On Sept. 28, HIAS arranges for more than 1,300 Soviet Jews to be flown to JFK International Airport in New York, the largest single-day arrival of Jewish refugees to the U.S. since the years immediately following World War II. HIAS and the JDC play an influential role in crafting the Lautenberg Amendment, a Senate bill that eases the way for historic victims of religious, racial or political persecution applying for refugee status in the U.S.
Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union sharply increases, marking the beginning of the largest wave of Jewish emigration since the 1920s.
Fifty years after its expulsion from the Soviet Union, the JDC is permitted to reestablish offices and programs there to provide aid and support to the Jewish community.
The Soviet Union withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, ending a nine-year war.
In April, Solidarity is legalized in Poland and permitted to take part in elections. In China, pro-democracy protests are brutally suppressed by the government. The most dramatic moment in the fall of communism in Europe occurs in November when the borders between East and West Germany are opened and the Berlin Wall is torn down.
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry for the first time publicly supports a waiver of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which previously denied the Soviet Union most-favored-nation trading status. The United Jewish Appeal launches the "Passage to Freedom" campaign to raise $75 million to assist in the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel and the U.S.
- Jewish emigrants from the USSR: 71,196
- Soviet Jewish immigrants to US: 36, 738
- Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel: 12,117
In March, 37.5 percent of all Soviet Jews who apply for refugee status to the U.S. are refused. In late summer, Soviet Jews in Rome stage a hunger strike and protest demonstrations. In September, U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh alleviates the crisis by announcing a reversal of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) polices. Over 95 percent of the cases of denied refugee status are overturned.
In November, the Lautenberg Amendment is passed, easing the way for those who have historically been victims of religious, racial or political persecution to apply for refugee status. Jews, Evangelical Christians, and other religious minorities in the Soviet Union are covered by this new law. Despite its original 1996 expiration date, the law is renewed on an annual basis and remains in effect into the twenty-first century.
Jewish life in the Soviet Union is freer to flourish. Almost 200 Jewish associations, clubs and cultural centers are established in Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Leningrad, Lvov, Chernovtsy, Kyiv, Kishinev, Odessa, Minsk, and other cities. In February, a Jewish cultural center named after Solomon Mikhoels, the Yiddish actor and activist, is permitted to open in Moscow. A yeshiva that is a joint project of the Aleph Society in New York and the Soviet Academy of Sciences also opens there the same month.
In December, the first national conference of Soviet Jews in more than 70 years takes place in Moscow. One hundred and seventy five Soviet Jewish organizations found the Congress of the USSR Jewish Organizations and Communities. The same month, the first International Conference on Judaica is held on the theme, “The Historical Fate of the Russian Jewry.”