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American Jewish History 88.1 (2000) 163-164

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A Second Exodus: The American Movement to Free Soviet Jews. Edited by Murray Friedman and Albert D. Chernin. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, 1999. vii + 265 pp.

Murray Friedman and Albert Chernin have edited an important collection of articles about the role of American Jewry in gaining the right of Jews to migrate from the Soviet Union to Israel and the United States between the 1960s and the 1990s. A Second Exodus is a valuable resource for explaining how Soviet Jews gained the right to emigrate and for describing the many roles that different groups in Israel and the United States played in that process. The editors do not shy away from revealing that animosities and conflicts erupted during this period between Americans and Israelis and within each community. For American Jews much of the initial motivation to free Soviet Jewry was to relieve the embarrassment, guilt, and pain that they experienced following World War II when the full account of Jewish suffering under the Nazis came to light, along with the failure of American Jewry to lessen or to alleviate it. Guilt and embarrassment became significant forces in motivating and organizing the American movement to free Soviet Jewry.

In his introduction Friedman rightly notes that this book "is part history, part celebration of a bright page in Jewish and American Jewish life, marking a time when Jews came together with friends and allies to engage in an extraordinary rescue mission" (p. 11). Between 1975 and 1994 some 280,000 Soviet Jews settled in the United States, and about 750,000 settled in Israel.

The first section of the book provides the complex history of the Jewish community's experiences in the Soviet Union under Stalin, Khrushchev and through the early years under Gorbachev. It also describes the different groups within the American Jewish community which joined in the campaign to free the Soviet Jews. Among the organizations involved were the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Jewish Community Relations Council, National Community Relations Advisory Council, National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.

The first section also includes a chapter on Israel's role in the movement, including an account of the events leading up to the first international conference on Soviet Jewry. The chapter briefly mentions the beginning of the deep conflicts that were to emerge later between [End Page 163] American Jews and Israelis on the issue of the noshrim, the Jews who left the Soviet Union with Israeli visas but who then dropped out in Vienna, most often bound for the United States. In a later section of the book, a full chapter on the noshrim describes the bitterness and anger between Israelis and American Jews.

Ultimately, emerging out of the struggle to free Soviet Jewry came an international movement resulting in the Helsinki Commission with its world-wide emphasis on human rights.

Micah Naftalin, National Director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews in Washington, D.C., wrote "The Activist Movement," one of the most interesting chapters. He describes the grassroots movements that began in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel and which spread to the United States, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom in the 1960s. The author claims grassroots Soviet Jewry leaders worked independently of the Jewish establishment. In Naftalin's words:

Perhaps the ultimate distinction between the two camps was that the establishment preferred to work with, perhaps even to trust in, governmental leaders; the activists, believing that all governments put "national" interests ahead of "human" interests, put their trust in their partners among indigenous Soviet Jewish leaders. The activists' strategy gave validity to their claim that the establishment routinely patronized the Soviet Jews; the establishment countered that the activists were not subject to discipline (p. 228).

A Second Exodus is a celebratory, but complex and critical, account of a successful movement...


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