“We must do our share in the community of mankind”—the voice of Bayard Rustin in the American Soviet Jewry movement.

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By Andrey Filimonov

Audio
recording: Public Service Announcements urging support for Soviet Jewry by Rita
Moreno, Bayard Rustin, Sam Levenson and Alan King, recently digitized at the
Center for Jewish History. Link
to digital audio file: http://digital.cjh.org/4552838 

Originally
found on an open-reel tape, in the Records of National Conference on Soviet
Jewry, I-181A
, Box
369, Tape number M15.

image

Bayard Rustin. Original photograph found in
Box 159, Folder 7 of the Action for Soviet Jewry Records I-487
; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.

The Soviet Jewry Movement (circa 1963-1991) was a
worldwide effort to obtain freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union to practice
their religion without state persecution or discrimination; or to emigrate to
Israel, the United States or elsewhere to seek the blessings of freedom, and to
pursue lives of their own choosing.

The American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS; a partner organization of the Center for Jewish History) has
established its Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement
to help assure that the story of the role played by
Americans of all faiths in this Movement will be collected and preserved so
that future generations will be familiar with, and inspired by, their
achievements.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Blavatnik Family
Foundation, AJHS and CJH were able to preserve and make accessible online 357
historic audio recordings from 1960s-1980s, totaling over 195 hours.  Originally acquired on magnetic tape, in
open-reel and cassette formats, now digitally preserved and made accessible
worldwide, the recordings feature phone calls to Jews in the USSR, interviews
with “Refuseniks” and Prisoners of Conscience, US politicians, foreign policy
experts, civil rights and cultural leaders.

One of the audio
recordings preserved and made accessible by this project demonstrates a direct
tie in lineage and legacy between the civil rights movements of the
1950s-1960s, and the American Soviet Jewry movement in the 1970s-1980s. It demonstrates the important role African-American leaders such as Martin Luther
King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Asa Philip Randolph and Whitney Young played in shaping,
directing and informing the movement for the rights of Jews in the USSR. It
features an address to the American public by Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), a
prominent American civil rights leader, a principal organizer of the 1963 March
on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an iconic advocate for the LGBT rights, and
a pioneer of the Movement for the rights of Soviet Jews.

image

Bayard Rustin addressing American Jewish
Congress at Convention,
1966 Original photograph found in Box 745, Folder 31
of the American Jewish Congress records, I-77
; American Jewish Historical Society, New
York, NY

In
a public service announcement recorded in the early 1970s for the National
Conference on Soviet Jewry Rustin urges Americans to write to their
congressmen, to President Nixon and the Soviet Ambassador to demand justice for
the oppressed Soviet Jewry: “The world has shown its horror at the
senseless persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union… We must do our share in the
community of mankind. Therefore, on behalf of Soviet Jews, we shall be
heard—you can be heard!”

Preserving
and providing access to this recording is particularly important because the
legacy of this extraordinarily influential social activist remains relatively
obscure. For most of his life Rustin was kept largely out
of the public eye  and on the margins of
the movements he had planned and directed —in large part because he lived as an
openly gay man at a time when gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in
the United States were criminalized, considered mentally ill, widely
discriminated against and legally persecuted.

image

Bayard Rustin, attending the Second
World Conference on Soviet Jewry held in Brussels, Belgium, February 17-19,
1976. Notes: Original photograph
found in Box 361, Folder 7 of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry Records,
I-181A; American Jewish Historical Society, New
York, NY

American
Jewish Historical Society holds the Papers of Bayard Rustin.
The collection focuses on his involvement in the American Soviet Jewry movement.
It contains speeches and articles on
Soviet Jewry by Bayard Rustin from 1960s-1980s. Also included are publications
by the executive secretary of the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews,
Moshe Decter— Redemption! Jewish freedom letters from Russia with foreword by Rustin, and
“Silence and Yearning: A Report and Analysis of the Status of Soviet
Jewry” based on the findings of the Ad Hoc Commission on the Rights of
Soviet Jews, chaired by Rustin.

Are you interested in learning more about the involvement of Americans in the Soviet Jewry Movement? You can view related documents from AHJS in Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. Click here for relevant visitor information. Click here to search the collections of the Center’s five partner organizations.

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