Freeing of Soviet Jews

For 20 years, from 1969 – 1989, San Francisco was the center of major public protests in support of Soviet Jews and their desire for freedom.   The cry “Let My People Go” was heard hundreds of times as community members rallied in front of the Soviet Consulate and at Soviet cultural events held throughout the area.  

One particular memory is from February, 1987 when Natan Sharansky who had been released from a Soviet prison a year earlier spoke from a stage set up near the Consulate.  He looked out at thousands of people who gathered at this special rally organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council and Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews, both beneficiaries of the Jewish Community Federation.   The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted one of the protesters.  “We gathered here so often to protest for his freedom.  And now he is here, helping us to protest for the others.  Such a day.”   

For 20 years uninterrupted our community fought tirelessly to help free Soviet Jews – one by one by one until a million or more were truly free.    At the beginning they said it couldn’t be done; the Soviet government would never open the iron curtain.   But history tells a different story and our community which was galvanized by the inspirational leadership of Hal Light and many others can take pride in its tremendous contribution to the Soviet Jewry movement, as can the Federation in its support of it.

- by Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC Executive Director

On Sunday, April 10, 2011, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz will receive the Federation Centennial Award for his extraordinary efforts in the freeing of Soviet Jews. The award presentation and following wine reception are a part of FedFest One Hundred.  Please join us in honoring Shultz and celebrating the Federation's centennial year.

Photos courtesy of the Magnes

Categories: Awards, Events


April 07, 2011


The Federation