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 bloc 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 bilateral 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.
1987: NCSJ Israel seminar on Soviet Jewry
1974: The Greater New York Coalition for Soviet Jewry leads a hunger strike on the fourth anniversary of the Leningrad Trial
1979: Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA), second from left, at a Solidarity Day rally in New York City
1973: Singing Israel's national anthem at the Freedom Rally for Israel at the City Hall in New York City
1984: Rally, South Florida Conference on Soviet Jewry, Greater Miami Jewish Federation Community Relations Committee
1974: Rallying outside the Soviet Mission to the United Nations, in New York City
Annual Sunday solidarity rally in New York City