. Cohen (P-897), Moshe Decter (P-899), William Korey (P-903), Morey Schapira (P-906), Charlotte Gerper Turner (P-907), Myrtle Sitowitz (P-908), Kathleen M. Hyman (P-911), Babette Wampold (P-912), Rabbi David Goldstein and Shannie Goldstein (P-918), Leslie Schaffer (P-923), Arthur Bernstein (P-925), Dolores Wilkenfeld (P-927), Sylvia Weinberg (P-928) , Irwin H. Krasna (P-934) , Constance S. Kreshtool (P-935), Betty Golomb (P-938), Grayce Perlbinder (P-942), Mort Yadin (P-943), Ann Polunsky (P-886), Lillian Foreman (P-945), Marilyn Labendz(P-946), Abraham Silverstein(P-947), Bert Silver (P-949), Billie Kozolchyk (P-950), John Steinbruck (P-951), Lawrence I. Lerner (P-952), Ruth Geller Gold (P-953), Efry Spectre (P-954), Alan M. Kohn (P-956), Frank Brodsky (P-957), Victor Borden (P-959), Estelle Newman (P-960), Carol S. Kekst (P-961), Linda Rutta (P-965), Rachel Braun (P-967), Jack Forgash (P-968), Michael Greene (P-969), Judith A. Manelis (P-970), Fred Greene (P-971), Harry Lerner (P-972), Alan L. Cohen (P-973), Murray Levine (P-974), Jack Minker (P-975) and Barry Marks (P-993).

American Soviet Jewry Movement Oral Histories Collection (I-548) contains audio and video interviews with activists of the American Soviet Jewry Movement, former Refuseniks and Prisoners of Conscience.

American Soviet Jewry Movement Photographs (I-495) contains digitized photographs from The Archives of the American Soviet Jewry Movement.

American Soviet Jewry Movement Posters and Ephemera Collection (I-566) contains digitized posters and ephemera from The Archives of the American Soviet Jewry Movement.

Additional materials from other collections include records dealing with the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) located within the North American Jewish Students Appeal (NAJSA, I-338) and the records of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC, I-172). Related records are also located at the AJHS in Newton Centre, MA including memorabilia and ephemera of the New England Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (I-237) and the Records of the Student Coalition for Soviet Jewry—Brandeis University (I-493).

Processing Information

Part 1 of the collection was processed by Andrey Filimonov and Vital Zajka in 2006. Part 2 was processed by Andrey Filimonov in 2009. A major accretion to Part 2 (boxes 63-111, OS1 boxes 1 and 2) was processed by Andrey Filimonov in 2014-2015, and the final EAD Finding Aid was created by Andrey Filimonov in February 2015.
Title
Guide to the Records of Union of Councils for Soviet Jews undated, 1948, 1954, 1963-1965, 1967-2000 *I-410, *I-410A
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Andrey Filimonov and Vital Zajka
Date
2010
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. Selective digitization of the Records of Union of Councils for Soviet Jews was made possible through a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Digitization of video was made possible through the generous support of the Blavatnik Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • September 2015: dao links for NHPRC added by Eric Fritzler.
  • July 2017: dao links for Blavatnik video added, sponsor statement and digitization note updated, filename simplified by Leanora Lange.
  • December 2017: dao link for box 58 video 42 updated by Leanora Lange.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States