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).