Soviet Jewry Movement Explored In New Exhibition

Poster, Let My People Go, 1969
Illustrated by Dan Reisinger
National Museum of American Jewish History
Peter H. Schweitzer Collection of Jewish Americana.

The National Museum of American Jewish History presents Power of Protest: The Movement to Free Soviet Jews, a new exhibition exploring one of the most successful human rights campaigns to date. The panel exhibition showcases Americans’ efforts in the late 1960s through 1990 to free refuseniks.

It is on view at Philadelphia’s NMAJH December 6, 2017 through January 15, 2018, and will then travel to a number of venues across the country.

Power of Protest: The Movement to Free Soviet Jews walks visitors through the human rights campaign that took place on behalf of Soviet Jews, one that brought together organizations, student activists, community leaders, and thousands of individuals-and reached the highest echelons of the American government. Americans staged public demonstrations across the country, held massive rallies, and called for politicians to speak out. The exhibition celebrates the struggles and successes of this movement, as well as the experiences of Jewish emigrants from the U.S.S.R. who came to the United States and have contributed in countless ways to American society and culture. Their stories of courage offer meaningful opportunities for conversations and activism surrounding immigration, the reception of refugees, and the continuing limits on political and religious freedom placed on minorities around the world.

The exhibition opens on the 30th anniversary of “Freedom Sunday,” a momentous rally that took place on December 6, 1987, the day before Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s historic summit meeting with President Ronald Reagan. Roughly 250,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to call for the Soviet leader to extend his Glasnost (or “openness”) policy to Soviet Jews and allow them freedom to worship and travel freely. This unprecedented display of Jewish solidarity, and the President’s statements on human rights during the summit, resulted in visas that brought nearly a million Soviet Jews to Israel and the United States.

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