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David Waksberg Papers

Identifier: P-895

Scope and Content Note

The David Waksberg Papers most substantially reflect Waksberg’s work for BACSJ, UCSJ and CJR in the late 1980s and early 1990s on behalf of Soviet Jews. The collection documents the BACSJ’s, UCSJ's and CJR’s activities, goals, reactions to events, and shifts in policy, as well as general topics such as refuseniks, prisoners of conscience, emigration law, anti-Semitism, US-USSR relations and the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

The papers are of a purely professional nature, not related to Waksberg’s personal life aside from items about his politically staged marriage in 1983 (Box 11, Folder 14). Waksberg interfiled most material generated in connection with his intersecting leadership roles, with the exceptions of separate clusters of materials on the human rights bureaus in Series III and UCSJ fundraising activities in Series IV. Document types consist of correspondence, reports, grant proposals, notes, clippings and photographs.


  • Creation: 1970-1997
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1982 - 1995

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 and Biographical Note

The David Waksberg Papers represent one collection housed within the Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement (AASJM). These papers reflect the effort, beginning in the 1960s through the late 1980s, of thousands of American Jews of all denominations and political orientations to stop the persecution and discrimination of Jews in the Soviet Union. The American Soviet Jewry Movement (ASJM) is considered to be one of the most influential movements of the American Jewish community in the 20th century. The beginnings of the organized American Soviet Jewry Movement became a model for efforts to aid Soviet Jews in other countries, among them Great Britain, Canada, and France. The movement can be traced to the early 1960s, when the first organizations were created to address the specific problem of the persecution and isolation of Soviet Jews by the government of the Soviet Union.

David Jonathan Waksberg, born December 14, 1956 in New York City, was involved in the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry before moving to California, where in 1981 he began working for the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews (BACSJ) as Assistant Director. In 1982 Waksberg became BACSJ's Executive Director, supervising all organizational activities, which included: public and political advocacy on behalf of Soviet Jews; research and monitoring of the living conditions of Soviet Jews; administration of financial, medical and legal aid to refuseniks and prisoners of conscience; demonstrations and vigils; preparing travelers for visits to refuseniks; and fundraising. By 1983 he was on the Board of Directors of BACSJ's umbrella organization, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ), and he then became National Vice-President of UCSJ in 1985.

In his work for the BACSJ and UCSJ, Waksberg made frequent trips to the Soviet Union and the Former Soviet states in the 1980s and 1990s. He led numerous protests outside the Soviet consulate in San Francisco. He supported the Soviet Jewry movement also in deeply personal ways; in 1983, for example, his marriage to Ellen Bob was a theatrical display of protest. They staged their traditional Jewish wedding in San Francisco's Union Square, standing under the chuppah as proxies for a refusenik couple, Yuri and Olga Tarnopolsky, who were not allowed by Soviet authorities to marry in a Jewish wedding ceremony.

In 1990, UCSJ established the US-USSR Center for Jewish Renewal and headquartered the programming arm of the Center in BACSJ’s office in San Francisco. Waksberg devoted three days a week of his BACSJ time to the new position of Director of the Center for Jewish Renewal (CJR). The initial mission of the CJR revolved around the promotion of renewal and development of Jewish life in the Soviet Union and later Former Soviet Union (FSU). However, the CJR’s mission shifted slightly from purely cultural, religious and educational initiatives to instead address the emigration rights, human rights and resettlement needs of Jews in the transitioning FSU. The CJR together with BACSJ and UCSJ supported the openings and operations of a network of human rights and emigration bureaus in major FSU cities.

When Waksberg stepped down as Executive Director of BACSJ in 1994, he became a member of the BACSJ's Board of Directors, and he also took on the role of Director of Development and Communication of the UCSJ.

Waksberg left the non-profit world in 1995, working at Descartes Systems Group for twelve years, until he accepted the position of Executive Director of the Bureau of Jewish Education of San Francisco in 2007.


Palevsky, Stacey. "Soviet Jewry activist chosen to head BJE." j. June 8, 2007. Accessed June 14, 2010 from:

Pine, Dan. "Soviet Jewry movement celebrates 40th anniversary." j. December 10, 2007. Accessed June 14, 2010 from:


9 Linear Feet (18 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials







The David Waksberg Papers are comprised of materials generated while Waksberg served in a variety of leadership roles in the American Soviet Jewry Movement in the 1980s and early 1990s: Executive Director of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews (BACSJ); National Vice-President of Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ); member of the UCSJ Board of Directors; Director of the Center for Jewish Renewal; Director of Development and Communication of UCSJ; a founder of the Russian-American Bureau on Human Rights in Moscow. The materials primarily consist of correspondence, reports, grant proposals, notes, clippings, newsletters and photographs.


Approximately half of David Waksberg’s incoming papers had been organized by him into subject files, and the other half was largely unfiled and unfoldered. They have been arranged into six series.

Acquisition Information

The records were donated by the University of Colorado at Boulder on July 9, 2008 (accession #2008.35).

Related Material

The David Waksberg Papers 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 (NCSJ; I-181 and I-181A), the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (I-410, I-410A), Medical Mobilization for Soviet Jewry, 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), 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) and Pamela B. Cohen (P-897).

Over 322 linear feet of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews Records are currently being processed (as of July 2010).

Individual accounts of activities within the Soviet Jewry Movement are preserved in the UJA Oral History Collection (I-433), which includes accounts from members of the following organizations: the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews, Seattle Action for Soviet Jews, Houston Action for Soviet Jews, Chicago Action for Soviet Jews, Colorado Committee of Concern for Soviet Jews and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Interviewees include accounts by David Waksberg, Lillian Forman, Ann Polunsky, Morey Schapira, Myrtle Sitowitz, Deborah Turkin, Sylvia Weinberg and Dolores Wilkenfeld. In addition, posters related to the Soviet Jewry Movement can be found in the Jewish Student Organizations Collection (I-61).

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 Boston, 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).

Separated Material

Standard weekly packets issued between March 1986 and December 1992 by the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) for Member Councils, the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee were deaccessioned because the packets in this date range already exist in the UCSJ Records and because Waksberg had made no notations on them.

Guide to the David Waksberg Papers, 1970-1997
Processed by Rachel Miller as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
© 2010.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Script of description
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Description is in English.
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This version was derived from DavidWaksberg.xml

Revision Statements

  • November 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States