Records of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews and Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal
Scope and Content Note
The records document the founding, development, operations, campaigns, and activities of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews (BACSJ) and Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal (BACJRR) on behalf of Soviet Jewry and Jews in the Former Soviet States. While pertaining to the activities of the BACSJ, the materials also contain considerable documentation on Soviet repressive policies regarding freedom of emigration and religion for Soviet Jewry. In addition, the materials provide insight into the Soviet Jewry movement as a whole, which involved numerous domestic and foreign organizations that forced the issue onto the international stage.
Part 1 of the collection contains the records of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews from its inception in 1967 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The bulk of Part 1 dates in the 1970s.
Part 2 of the collection represents the records of the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, a post-Soviet incarnation of BACSJ that operated through the 1990s. BACSJRR evidently largely continued using the files generated by BACSJ before the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, thus the bulk of Part 2 dates in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
- Creation: undated, 1952, 1954-1999
- Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews (Organization)
- Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal (Organization)
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
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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 the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews.
The Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews (BACSJ) was founded in 1967 by four activists, Harold (Hal) B. Light, Edward Tamler, Sidney Kluger, and Rabbi Moris Hershman. Under the direction of Hal Light, the BACSJ became one of the leading organizations in the Soviet Jewry rescue movement nationwide. Born in Philadelphia in 1916, Light was educated as a mechanical engineer and moved to San Francisco in 1941 where he became a successful businessman and real estate investor. In 1965, after selling his businesses at the age of 49, he devoted his attention to the Civil Rights movement, becoming chairman of the Parents Mississippi Association of Northern California and coordinating aid for Civil Rights workers. In 1966, however, Light's interests turned toward the plight of Soviet Jewry after he heard a speech at Temple Sherith Israel in San Francisco. Following this speech, Light began the first efforts to organize a grass roots political movement on behalf of co-religionists in the Soviet Union.
The BACSJ and the Soviet Jewry movement received considerable impetus following the 1967 Six-Day Arab-Israeli War. The Israeli victory produced a movement among Soviet Jews to demand freedom of religion and the right to emigrate to Israel. To raise public awareness, Light wrote articles for newspapers, gave addresses and lectures, and appeared on numerous radio and television programs. While Light's initial efforts met with disbelief from audiences, they later gained a following and increasing publicity. In 1969, Light began writing and sending Passover cards to Soviet Jews under the pseudonym, Gerson Lazar. The purpose was to establish contact, offer spiritual and financial assistance, and determine the problems of Soviet Jewry. His aggressive tactics, however, earned the enmity of some major Jewish groups, which advocated quiet diplomacy. While these organizations gave the BACSJ tacit moral support, they refused to lend it financial assistance. As a result, for the first two years Light funded the organization with $40,000 out of his own savings.
Following 1967, other Soviet Jewry councils were established across the country as the movement gained increasing momentum. In 1970, several councils, including the BACSJ, formed the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews to bring the various autonomous groups under one umbrella organization. As the councils and other Jewish and interreligious groups lobbied Congress and the White House to link Detente with the rights of Soviet Jews to emigrate, the cause soon became a prominent issue in American-Soviet relations. With Soviet Jewry now an international issue and despite the opposition of several major local Jewish organizations, the BACSJ continued to campaign aggressively and publicly on behalf of Soviet Jewry. The organization used public sporting events, visits by Soviet dignitaries, Soviet ballet performances, and other political and cultural events to stage vigils and protests. They carried out similar activities at the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco.
The efforts of the BACSJ and other groups proved to be a major impetus behind passage of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which linked the granting of Most Favored Nation trading status to the Soviet Union with the easing of emigration policies. Additionally, the BACSJ helped to marshal support among many in Congress to press the cases of dozens of individual Refuseniks. The Soviets, however, attacked the Jackson-Vanik Amendment as an unreasonable interference in their internal domestic affairs and subsequently dramatically limited Jewish emigration. Nevertheless in 1975 the Soviet Jewry movement was bolstered following the signing of the Helsinki Accords, which sought to lower international tensions by finalizing post World War II borders in Europe in return for human rights guarantees. The Accords also established the right of freedom of movement and emigration. Although the Accords were not legally binding and focused primarily on security and cooperation between East and West, the agreements proved pivotal in fueling the human rights movement that would later sweep the Soviet Union.
Despite the signing of the Accords, the Soviets continued their oppression of Soviet Jews and the imprisonment of dissidents in labor camps and psychiatric hospitals. The number of Jewish émigrés permitted to leave the Soviet Union paralleled the changing climate of Cold War relations with the United States. In 1979, emigration climbed to 51,320 but then plummeted to only 896 in 1984 as international tensions mounted. During this period, the BACSJ continued their domestic political activities on behalf of Soviet Jewry. In addition, BACSJ members visited the Soviet Union to investigate human rights conditions of Jews and to offer a wide range of support, including financial assistance, medical supplies, and equipment. They provided Soviet Jewry with cameras and film to document their plight, supplies for teaching Hebrew and Judaism, materials for demonstrations, as well as typewriters, and later, computers and printers, to list and keep track of thousands of Refuseniks, and to produce press releases for the Western Press.
With Gorbachev's ascendancy to power and the subsequent unraveling of the Soviet empire, conditions for Soviet Jews improved considerably. After 1988, the Soviets allowed the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Jews, and officially permitted the free expression and practice of religion. In the early 1990s, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was accompanied by a resurgence of Antisemitism, resurfacing of nationalist sentiments, and worsening economic conditions. Amidst this climate, the BACSJ, now known as Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal (BACJSRR), helped the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews to establish offices in the former republics to support the human rights of Jews and other religious and national minorities. These offices also act to monitor the move toward democratic pluralism in Russia and the former Soviet Republics.
BACSJ Mission Statement, November 1989 Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews and Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, Records, I-505, Box 16/Folder 7, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.
Beckerman, G. (2010). When they come for us, we'll be gone: The epic struggle to save Soviet Jewry. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Feingold, H. (2007). "Silent no more": Saving the Jews of Russia, the American Jewish effort, 1967-1989. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press.
Lazin, F. (2005). The struggle for Soviet Jewry in American politics: Israel versus the American Jewish establishment. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books.
320.9 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
The collection documents the activities of a human rights non-government organization on behalf of Soviet Jewry and Jews in the Former Soviet Union. Organized by Harold Light in San Francisco in 1967, the group worked to bring the Soviet Jewry issue to national and international attention. The collection contains correspondence, minutes, case files, publications, newspaper clippings, card files of Refuseniks, subject files, audio/visual materials, and information on other Soviet Jewry and interreligious organizations. Also included are materials relating to Soviet Jewish emigration, Cold War relations, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and human rights conditions in Russia and the former Soviet republics.
Part 1 of the collection is arranged into six series as follows:
- Part 1, Series I: Harold Light Files, undated 1956, 1964-1976, 1981
- Subseries A: Personal Files, undated, 1964-1975
- Subseries B: BACSJ Organizational Files, undated 1956, 1964-1976, 1981
- Part 1, Series II: Organizational Files, undated, 1967-1993
- Part 1, Series III: Subject Files, Other Groups, and Publications, undated, 1954-1990, 1993
- Part 1, Series IV: National Adopt-A-Family Bank Of The Minnesota-Dakotas Action Committee For Soviet Jewry, undated, 1971-1980
- Part 1, Series V: Audio and Visual Materials, undated, 1966, 1968-1990, 1992
- Subseries A: Audio Materials, undated, 1966, 1969-1976, 1978-1982, 1984-1989, 1992
- Subseries B: Materials On Videotape, Film and Microfilm, undated, 1970-1990
- Subseries C: Photographs, Slides and 3D Objects, undated, 1968-1992
- Part 1, Series VI: Oversize Materials, undated, 1969-1993
Part 2 of the collection is arranged into four series as follows:
- Part 2, Series I: Name Files, undated, 1973-1999
- Part 2, Series II: Subject Files and Organizational Files, Other Groups, and Publications, undated, 1973, 1977-1999
- Part 2, Series III: Travel to USSR and the Former Soviet States, undated, 1975-1999
- Part 2, Series IV: Audio and Visual Materials, Textiles, undated, 1965, 1975-1997
- Subseries A: Audio Materials, undated, 1985-1987, 1989-1990, 1995
- Subseries B: Materials On Videotape and Film, undated, 1991
- Subseries C: Textiles, undated
- Subseries D: Photographs and Slides, undated, 1969, 1975-1997
Located in AJHS New York, NY
The records were donated by the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2007, in two parts. The collection also includes an earlier accession by AJHS of several pamphlets and newsletters by the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews, previously accessible at the American Jewish Historical Society as Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews Records under the call number I-350. Necklace with the name of USSR Prisoner of Conscience Mikhail Korenblit was donated by Steven Berne in January 2017.
The trip reports in this collection were digitized in their entirety with the exception of full newspapers and duplicates. Photographs in box 110 were digitized in their entirety with the exception of duplicates and blank versos. The audio in box 99 was digitized in its entirety, with the exception of the recordings found in Folders 1, 30, 84, and 100. All VHS tapes were digitized with the exception of duplicates, copyrighted and non-unique items, and damaged tapes. Some video is available onsite only due to copyright concerns. Notes on digitization and access were added to video description at the item level.
Part 1 of the collection was partially processed at the University of Colorado at Boulder, by Harvey N. Gardiner. Part 1 was reprocessed by Andrey Filimonov in 2010. Part 2 processed in 2013-2014, and the final EAD Finding Aid was created by Andrey Filimonov in September 2014.
- Agnos, Art (Person)
- Andropov, I︠U︡. V. (I︠U︡riĭ Vladimirovich), 1914-1984 (Person)
- Baez, Joan (Person)
- Boxer, Barbara (Person)
- Bronfman, Edgar M., 1929-2013 (Person)
- Brzezinski, Zbigniew, 1928-2017 (Person)
- Bukovskiĭ, Vladimir Konstantinovich, 1942- (Person)
- Bush, George, 1924-2018 (Person)
- Chernenko, K. U. (Konstantin Ustinovich), 1911-1985 (Person)
- Clinton, Bill, 1946- (Person)
- Frank, Rusty E. (Person)
- Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeevich, 1931- (Person)
- Gilbert, Martin, 1936-2015 (Person)
- King, Martin Luther, Sr., 1899-1984 (Person)
- Kissinger, Henry, 1923- (Person)
- Nudel, Ida (Person)
- Reagan, Ronald (Person)
- Sakharov, Andreĭ, 1921-1989 (Person)
- Shcharansky, Anatoly (Person)
- Shultz, George Pratt, 1920- (Person)
- Wallenberg, Raoul, 1912-1947 (Person)
- Zhirinovskiĭ, Vladimir, 1946- (Person)
- American Bar Association (Organization)
- Amnesty International (Organization)
- Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews (Organization)
- Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry (Organization)
- Jewish Community Relations Council (San Francisco, Calif.) (Organization)
- National Conference on Soviet Jewry (U.S.) (Organization)
- Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (Organization)
- American Jewish Congress (Organization)
- B'nai B'rith (Organization)
Genre / Form
- Case files
- clippings (information artifacts)
- Commemorative jewelry
- Legal documents
- Phonograph Records
- Press releases
- publications (documents)
- slides (photographs)
- Sweat Shirts
- Guide to the Records of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews and Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, undated, 1952, 1954-1999 I-505, I-505A
- Processed by Harvey N. Gardiner and Andrey Filimonov
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processed as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. Selective digitization of the Records of Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews and Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal (I-505) was made possible through a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Digitization of video on VHS was made possible through the generous support of the Blavatnik Foundation.
- October 2015: dao links added by Eric Fritzler.
- June 2015: Part 2, Series III folders corrected by Leanora Lange.
- December 2016: Item-level description of VHS tapes in Part 1, Series V, Subseries B, and Part 2, Series IV, Subseries B added by Andrey Filimonov.
- July 2017: dao links for VHS added, filename simplified, and digitization note and sponsor statement updated by Leanora Lange.
- May 2021: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.