Rabbis Respond Piece 1987 Soviet Jewry March

Question: Are We One People?

In 1987, 500,000 Jews marched on Washington to protest the treatment of Soviet Jews. Nearly 20 years later, it is hard to think of any issue that would galvanize so many of our people.
What unites the Jewish people today? Is our disunity irreversible? How do we get back what we lost in the ‘80s?

My Answer:

Whenever I hear of a political event (or even a large free concert), I always compare it to the 1987 Soviet Jewry March. It was both the first such event I ever attended and by far the largest.

When playing Jewish geography (I mean meeting a Jew), I use it to gauge their involvement. So many actively involved Jews attended (at least on the East Coast, but I know people came from the rest of the country as well) attended, that it is almost universal in active Jewish circles.
All other similar marches have paled in comparison, but I am not sure the cause is a demise of Jewish unity. Jews have never been united. We differ in culture/country of origin, observance level, and (although it is rarely discussed) socio-economic background.

The Soviet Jewry March occurred at the last stages of the Cold War. America came together to fight the Evil Empire and American Jews came together to free its Jews. While the cause was important, I believe the turnout was artificially high due to the Cold War undertones.

Another factor that prevents similar turnout is the large political divide in America. The divide between "Right" and "Left" has grown in our society--and in the American Jewish community as well. Jewish Theological Seminary Provost Jack Wertheimer teaches "American Jews are like the rest of Americans only moreso." We fought for Soviet Jewry with the enthusiasm of Cold War warriors and we now disagree with each other with the enthusiasm of a divided America.

Rabbi Bruce

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