NCSEJ was founded as National Conference for Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), representing a broad based coalition of Jewish organizations and agencies. It quickly became the organized American Jewish community's voice in support of Jews and Jewish concerns in the former Soviet Union. During the refusenik era, NCSJ was a lifeline to the West for Jewish activists, sending missions, supplies, religious objects and books, and rabbis prepared to reconstruct Jewish life and institutions in the Soviet state. In 1987 NCSJ co-convened the Free Soviet Jewry rally of 250,000 American Jews in Washington, DC. Against the wishes of the Nixon Administration and large business concerns, the organized American Jewish community, led by the NCSJ, fought successfully for the passage of this legislation. The Amendment to the foreign trade bill forbade “favored nation” status to any non-market country that imposed difficult conditions or otherwise limited emigration and marked the first time a trade bill included a human rights condition. Since 1975, NCSJ has participated in the Helsinki Process and remains the only official Jewish organization participating in the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The Beginning of the Free Soviet Jewry Movement (1960-1971)
The Jews in the former Soviet Union and former Eastern block countries constitute the third largest Jewish community existent in the world, and historically represent one of the most troubled ones. As the plight of the Jews in the Soviet Union worsened during the 1950s and early 1960s, Jews in the West began to react with concern. In April 1964, the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry (AJCSJ) was founded to spearhead a national campaign on behalf of Soviet Jewry. The AJCSJ established contact with the US Government, seeking to make the issue of Soviet Jewry an item on the bilateral agenda between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Rise of Advocacy (1971-1984)
Beginning in the 1970s, the international Jewish community, including the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) -- which replaced the AJCSJ in 1971 -- redoubled its efforts on behalf of their brethren in the Soviet Union. Although Jewish emigration increased in the years 1971-1973, during the late 1970s there were new prosecutions of visible Jewish activists such as Natan Sharansky, Yosef Begun, the Slepaks, and Ida Nudel, and the interrogation and arrests of countless others.
Western advocates reacted to the increase in persecutions and the downward trend in emigration between 1971-1984 with increasing urgency. NCSJ co-convened a demonstration on the mall in Washington in December of 1987, in which an estimated 250,000 people participated. The demonstration was a show of strength and unity intended to exercise pressure on President Reagan at the opening of a bi-lateral summit with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
Glasnost and Perestroika (1985-1991)
Emigration increased substantially, reaching a level of more than 185,000 in 1990 and continuing at over 100,000 through 1994, the vast majority of whom immigrated to Israel. Following a coup attempt in August 1991, the USSR formally dissolved into separate independent countries at the end of December 1991.
During the period there was a reawakening of Jewish religious and cultural life, as the Jews of the Soviet Union began to search for their roots and identity. More than 400 independent Jewish cultural organizations were established, and over 30 Jewish organizations were created. In addition, regional umbrella groups developed in several of the newly independent states.
To empower and ensure the security of Jews in the fifteen independent states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe;
To foster cooperation among the U.S. government, U.S. Jewish organizations, and the Jewish communities and governments of the region;
To facilitate international Jewish organizations’ access to Jewish communities;
To represent the organized U.S. Jewish community, including the Jewish Federations of North America and its member Federations;
To collaborate with other organizations for the provision of humanitarian aid, social services, and educational/communal development assistance throughout the region.
NCSEJ has taken an active role in the region since 1971, playing an important part in the rebirth of Jewish consciousness during the final decades of the Soviet era. Today, NCSEJ’s central role in the growth of new, post-Communist Jewish institutions makes it a respected leader in all aspects of Jewish communal life, in Jewish relationships with the independent states of the region, and in relations between the countries of the region and the United States.
In the U.S., NCSEJ collaborates with national agencies, Federations, and representatives from Jewish organizations working on behalf of the more 1.5 million Jews that live in the post-Communist countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. NCSEJ and its partner organizations maintain close relationships with key government officials throughout the region, Israel, and the United States.
NCSEJ sponsors missions and maintains networks of communication through its elected Board of Governors, whose members represent a wide array of Jewish organizations from the United States and the region.
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