"Let My People Go" - in Miami, Florida
Let My People Go: The Soviet Jewry Movement 1967-1989 on display in Miami, Florida
Beit Hatfutsot’s exhibit Let My People Go! The Soviet Jewry Movement 1967-1989 was recently on display at the Wesley Gallery at the University of Miami, sponsored by the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies at the University. The exhibit provides an overview of Jewish national activity in the Soviet Union during this period.
When Soviet Jews launched their campaign to emigrate, it was almost inconceivable that within little more than two decades the face of history would change beyond recognition, the Soviet Union would disintegrate and the gates of the Iron Curtain would be thrown wide open for Jews to leave. In 50 extraordinary photos, the exhibit traces the evolution of these events.
A special reception and program in honor of the South Florida leaders in the movement was held on January 16th. Over 250 people took part in the program, which was kicked off by Maxine E. Schwartz, Director of Development and Outreach of the Center. Ms. Schwartz, who was a leader in the movement, is involved as a lay leader, with many organizations in the greater Miami community.
Shulamith Bahat, CEO of Beit Hatfutsot of America, also addressed the crowd and spoke of the Beit Hatfutsot exhibits, educational and experiential programs and how important it is to bring this content to North America, in a way that will add value to Jewish life. Let My People Go! an extraordinary traveling exhibit, initiates this strategy in Southern Florida.
Ms. Bahat welcomed the comrades, friends, chaverim and the soldiers who had a part in the struggle for freedom of Soviet Jews and all those who sought and are seeking the fulfillment of their undeniable rights. She thanked them for coming from far and near, then and now. They were, she said, and still are a part of a heroic and significant chapter in Jewish and universal history; a chapter that should be commemorated and told over and over again so that it will be etched in the hearts and minds of new generations.
The struggle of Soviet Jews for freedom mobilized to action people the world over, of all religious, national and ethnic backgrounds, people who were inspired by the ancient and transcendent call for freedom LET MY PEOPLE GO! SHALACH ET AMI!
Rabbi Ralph P. Kingsley, Rabbi Emeritus Temple Sinai of North Dade, Miami Beach Florida, whose touching remarks framed the issue of the struggle of Soviet Jewry in its South Florida context, introduced the evening’s honorees Adele and Dr. Joel Sandberg, members of his congregation, who along with Maxine Schwartz, played a critical role by visiting Jewish refuseniks in the former USSR thus leaving a personal mark on this important chapter in Jewish history.
Adele and Dr. Joel Sandberg’s riveting comments about their first-hand, often harrowing experiences with refuseniks and the KGB in Kishinev, put into perspective the assault on the lives and quest for freedom experienced by Soviet Jews for decades.
Prof. Haim Shaked, who was among the first Israelis to be involved with the movement, is the incumbent director of the Miller Center and an academic pioneer whose specialization is in the modern history and politics of the Middle East; Islam as a political force; and Arab-Israeli relations.
Prof. Shaked, has been involved with Beit Hatfutsot from its inception and spoke passionately about its global vision. He alluded in his remarks to the prospects of partnership of the Miller Center and Beit Hatfutsot and stressed how delighted the Center was to sponsor this exhibit, which was adapted for American audiences in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Freedom Sunday, the rally that brought 250,000 people to Washington DC on the eve of the summit of President Reagan and Secretary General of the former USSR Gorbachev. The rally demonstrated the unity of purpose in the Jewish community and among people of all backgrounds who supported the movement. Indeed, it was so powerful that it gave President Reagan the necessary ammunition to pressure Gorbachev to let our people go.
Rabbi Leonid Feldman, the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach, Florida, the first and only Soviet born Conservative Rabbi in America, concluded the program as he recalled his own journey, trials and tribulations as a refusenik subjected to Soviet oppression and brutality. His struggle to live in freedom and the rediscovery of his Jewish identity moved the audience to a standing ovation and brought many to tears.
Many of the photographs evoked stirring memories as he identified friends and events they depicted. He underscored the importance of the exhibit as a platform to educate people about the potential power of international Jewish solidarity, as this struggle was a most powerful example of it.
It also provides an opportunity to rekindle the passion about Judaism by understanding the fight to Soviet Jews to assert their identity and the huge sacrifices they made. He concluded that The Soviet Jewry Movement underscores that being Jewish is powerful, meaningful and purposeful.
Among the Miami luminaries in attendance were South Florida leaders of AJC and JDC as well Norman Lipoff, a prominent lawyer and the treasurer of the Jewish Agency (JAFI) at the time of the exodus of Soviet Jews. Mr. Lipoff has played major roles in many local, national and international Jewish organizations. He has served as President and General Campaign Chairman of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Chairman of the Foundation of Jewish Philanthropies, National Vice Chairman of United Jewish Appeal, is a former National Chairman of both the United Israel Appeal and the Endowment Fund Development of the Council of Jewish Federations, is the founding Chairman of the Foundation for Jewish Renewal.
Following the opening, Leonard Wien, the founder and first president of the Jewish Museum of Florida, donated to Beit Hatfutsot “Songs of Memory”, his exceptionally researched and beautifully illustrated book about the history of his extended family. His family tree is now part of Beit Hatfutsot’s Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center.
As a result of the exhibition, Marilyn Himmel, a Miami activist in the movement, donated her extensive correspondence with refuseniks to Beit Hatfutsot‘s collection. It will join the manuscript of Alexander Smukler, President of NCSJ, Samizdat, This manuscript, which was smuggled out of the former Soviet Union and donated to Beit Hatfutsot, guided Jews in the USSR how to lead Jewish life in the underground.
The exhibit facilitated the reunion of leaders and activists of the Soviet Jewry Movement, the reliving of the personal imprints they left on an amazing and vital chapter of modern Jewish history, and highlights the great legacy this movement imparts upon the next generations.