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January 16, 1987 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-01-16

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Soviet Jews Statement
Still Relevant Today

By Appointment


Call The Jewish News



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Special to l'he Jewish. News


s the observance on
January 19 of the
birthday of Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. draws closer, I
recall arranging for him to ad-
dress a national telephone
hook-up of Soviet Jewry rallies
we were organizing in com-
munities nationwide in De-
cember 1966. I was doing so in
my capacity as the coordinator
of the American Jewish Con-
ference on Soviet Jewry, which
was then being staffed by
Despite his very heavy
schedule, King
enthusiastically accepted our
invitation which gave him an
opportunity to speak out pub-
licly for the first time on the
issue of Soviet Jewry.
Sadly, his description of the
plight of Soviet Jewry in 1966
is still relevant to the condi-
tions of Soviet Jewry in 1987.
He said then:
"While Jews in Russia may
not be physically murdered as
they were in Nazi Germany,
they are facing every day a
kind of spiritual and cultural
genocide. Individual Jews may
in the main be physically and
economically secure in Russia,
but the absence of opportunity
to associate as Jews in the
enjoyment of Jewish culture
and religious experience be-
comes a severe limitation upon
an individual.
"These deprivations are a
part of a person's emotional
and intellectual life. They de-
termine whether he is fulfilled
as a human being. Negroes can
well understand and sym-
pathize with this problem.
When you are written out of
history as a people, when you
are given no choice but to ac-
cept the majority culture, you
are denied an aspect of your
own identity. Ultimately you
suffer a corrosion of your self-
understanding and your self-
Twenty years later the con-
ditions of Soviet Jewry still
remain oppressive. Emigra-
tion has been virtually ended,
reaching the lowest numbers
since the doors were slightly
opened in early 1967. While
Natan Shcharansky and prom-
inent refuseniks such as
Eliahu Essas have been per-
mitted to leave, thousands
more continue to be denied
emigration visas year after
The names of more than
11,000 long-term refuseniks
were given to the Soviet gov-
ernment by the United States
shortly after President Reagan
and Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev met in Reykjavik
last October; still they wait for
permission to emigrate, many
for more than ten years in

Albert Chernin is executive
vice chairman of the National
Jewish Community Relations
Advisory Council.


Friday, January 16, 1987


Martin Luther King:
sympathizing with Soviet Jews.

"quiet desperation." They do so
in a climate of open and vicious
hostility toward Israel,
Zionism and Judaism, ex-
pressed in barely disguised
anti-Semitism in the Soviet
Nevertheless, in the 20 years
since King spoke to the Soviet
Jewry rallies, there have been
significant developments in
the struggle for Soviet Jews.
Only a few weeks after King
spoke Soviet Prime Minister
Alexei Kosygin declared in a
Paris press conference that
those who chose to do so could
join their families abroad.
But even with this assertion
of family reunion from Kosy-
gin, which was aimed at West-
ern audiences as are the dec-
larations of Gorbachev, no one
dreamed at that time that
more than 270,000 Soviet Jews
would soon live in freedom,
most in Israel.
In contrast to 20 years ago,
the issue of Soviet Jewry was a
critical and, significantly, a
formal agenda item in the
bilateral negotiations that
took place in Reykjavik.
That Soviet Jewry was part
of the official agenda repre-
sented a reversal of Soviet in-
sistence, dating back decades,
that the issue of Soviet Jewry
was an internal matter. It re-
presented an affirmation of
King's assertions to those
community rallies in 1966
when he said, "The denial of
human rights anywhere is a
threat to the affirmation of
human rights everywhere."
That the Soviet Union ac-
cepted this issue on the
agenda, and the Soviets feel
compelled to make gestures
that attempt to project the ap-
pearance of Soviet responsive-
ness to the issue of human
rights, underscores King's
awareness that voices of con-
science can overcome the voice
of oppression when asserted
loudly, vigorously, and
ceaselesly. We need to be
aware of that charge upon us as
we join with millions of other
Americans in celebrating the
birthday of Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr.

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