Dec. 7, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, lives in infamy. But Dec. 6, 1987 lives on, now having as glorious an afterlife as any of us could have imagined back on that bitterly cold day Sunday afternoon when 250,000 of us, from across the American continent, gathered in Washington, D.C., to rally and demand freedom for Soviet Jewry.
As we are about to mark the 25th anniversary on Dec. 6 of the historic march on Washington by an estimated 250,000 people on behalf of Soviet Jewry, I believe the time has come to establish a day of commemoration to be included on the U.S. Jewish communal agenda, memorializing one of the great redemptions of Jewish history, which we were privileged to witness in our time.
Imagine more than a quarter-million American Jews — Democrats and Republicans, observant and secular, and individuals representing the entire spectrum of Israeli politics — gathering at one time, in one place, with a single unified message on behalf of fellow Jews, in the name of the universal principle of freedom.
If you are older than 40, and were connected in any way to the Jewish community in 1987, chances are you don’t have to imagine. You can remember.
In the spring of 1979, at the height of the struggle to free Soviet Jewry, my wife Robin and I were among many volunteers who traveled to the Soviet Union for the express purpose of aiding and abetting the efforts of Zionist refuseniks.
The Soviet Jewry movement was in the news over the weekend because of Henry Kissinger's astoundingly offensive statement to former President Richard Nixon that “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.” Thirty-six years after he resigned in disgrace, we're still learning just how anti-Semitic – and how bigoted toward just about every other minority – Nixon and his cronies really were.
But in Washington there was another reason to remember that unique moment in Jewish history.