David Waksberg Papers
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.
- Majority of material found within 1982 - 1995
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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: http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/32685/soviet-jewry-activist-chosen-to-head-bje/
Pine, Dan. "Soviet Jewry movement celebrates 40th anniversary." j. December 10, 2007. Accessed June 14, 2010 from: http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/33978/soviet-jewry-movement-celebrates-40th-anniversary/
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.
The records were donated by the University of Colorado at Boulder on July 9, 2008 (accession #2008.35).
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.
- Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Emigration and immigration
- Former Soviet republics
- Grant proposals
- Human rights
- Jews, Soviet
- Political activists
- Prisoners -- Legal status, laws, etc
- San Francisco (Calif.)
- Shcharansky, Anatoly
- Soviet Union
- Speeches (documents)
- Union of Councils for Soviet Jews
- Waksberg, David, 1956-
- 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
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Edition statement
- This version was derived from DavidWaksberg.xml
- November 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.
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