180,000 People March in Solidarity with Soviet Jewry
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180,000 People March in Solidarity with Soviet Jewry

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With Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union having declined to the lowest level in three years and with a marked increase in Soviet government harassment and intimidation of Soviet Jews, tens of thousands of persons rallied today in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the United Nations to demonstrate support and solidarity with Soviet Jewry.

Under overcast skies, interspersed with light rain and rays of sunshine, they gathered for the 12th annual Solidarity Sunday for Soviet Jewry and heard government officials and other local dignitaries stress the need for continued vigilence and action to secure the release of Soviet Jewish Prisoners of Conscience and refuseniks such as Anatoly Shcharansky and Yosif Begun.

The rally, which drew an estimated crowd of 180,000 and said by its organizers to be the largest human rights rally to be held anywhere, was preceded as in past years with a one-mile march along Fifth Avenue. The march this year was led by a group of some 20 runners who carried the “Torch of Freedom” to the rallying site.


Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said that the fact that the Soviet government “systematically violates ” human rights in clear violation to the many international treaties on human rights, including the Helsinki accords, indicates that the Soviet Union “treats international obligations with contempt. “

Noting that the Soviet Union is a signator of the Helsinki agreement which allows for free emigration, Kirkpatrick said that Soviet Jews, beyond being denied emigration visas, “are persecuted, harassed, reviled, expelled from universities” and banned from employment. She also pointed out recent anti-Semitic tracts in Soviet publications and the formation of the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Republic.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Yehuda Blum, pointing out that the status of Soviet Jews has considerably deteriorated in the past three years, said Soviet Jews are denied the basic right to emigrate to Israel while others are jailed for seeking to identify with Jewish culture and heritage. He said this was a manifestation of the “most virulent anti-Semitism ” which amounted to Soviet efforts of Jewish “cultural genocide. “


President Reagan, in a message to the gathering praising the efforts of Americans involved in the Soviet Jewry movement, said: “You have shown beyond any shadow of a doubt that Soviet Jews enjoy widespread, grassroots support in this country, support which the Soviet Union ignores. I promise you that this Administration will continue to work with you and use every means at its disposal to bring about our common goal: liberty and religious freedom for Soviet Jews. “

Mayor Edward Koch called on the Reagan Administration to place the issue of Soviet Jewish emigration “at the top of the negotiating list, ” along with negotiations on grain shipments and the deployment of Pershing missiles in Western Europe. “We can demand specific conditions and restrictions to be placed upon trade with the Soviet Union not just rhetoric,” Koch declared to thunderous applause.

Avital Shcharansky, wife of Soviet Prisoner of Conscience Anatoly Shcharansky who is currently serving his sixth year of a 12-year sentence, noted there has been increased attacks on Jewish culture and history in the Soviet media. She was greeted with a tremendous ovation from the audience, and wiped back tears as the crowd chanted, “Free Shcharansky Now. “


Dr. Seymour Lachman, chairman of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry, organizers of the annual rally, said: “This year, the emigration figures themselves constitute the most powerful and eloquent statement about the suffering of Soviet Jews. During all of 1982, only 2,688 Jews were allowed to leave the Soviet Union. During the first five months of 1983, the numbers have been even more shocking; only 484 Jews have been permitted to leave. The enormity of the crisis facing Soviet Jewry becomes clear if you compare these recent figures with the emigration figures for 1979, when more than 50,000 Jews left the Soviet Union.”

Ten-year-old Joy Blechner of the Lake Success Jewish Center, N.Y. represented the Youth Appeal for Anatoly Shcharansky. Standing atop a chair so she could reach the microphone, she called on here peers to add their names to the Youth Appeal petitions which demand Shcharansky’s release. The students of the Youth Appeal hope to collect 1,000,000 signatures by mid-June.

As the marchers paraded down Fifth Avenue, many carried placards, some of which said: “Open the gates;” “Speak out now for those who can’t;” “Help our people’s fate and let them emigrate; ” “If the Soviet state makes nobody grieve… why the hell can nobody leave;” and “Pres. Reagan, please help Soviet Jews emigrate now. ” Many chanted in unison, “1,2, 3, 4, open up the iron door, 5, 6, 7, 8, Let our people emigrate. “

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