January 10, 2008 – An overflow crowd attended the American Jewish Committee’s special program celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Jewry movement and the 20th anniversary of the historic Freedom Sunday Rally for Soviet Jews in Washington, D.C.
Former refuseniks, leaders of the Russian American community, and American Jewish activists long involved in the Soviet Jewry movement gathered from across the country to join in the festive evening. All of the speakers praised AJC’s critical diplomatic and advocacy work on behalf of Soviet Jews.
The event at AJC’s New York headquarters, hosted by AJC’s Russian Division, headed by Sam Kliger, a former refusenik, honored several, including:
Ed Koch received AJC’s Soviet Jewry Leadership Award for his instrumental role as a U.S. Congressman and as New York City mayor in raising awareness about the conditions of Jews in the Soviet Union and advocating for their freedom and right to emigrate.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a 13-term congressman, received AJC’s Soviet Jewry Liberty Award for his role on behalf of Soviet Jews as a member of the Helsinki Commission and a strong advocate for Soviet Jewish refuseniks. Indeed, letters from former refuseniks expressing gratitude to the congressman were read at the event.
Yuri Federov, a leading dissident who spent 15 years in the Soviet gulag, received AJC's Champion of Freedom Award for his involvement in the 1970 Leningrad hijacking attempt.
In turn, David Harris, AJC executive director, received the Russian American Jewish Community’s Ahavat Israel (“Love of Israel”) Award. Harris, a long-time Soviet Jewry activist, served as the national coordinator of the 1987 Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry rally that drew 250,000 participants and was the largest Jewish gathering in American history. He also is author of A Century of Involvement: AJC and Russian Jewry.
Many of the Russian Jews attending have participated in AJC’s Leadership Training Program, a unique outreach effort to the large community of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Graduates from New York, Boston, and Chicago were among the attendees.