Voices of the Vigil

We had one vision we all had to realize. And we did.Stuart Kurlander, President, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, quoted in The Washington Post, December 2012

There was often tension at the national level between established Jewish organizations and grassroots Soviet Jewry activists. Although the groups were sometimes divided on tactics, all had the same ultimate goal: liberating Soviet Jews.

Two primary groups in Washington worked on the Soviet Jewry issue:

The Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry (WCSJ), a grassroots organization formed in 1968, grew to 5,000 individual members at its height. WCSJ had two primary goals: helping Jews emigrate from the Soviet Union, and activating the Washington community on behalf of Soviet Jewry. WCSJ was one of the earliest members of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

The Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, composed of over 100 local constituent organizations, established a Soviet Jewry Committee in 1969. It drew on the Council’s professional staff and organizational networks to coordinate activities, and worked with the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (now the Jewish Council for Public Affairs).

Numerous synagogues, fraternal and community organizations participated in Soviet Jewry activities.

The WCSJ and the Jewish Community Council were each connected with national organizations:

The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) formed in 1970 as an umbrella organization of grassroots Soviet Jewry organizations around the country. UCSJ pioneered the first person-to-person programs with Soviet Jews, and was involved with contacting and locating refuseniks and coordinating relief for their cases.

The National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), formerly known as the American Jewry Conference on Soviet Jewry, became the largest Soviet Jewry advocacy organization. It coordinated Soviet Jewry policies and events for national Jewish organizations and community groups.

Created by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum

  • Sidney J. Silver, President
  • Laura Cohen Apelbaum, Executive Director
  • Wendy Turman, Curator/Archivist
  • Claire Uziel, Assistant Archivist

Community Advisory Committee

  • Norman Goldstein, Chair
  • Joan Dodek
  • Daniel Mann
  • Jack Minker
  • Bert Silver
  • Marcia Weinberg

Exhibition Design

  • Krohn Design

Exhibition Fabrication

  • Capitol Exhibit Services, Inc.


  • Sharon Barry

Academic Advisor

  • Dr. Fred Lazin
  • Visiting Scholar, Taub Center for Israel Studies, NYU
  • Hurst Family Professor of Local Government (Emeritus), Ben Gurion University, Israel

Support for the Voices of the Vigil exhibition and Soviet Jewry Project was provided by:

Major Benefactors

  • Rhonda & Robert Zahler


  • Eugenia & Dr. Michael Brin
  • Dede & Kenneth Feinberg
  • Israel Family Foundation
  • Washington Hebrew Congregation
  • Wayne Goldstein Memorial Foundation


  • Jane & Herbert Beller
  • The Samuel Burtoff, M.D. Foundation
  • Dorothy & Jerry Canter
  • Faye F. Cohen
  • Ryna Cohen
  • Joan & Oscar Dodek
  • Tamara & Boris Feldblyum
  • Jerold L. Jacobs and Ira Bartfield on behalf of B’nai B’rith Chesapeake Bay Region
  • Shirley Landwirth
  • Elaine & Daniel Mann
  • June & Marvin Rogul
  • Sulica Fund
  • Diane Abelman Wattenberg
  • American Jewish Committee, Washington Regional Office
  • Humanities Council of Washington, DC
  • Jewish Community Relations Council
  • Luther Place Memorial Church


  • Susan Bales & Dr. Michael L. Goldstein
  • Sally & Sanders H. Berk, M.D.
  • Steve Blacher
  • Meg & Sam Flax
  • Joanne & Norman Goldstein
  • Laura Loeb & Howard Morse
  • Phyllis & Philip Margolius
  • Linda Schwartz & Alvin Dodek
  • Rabbi Sid Schwarz
  • Nancy & Bert Silver
  • Merna Wagshal Stern & Mel Stern
  • Marcia Weinberg
  • Liliane Willens
  • Adas Israel Congregation
  • Agudas Achim Congregation
  • B’nai Israel Congregation
  • Congregation Beth El
  • NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia
  • Ohr Kodesh Congregation
  • Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
  • Temple Beth Ami
  • Temple Rodef Shalom
  • Tifereth Israel Congregation


  • Laura & Perry Apelbaum
  • Adam Elster
  • Tracey & Patrick Gallagher
  • Dene & Mel Garbow
  • Steven N. Gell
  • Maryla Korn and Family
  • Johanna & Jack Minker
  • Brenda & Paul Pascal
  • Sheri & Richard Pascal
  • Riderwood Jewish Community
  • Rabbi Sid Schwarz
  • Shirley & Jack Serber
  • Peggy & Sidney Silver
  • Hadassah Thursz
  • Mary Ann Winter & Josef Osterweil


Ameinu Washington-Baltimore Chapter, Bet Mishpachah, Sharon Burka, Linda Causey, Congregation Har Shalom, Paula Goldman, Trenice D. Goldstein, Ella Kagan, Nathan Lewin, NA’AMAT Greater Washington Council, Rabbi Mindy Portnoy, Judy & Russell Smith, Donna & Stan Stoller, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Jennifer & Jonathan Weinberg

And other supporters: Neale Ainsfield, Elaine Amir, Les Bergen, Inna & Lev Goldfarb, Betty Miller, Jonathan Skolnik, John Tolleris, Geraldyne & Jeffrey Weiser, Mendelle T. Woodley, Paul Wright

Many thanks to those who supported the exhibition with their time, knowledge, and expertise:

Sara Apelbaum, Samantha Bass, Phoebe Coleman, Mary Ann Dawedeit, Dr. Shulamith Elster, Amy Federman, Elsie Klumpner, Merrill Lavine, Zachary Paul Levine, Nathan Lewin, David McKenzie, Dr. Peggy Pearlstein, June Rogul, Josh Schooler, Samuel Sislen

We are especially grateful to all those who donated materials to the JHSGW Soviet Jewry Archives: Avrum Ashery, Rabbi Marvin Bash, Herbert Beller, Moshe Brodetzky, Dr. Jack Cohen, Joan & Oscar Dodek, Shulamith & Sheldon Elster, Dene Garbow, Steven N. Gell, Marcia Goldberg, Norman Goldstein, Walter Golman, Judye Groner, Susan Banes Harris, Ida Jervis, Jewish Community Relations Council, Ella Kagan, Maryla Korn, Marjorie Kravitz, Lawrence Lewin, Dr. Jack Lowe, Sydney Manekofsky, Daniel Mann, Betty Miller, Jack Minker, Dr. Peggy Pearlstein, June Rogul, Rabbi Arnold Saltzman, Elias Savada, Diane Schilit, Rabbi Gerald Serotta, Bert Silver, Sara Rubinow Simon, Samuel Sislen, Russell Smith, Haim Solomon, Reverend John Steinbruck, Donna Stoller, Marcia Weinberg, and Liliane Willens.