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Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry

The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) was a national, grassroots student organization formed in 1964 to oppose the persecution of Soviet Jews and promote their right to emigrate from the Soviet Union. The group became a major force in the movement on behalf of the Jewish community of the USSR. 

Founded by Jacob Birnbaum, the SSSJ’s work combined imaginative demonstrations, information dissemination and Congressional lobbying to generate public pressure in support of emigration for Soviet Jews and the release of Prisoners of Conscience. As part of the North American grassroots efforts, SSSJ became a unifying factor among various parts of the Jewish community and continually challenged Jewish establishment organizations and leaders to act with greater vigor.

The SSSJ’s first public demonstration in 1964 brought over 1,000 students to the Soviet Union’s Mission to the United Nations. Within months, SSSJ drew political figures to its rallies. “Am Yisrael Chai” composed by singer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach for the SSSJ, became the signature song of the Soviet Jewry freedom movement both in the West and in the Soviet Union.

With their headquarters in New York City, the SSSJ had, at various times, eight affiliate chapters in North America. SSSJ differed from many other Soviet Jewry advocacy groups in that its leadership drew from young activists including high school and college students, rabbinic students and young rabbis. An adult organizational arm, the Center for Russian Jewry, was founded in 1966.

Highlights of the SSSJ’s work between 1964 and 1991 include:

  • A series of campaigns beginning in the 1960’s to ignite interest in the issue and to apply pressure on Establishment Jewish organizations to act. Early protests, street activities, and educational materials evolved to marches drawing 20,000 people by the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
  • A focus on increasing the stream of information about refuseniks and Prisoners of Conscience to those in the West.
    • Building and maintaining lists of these Soviet Jews. 
    • Encouraging communication via mail and phone.
    • Facilitating personal visits by individuals in the West to the USSR including members of government. 
  • Congressional lobbying, along with the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, to first pass and then maintain the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in order to link trade credits to the USSR with freedom of emigration. Further pressure was kept on Establishment Jewish bodies to support and not abandon the Amendment.
  • In the 1980’s an increase in support for the Jewish awakening in the USSR under the banner of “Let My People Know.” This included support for and protection of self-education groups throughout the USSR, coupled with work in the U.S. with all Jewish denominational groups, Christian groups, and the State Department.

SSSJ: After 1991

After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry shifted its focus to the support of Jewish communities in the newly formed republics in Central Asia. 

SSSJ Affiliates

The SSSJ national office was located in New York City. There were eight SSSJ-affiliated chapters in North America at various periods between 1964 and 1991. 

Boulder, CO
Moscow, ID
New England (Boston)
Yale University (New Haven)
Yeshiva University (NYC)

SSSJ National Leadership: Staff

Jacob Birnbaum, Founder & National Director
Glenn Richter, National Coordinator
David Stahl, Assistant National Coordinator
Henry Gerber
Allan Miller

SSSJ National Leadership: Board Officers

Alphabetical order
(Note: This is a partial list, additional research is needed)

Paul W. Freedman, Vice-Chair
Rabbi Irving Greenberg, Vice Chair
Martin Koenig, Secretary
David Nussman, Secretary
Rabbi Shlomo RIskin, Founding Chair
Morey Schapira, Vice-Chair
Rabbi Charles Sheer, Vice Chair
Rabbi Avraham Weiss, Chair

SSSJ National Leadership: Leaders & Coordinators

Alphabetical order 
(Note: This is a partial list, additional research is needed)

Alan Alter
Stuart Apfel
Sheldon Benjamin
Alan Birnkraut
Gary Blair
Gil Bloom
Daniel Burstein
Larry Fetterman
Esther Feuerstein
Allyn Fisher
Tzvi Fishman
Israel Fridman
Sandy Frucher
Steven Garber
Robert Geffen
Hillel Goldberg
Arthur Green
Stanley Gruen
Eva Grussgott
Jeffrey Honick
Phyllis Hymoff
Abie Ingber
Karen Kahn
Andy Kane
Steven Karp
Nathan Lebwohl
Mark Levitt
Alan Meyerowitz
Joel Michaels
Allan Miller
Jeffrey Miller
Warren Moskowitz
Joshua Needelman
Dennis Prager
Amy Rosenblum
Miriam Rosenblum
Michael Sabin
David Sable
Donna Schaer
Rose Segal
Benjamin Silverberg
David Sobel
David Stahl
James Torczyner
Robert Weisz
Sanford Zwickler

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