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The assistance offered in a community where new immigrants settle, which helps them with: introduction to local community, housing, language, schools, employment. During the influx of Russian Jewish emigres, particularly during the 1970's to 1990's, absorption services in North America were provided by a combination of local agencies and community volunteers.

A person who engages in activism—the practice of taking direct action to achieve political or social goals. The grassroots activists of the Soviet Jewry movement were individuals who were personally moved by the movement's goals, devoting anything from occasional to full time volunteer efforts to the cause.

A technique used by Soviet Jewry advocacy groups to support particular refuseniks and Prisoners of Conscience by highlighting their cases and to gain media and political attention in the West. Similarly, the adoption model was used by community groups and synagogues, as part of the community absorption process for Soviet Jewish emigres arriving in North America.

The immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel in Hebrew). Also defined as "the act of going up"—that is, towards Jerusalem—"making Aliyah" by moving to the Land of Israel; one of the basic tenets of Zionism.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Twinning
A project from the mid-1970's through the 1980's in which North American children observing a bar / bat mitzvah could pair with a refusenik child in the Soviet Union. Twinning gave the North American-based participants a personal connection to a similarly-aged child in the USSR who was denied the right to live a Jewish life. The project also produced publicity for the plight of the child and their family and promoted the Soviet Jewry movement.

The Commonwealth of Independent States was formed following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 as a regional intergovernmental organization. Former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania chose not to participate. Subsequently Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2018) ended their participation.

Emigre / Emigrant
A person who has emigrated. One who has left one's home for another country often as the result of political issues.

The Evil Empire
A famous description of the USSR made by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in a March 8, 1983 speech at the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida.

The Russian word for Jew, Evrei, was stamped on the internal passport of all citizens of the Soviet Union.

Exit Visa
Under Soviet law, no person living in the Soviet Union could depart from the country without the permission of the Soviet Government in the form of an exit visa.

Abbreviation for “Former Soviet Union,” which refers to the area that used to compose the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991.

Collective action at the local level to affect change. Beginning in 1963 the Soviet Jewry movement in North America was started by concerned individuals, first in Cleveland and then in NYC, at a time when the established Jewish organizations did little. These grassroots efforts spread and grew for the next 30 years as more and more grassroots groups continued to impact public and political advocacy for Soviet Jews.

The Gulag was an acronym (Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei or Main Camp Administration) for the system of slave labor camps maintained in the Soviet Union starting in 1930 in which millions of people died. The Gulag continued until at least 1987, when Gorbachev began closing PERM and other camps.

Helsinki Accords
A major diplomatic agreement (1975) to which the Soviet Union, European countries, USA, and Canada agreed. Principles included "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief."

H.R. 14806
The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ), in 1971, initiated the first attempt to implement U.S. legislation that would entail economic sanctions against countries that restrict freedom of emigration. House Bill 14806 was introduced by Tom Rees (D-CA) in May 1972. Citing a preference for "quiet negotiations," the National Conference on Soviet Jewry came out against the bill. Despite efforts by the UCSJ, the damage was done, and the bill went down two votes short of approval. But a precedent was set by the UCSJ in working with Congress for freedom of emigration legislation.

Human Rights
The idea that “the inherent dignity and…the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” as stated in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.

Internal Passport
All Soviet citizens carried an internal passport. The 5th line of the passport showed “nationality” such as Russian, Uzbeki, Ukrainian. For Jews, no matter which Soviet republic they lived in, they were labeled Evrei (Jews), which usually led to discrimination and exclusion from elite schools and jobs.

A Russian tour operator, headquartered in Moscow, Intourist was founded on April 12, 1929, and served as the primary travel service for foreign tourists in the Soviet Union. Foreign visitors were not permitted to move around the country on their own.

Iron Curtain
The barrier -- political, military, and ideological -- erected by the Soviet Union after World War II to seal off itself and its dependent eastern and central European allies from open contact with the West and other noncommunist areas.

Jackson-Vanik Amendment
An amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, sponsored by Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) and Rep. Charles Vanik (D-OH), intended to affect U.S. trade relations with countries with non-market economies (originally, countries of the Communist bloc) that restrict freedom of Jewish emigration and other human rights.

The Soviet Secret Police; Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti or Committee for State Security. The KGB’s duties included foreign intelligence, domestic security, the protection of the country’s political leadership, the supervision of border troops, and the general surveillance of the population.

Matzah of Hope
During the 1970's and 1980's people in the West were encouraged to add a fourth piece of matzah to the three required for the Passover seder. Called the Matzah of Hope, it symbolized the Jews of the Soviet Union who had no freedom to be Jews.

Russian term, synonym of refusenik, an individual “refused” permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

Overseas Operator
During the period of the Soviet Jewry movement (1963-1991) direct dial phone calls to the Soviet Union were not possible. Instead, a call initiated in North America to a refusenik in the Soviet Union needed the assistance of two overseas operations – one based in North America and a second based in the USSR.

The passport and visa subdivision of the Soviet Ministry of the Internal Affairs. This is the Soviet government department to which one would apply for permission to emigrate.

Term used for initiatives designed to create personal connections between individuals and groups in the West and individual Jewish refuseniks and prisoners in the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the Soviet Jewry movement, North Americans had no knowledge of or connection to their compatriots behind the Iron Curtain, complicated by the existing communication barriers that prohibited or limited connections via postal mail, phone, or personal visits. In response, many People-to-People programs and initiatives were developed by UCSJ councils and became mainstream advocacy techniques. Grassroots Soviet Jewry organizations pioneered these methods and programs, often with the opposition of Jewish establishment organizations that in later years adopted similar techniques. Beginning in the mid-1960’s and accelerating in the 70’s and 80’s, focus increased to maintain contact with refuseniks via phone calls, letters and packages, and visits by Westerners who had received briefings to maximize their effectiveness. 

Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Politburo was the highest policy-making authority within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The newspaper that was the official organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1991, Pravda is Russian for “truth”.  After the collapse of the USSR, numerous publications and websites continued under the Pravda name.

Prisoner of Conscience, Prisoner of Zion
A Soviet Jew who was imprisoned for activities that the USSR deemed to be illegal such as teaching Hebrew or requesting a visa to emigrate to Israel. In Hebrew - Asir Zion.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion is a fabricated anti-Semitic text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. This vicious hoax was published in Russia in the early 1900’s, during times of terrible pogroms that were directed against Jews in Russia.

A term used in the West, coined by British grassroots activist Michael Sherbourne, for Soviet Jews who were denied permission to emigrate by Soviet authorities. Refusenik was derived from the "refusal" handed down to a prospective emigrant from the Soviet authorities.

A system in the Soviet Union and countries within its orbit by which government-suppressed literature was clandestinely printed and distributed. Samizdat also refers to a work or periodical circulated by this system.

Soviet Union
Officially known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Founded 1922, dissolved 1991. In its final years it consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics (S.S.R.’s) and was by land area the world’s largest country.

TASS, acronym for Telegrafnoye Agentsvo Sovyetskovo Soyuza, was the news agency of the former Soviet Union. Controlling the distribution of foreign news in the USSR, it was also a producer of domestic news and a key instrument for conveying information and propaganda from the Soviet government to foreign governments and populations. After 1991 it became ITAR-TASS, the central information distributor of the Russian Federation.

Tourist Briefing
Individuals traveling from the Western Bloc to the Soviet Union (late 1960's to 1991) were encouraged to visit Soviet Jewish refuseniks, providing an important communications and support network. Travelers were briefed by western Soviet Jewry activists prior to departure and debriefed after their return. The flow of information and materials in both directions was an invaluable asset to both sides of the Movement.

A group or movement organized secretly to work against or despite an existing regime. During the Soviet Jews’ multi-decade struggle for rights in the Soviet Union, underground activities that were considered illegal under Soviet law, were organized. These included Hebrew classes, Jewish study, and professional seminars after refuseniks were denied employment. Soviet Jewry activists in the West provided support with educational materials and visits by individuals who could provide professional assistance and lecture.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
A milestone document in the history of human rights, it was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The Declaration set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.

See “Soviet Union”.

The West
Term used for the countries of the Western Bloc.

Western Bloc
A coalition of countries that were officially allied with the United States during the Cold War of 1947–1991.

Zionism‎ (after Zion) is an ideology movement that espouses the re-establishment of and support for a Jewish state in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel.

  • Glossary

  • Other Grassroots Organizations

  • Student Struggle

  • Union of Councils

  • Publications