A voluntary, not-for-profit agency created in 1971, NCSJ was originally called the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. When the Soviet Union dismantled in 1992, it was imperative to rethink NCSJ's mission, goals and name. Between that time until 2009, NCSJ was called Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia. Once again, it became important to clarify the organization's name to best represent its mission and the region's political, economic and cultural climate.
In December 2013, the Executive Committee voted to change the organization's name to the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, NCSEJ. The name change reflects its ongoing mission and the years of steadily developing relationship with government and Jewish leadership in the countries of Eastern and central Europe.
NCSEJ has served as the mandated central coordinating agency of the organized Jewish community for policy and activities on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in the former Soviet Union. NCSEJ comprises nearly 50 national organizations and over 300 local federations, community councils and committees. Through this extensive network, NCSEJ mobilizes the resources, energies and talents of millions of U.S. citizens, and also represents the American Jewish community in dealings with similar national groups abroad, and at international forums.
NCSEJ also works closely and cooperatively with all branches of government, particularly the White House, Department of State, Congress and the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) in order to further our goals. For years, Operation Lifeline, which was quietly operated by NCSEJ, provided a continuing flow of materials, kosher food, and religious and cultural objects to Soviet Jews.
NCSEJ's headquarters in Washington, DC, is staffed by specialists in international relations, policy research, communications, and community organization. Public involvement is furthered through the holding of annual leadership assemblies, which bring our constituents together with experts in government and the academic community for the evaluation of up-to-date information and formulation of appropriate strategy, and through public manifestations, regional conferences, national seminars and special events.
In order to effectively fulfill its mandate, NCSEJ seeks the widest participation possible in our activities by private citizens and public officials, whose concerns on behalf of Jews in the successor states have been and are heard by the U.S. Government and by officials of the former Soviet states. The broad-based Executive Committee and Board of Governors ensure that American Jewry is represented in NCSEJ's work. NCSEJ maintains broad contacts with Jewish organizations and activists in the FSU region in order to keep abreast of developments affecting the Jewish population and to help coordinate American support in appropriate ways for the rebuilding of Jewish communal life.
As NCSEJ carries out its mandate on behalf of the Jewish community in the former Soviet Union - the world's third-largest - we are very much aware that the nature of our advocacy in this period of rapid and dramatic change throughout the former Soviet Union will impact not only the future of Jews in the region, but that of world Jewry, well into the 21st century.
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 Mikail 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 that 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 day schools. The Va'ad, an umbrella confederation of many independent Jewish organizations was created. In addition, regional umbrella groups developed in several of the newly independent states.