A USY Alum Recounts a 1972 Protest March


Here is today’s shocker: I have been arrested! No, not today, or even recently, but in 1972. I was 15 years old, and an active member of our USY group at my synagogue in Washington DC. This was a time when Jews worldwide were protesting the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union. Many of us had defied our parents and hitchhiked to the Russian Mission on 16th Street in Washington to carry signs and shout our slogans of freeing Russian Jews.The protests in those days were brought about by two key events. First, a group of Jews tried to hijack a Soviet airliner to flee the oppression in the Soviet republic.

The attempt failed miserably and the two key leaders of the Hijack attempt were tried in a kangaroo court and sentenced to death. The sentence was ultimately changed to life imprisonment, in large part because of world outcry. The second event that led to the protests was the imposition of what the Soviets referred to as a “Diploma Tax.” In effect, the Soviets were charging any Jews that wanted to emigrate an exorbitant fee; it was a sort of ransom. The Soviets were well aware of a Jewish requirement to do whatever was necessary to recover a fellow Jew being unjustly imprisoned. Somewhat surreptitiously and behind the scenes, many millions of dollars were sent to the Soviet authorities to ransom Jews behind held in Soviet prison cells. We can see the same policy in effect today in Israel when hundreds of Palestinian criminals are exchanged for captive Israelis or even the remains of dead soldiers. Following these two events, an organization was formed to coordinate worldwide efforts to free Soviet Jews. The National Conference on Soviet Jewry came into being with the express purpose of making a significant change in the world. They were going to change world opinions about what was happening in the USSR, to influence world leaders, to make sure that they saw the oppression and hatred that was an everyday occurrence in the Russian Republics and to make sure that it was on the top of world leaders agendas.

Yes, I was arrested for peacefully protesting, along with my fellow USY-ers and hundreds of others as we stood on the steps of the Soviet mission in Washington DC. We carried signs and we shouted our slogans about freeing our brethren in the Soviet Union. Frankly, I was proud to be arrested. Being carted away on a paddywagon made me feel as though I was truly contributing to this important effort. So why do I tell you this story about something that happened in my life 48 years ago? Because I am seeing tremendous similarities between our efforts so very long ago and those of the protesters marching today. Our efforts were largely peaceful, but we had our violent agitators as well. Many of you remember that those were the days of Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defense League, a radical and violent Jewish organization. Fortunately, the songs we sang and the protests we shouted, drowned out the voices of the more radical factions. Our co-religionist in the Soviet Union were treated as second class citizens. Their rights were limited, bigotry went unchallenged by officials and the murder of a Jewish citizen would likely go unpunished. In many cases, killing a Jew might not even be deemed worth investigating. Here in the United States of America, we are supposed to be a beacon of liberty and justice. We are supposed to be the nation that all other nations can look up to and say that all people are indeed equal there. We are supposed to be the country where all law-abiding citizens can succeed and prosper based on their hard work and ingenuity. But it is very clear that some are more equal than others. Justice and liberty may vary based on religion, race or ethnicity. And opportunity is not as available to some as it is to others.

I remember vividly the scenes of Martin Luther King walking the streets of Alabama. I remember the scenes of peaceful protestors being chased with vicious dogs, sprayed by water cannons and beaten by baton wielding police officers. Those images are forever seared into my consciousness.

I find it to be absolutely incredible that 57 years after Dr. King’s I have a Dream speech that we are still faced with bigotry and prejudice of this magnitude in our great nation.

I had a conversation with Rabbi Baum the other day, and I told him that I believe as a Jewish institution, representing a people that have known slavery, oppression and bigotry, we have an absolute obligation to support the peaceful protesters seeking justice and equality. I believe that as a Jewish institution, we must support Jewish Ideals including: free worship of all people, Israel as homeland and the safe and respectful coexistence of all peace-loving people.I believe that it is not enough for us to just say how terrible bigotry and oppression are. I believe that we must do more. We must stand together with those who are not receiving fair and equal treatment under the law of=

this nation. I believe that we, here at Shaarei Kodesh need to do more. I have asked Rabbi Baum to speak with the leaders of the Boca Raton religious institutions. To talk to the Priests, Pastors, Rabbis and Imams in Boca Raton to seek out a loud and impactful tool with which to share our voice of indignation.I do not yet have the vehicle by which to express our support of the protesters. However rest assured that we are working diligently to find the best tools to use to fight the injustices that we are seeing today.One final point that I want to make is that I absolutely believe that most police are outstanding people that indeed want to serve and protect their fellow citizens. In fact, my heart goes out to the vast majority of officers who are faced with over generalizations brought about by the unfortunate actions of a few officers. Much like the embarrassment we felt long ago by the voices of radical Jewish leaders such as Meir Kahane, I am certain that most police officers are indeed highly offended and repulsed by the actions of a few rogue cops.

Just as I would encourage each of you to show support for the peaceful protestors, so too I would encourage you to show your support for the overwhelming percentage of cops that are trying their best to serve and protect us. I apologize in advance if anyone finds my words over politicization or in any way unbalanced, but it is in my opinion an issue that must be addressed and corrected. I pray that in the weeks and months to come, Dr. King can look down on us and smile, saying that indeed we have helped his dream come true.

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