25 years later: Soviet Jews and the Freedom 25 Movement

by | Nov 21, 2012 | Uncategorized

Aimee Koller, JCC cultural arts director, Edith Frankel, Michele Goldberg, cultural arts associate, and Ellie Porter

Aimee Koller, JCC cultural arts director, Edith Frankel, Michele Goldberg, cultural arts associate, and Ellie Porter

A book presented at the Lee and Bernard Jaffe* Family Jewish Book Festival highlighted next month’s 25th anniversary of the March on Washington to free Soviet Jews. The event was cosponsored by the Community Relations Council of the UJFT.

December marks the 25th anniversary of the seminal event of the Soviet Jewry Movement: the March on Washington on the eve of the first Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Freedom 25, a cooperative initiative of numerous Jewish organizations, is using the anniversary to raise awareness about this epic tale. Freedom 25 seeks to engage one million people in an online virtual march on or around Dec. 6.

Edith Rogovin Frankel and Ellie Porter, (who introduced Frankel at the Book Festival), are both intimately acquainted with Soviet Jewry.

As president of Jewish Family Service in the mid-1970s, Porter and volunteers working for JFS helped settle 26 Soviet families in Tidewater. The team would meet families at the airport, take them to their new apartments, get them jobs, situate the children in schools, help them find supermarkets, doctors and everything it takes to become settled. “Taking them to their first Friday night Temple service and even showing them how to write a check was all part of the acculturation process they experienced,” says Porter.

In Frankel’s book Soviet No More: Immigrants Real Life Stories, the author interviews several dozen people who left the Soviet Union to find new lives in both the United States and in Israel. A political science major from Cornell, she was interested in the huge number of Jews being allowed out of Russia in the late 1970s, and wanted to personally ask some of them why they left, and what they expected out of their new lives.

Frankel kept these interviews on a high shelf in her house for decades. Curious about what had happened to these people, she tracked most of them down, resulting in a fascinating account of how their lives had changed over 25 years.

“We have lost our sense of community as a Jewish people,” Frankel says. “Twentyfive years ago, we were galvanized around a cause—to free Soviet Jews from oppression. We need to rally around something that brings us together.”

Freedom 25 seeks to have 1 million people sign on its virtual website by Dec. 6. Learn more and join the virtual march at Freedom25.net.

Through its annual campaign, the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater supports programs in the Former Soviet Union through ORT, which in turn provides a year-round busing-transportation program for the 310 Jewish children attending an ORT school in Zaporozhe, Ukraine.

*of blessed memory

by Leslie Shroyer