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Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry

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The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, also known by its acronym SSSJ, was founded in 1964 by Jacob Birnbaum to be a spearhead of the US movement for rights of the Soviet Jewry.


In 1962, three young men from New York decided that something had to be done to help Jews in the Soviet Union, whose civil rights were being denied. So they organized a demonstration at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. Many students from Yeshiva University's high school attended.

In early 1964, at a meeting of the American League of Russian Jews,Jacob Birnbaum, who had just moved to New York City met with Jewish college students Glenn Richter, Arthur Green, and Jimmy Torczyner (who were already involved in the civil rights movement) and together they decided that college students needed to do something to help Soviet Jews.

On 27 April 1964, Jacob Birnbaum convened a New York metropolitan student meeting at Columbia University. The meeting was an emotional one. The theme was that the Holocaust should be taken as a warning and the civil rights movement as a model for grassroots action. Within four days some 1,000 students rallied in front of the Soviet U.N. Mission. Birnbaum and Richter called the new group "Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry" and his first office operated out of Birnbaum's bedroom. In its recent timeline of 350 years of American Jewish history, the Center for Jewish History marked 1 May, 1964 as the beginning of the public movement for Soviet Jewry. For years, SSSJ was the only organization with a full time staff (Birbaum and Richter) exclusively working on behalf of Soviet Jewry.[1]

SSSJ collected and disseminated information on the situation of Soviet Jews, and encouraged Jewish college students to become involved. In December 1971, they organized a rally for Soviet Jewry which took place at Madison Square Garden with speakers Senator "Scoop" Jackson and Gerald Ford. Another speaker was Ruthie Alexandrovich from Riga who was arrested and sentenced during the Leningrad trials.

Up until the 1980s, SSSJ published published lists of Jewish individuals in the Soviet Union who wanted to leave but were denied that "privilege" and, since permission had been denied, were labeled "refuseniks." SSSJ also published books and flyers with pictures and stories of these Jewish refuseniks the personalize connections between Jews in the US and their Soviet brethren. They organized rallies and kept the issue of Soviet Jewry in the forefront by visiting college campuses and encouraging bar/bat mitzvah children to "twin" with refuseniks.

See also

History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union Movement to Free Soviet Jewry


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