by Judith Lash Balint

Exactly twenty five years ago, on December 6, 1987, a group of 15 activists flew from Seattle to Washington DC to join the mass rally on behalf of Soviet Jewry[1] that had been finally convened by the Jewish establishment, after a great deal of prodding from Natan Sharansky.

Washington Speakout for Soviet Jewry, December 6, 1987 [2]


The event was to send a message to visiting Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, that American Jews would not rest until all those Russian Jews who wanted to leave would be allowed to freely emigrate, and those who couldn't leave would be permitted to express their Jewish identity.

More than 200,000 Americans — not all Jews — gathered on the Mall in Washington to send that message.

For me, the December event came shortly after the second of three trips I made to the USSR to visit refuseniks and families of Prisoners of Zion. Like many other parents, I went to the rally with my two kids, who were then 11 and 9. It was part of their Jewish education.

There are a host of memories of that day--for me one of the most outstanding was hearing Yosef Mendelevich,[3] former Prisoner of Zion, who was not beholden to anyone nor any establishment group, yell out: "Linkage; Linkage; Linkage!" while the Jewish leaders on the dais behind him visibly blanched.


Yosef Mendelevich today. [4]

An odd English word for a non-English speaker to be yelling--but Yosef was adamant about proclaiming a view that was not then popular with the Jewish establishment; that linkage of trade and human rights was the only way to ensure freedom for his fellow Soviet Jews.

The 1987 rally most certainly was not the culmination of the Soviet Jewry movement--there would be a long road ahead before there was anything approaching free emigration or a resurrection of Jewish cultural and religious rights. But it was most certainly a memorable day of solidarity and Jewish unity.

Years later, Natan Sharansky would be the driving force behind an even larger gathering that took place in January 2001[5] along the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem to protest American efforts to divide Jerusalem. A crowd estimated at between 3-400,000 Israelis showed up for the peaceful rally.

Part of the crowd at the January 2001 Jerusalem protest[6]


To this day, many of us former Soviet Jewry movement activists are still close friends and tend to look at the world the same way. Many of us are vocal today in the campaign to combat the delegitimization of Israel. December 6 1987 helped shape our agenda for the coming decades.




[2]  The original is available at


[4]  Yosef Mendelevich today. The original is available at

[5] ty.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm


This essay was written by Judy Lash Balint, an American-born writer who lives in Jerusalem. She is publisher of Jerusalem Diaries. Contact her at It was submitted December 5, 2012.

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