Jewish Journal

Chronicling the fight for Soviet Jewry

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 14, 2010 | 8:43 pm

Gal Beckerman on the Fight to Save Soviet Jewry from Jewish Forward on Vimeo.

I was hoping to have given Gal Beckerman’s new book more of a read before writing this post. But the book didn’t arrive until Thursday and it’s been a busy weekend. I can tell you that two of my favorite Jewish authors and the preeminent American Jewish historian wrote quite the jacket blurbs.

The book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone,” is about the fight for Soviet Jewry. And here is what Forward alum and The Atlantic all-star Jeffrey Goldberg had to say:

“Gal Beckerman has written the definitive account of what might be the most successful human rights campaign of our time. ... The movement to free Soviet Jewry will be studied for years to come as a model of non-violent civil disobedience, and Gal Beckerman’s book will be read years from now as the masterwork on the subject.”

Granted, it’s a jacket blurb and you never know whether the folks who write those actually read the book. But Goldberg is a boss, so I’m willing to take his word for it. “When They Come for Us” has been getting kind treatment in more neutral places too—The New Republic, The New Yorker, Tablet—and being discussed elsewhere.

Here, in a conversation with himself, Beckerman says the Soviet Jewry movement still matter today:

Many people look back to the Soviet Jewry movement with nostalgia as the last time that the American Jewish community was so united. Israel, ever since the Six Day War, has been too divisive to serve the same purpose. So there are lessons to be gained by looking at how the movement managed to bring together disparate forces of right and left. Saving Soviet Jews appealed to the most tribal instincts of Jews, but in responding to those instincts, it also linked up with larger, more basic human values of freedom. It’s hard to fathom this confluence today when human rights is consistently used to make an argument against the Jewish state. Nowadays there are many in the Jewish community who perceive these forces – the universal and particular – as somehow irreconcilable. But this story disproves that. The community was undeniably stronger when it was able to fight for a cause that had most of humanity on its side.

If you’re in Los Angeles, you can actually see Beckerman speaking with someone else Monday night. That someone being LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who as a young man was a leader in the American movement. They’ll be talking and Beckerman will be signing his book at American Jewish University. Check them out.

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