1976

HIAS

HIAS, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JCD), the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and other American Jewish agencies join the Jewish Agency for Israel on a special committee to discuss the issue of Soviet Jews with Israeli visas who, upon arriving in Vienna, indicate their desire to go to countries other than Israel.

HIAS establishes a Letter of Invitation Unit to facilitate the preparation of letters of invitation from American Jews to their relatives in the Soviet Union.

SOVIET UNION

Beginning in May, the first Helsinki monitoring groups are established in Moscow and other Soviet cities. Founding members of the Moscow group, which monitors Soviet compliance with the Helsinki declaration of 1975, include Yury Orlov, Andrei Sakharov, Ludmila Alexeeva, Mikhail Bernshtam, Elena Bonner, Alexander Ginzburg, Pyotr Grigorenko, Alexander Korchak, Malva Landa, Anatoly Marchenko, Gregory Rosenstein, Vitaly Rubin and Anatoly Shcharansky.

U.S./WORLD

As larger numbers of Soviet Jews begin to arrive in the U.S., the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America calls on all synagogues to invite recent immigrants to High Holiday services. Other organizations begin programs to introduce Soviet Jews to Jewish observance and ritual. At the third annual Passover walkathon for Soviet Jewry in Brooklyn, sponsored by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, several teenagers wear black-and-white-striped prison uniforms to show their solidarity with refuseniks.

STATISTICS

  • Jewish emigrants from the USSR: 14,261
  • Soviet Jewish immigrants to US: 5,512
  • Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel: 7,250

Looking Back

While much of the earlier wave of emigrants consisted of religious Jews and Zionist activists from outside Russia and Ukraine, beginning in the mid-1970s the balance shifts and the vast majority of emigrants come from large cities, such as Moscow, Odessa, Leningrad and Kyiv. Many of these emigrants are assimilated Jews, motivated less by Zionism than the desire to escape discrimination and seek greater freedom.

Almost as many Jews leaving the Soviet Union now choose to go to the U.S. as to Israel. The Soviet policy of issuing exit visas only to those with Israeli invitations, coupled with America’s low quota for immigration from the Soviet Union and its requirement that those who wish to enter the U.S. as “refugees” must apply from outside their countries of origin, mean that virtually all Soviet Jewish emigrants are forced to declare Israel as their destination even if they prefer to settle elsewhere.

HIAS’ newly-established Letter of Invitation Unit assists with preparation of letters of invitation from American Jews to their relatives in the Soviet Union. In the past, the Soviet Union has allowed some Jews without Israeli visas to leave in order to be reunited with relatives in other countries. Letters of invitation from the U.S. provide the possibility that prospective emigrants can declare the U.S. as their destination while still in the USSR, rather than having to wait until their arrival in Vienna.

Twelve refuseniks submit a collective request to OVIR, the government agency in charge of reviewing emigration applications, demanding that it abide by its own rules for rejecting requests for exit visas. Such rules include specifying in writing the cause for denying an exit visa and the time period during which emigration is prohibited. Forty- five refuseniks make similar demands at a sit-in at the offices of the Supreme Soviet.