By Plane, by Train, by Automobile: 100,000 Could Attend Summit Rally
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By Plane, by Train, by Automobile: 100,000 Could Attend Summit Rally

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No one is giving exact figures, but if current travel plans pan out, as many as 100,000 demonstrators will descend on Washington Dec. 6 for “Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jews.”

That figure includes Jews arriving on some 60 airline flights, many of them chartered for the day; thousands of buses; and from parts of the country as far away as Seattle, Wash. and with Jewish communities as small as that of Duluth, Minn.

Organizers of the mobilization, who include members from most of the major national Jewish organizations in North America, are already saying it will be the largest demonstration for Jewish causes ever held in the nation’s capital.

It is certainly this year’s most galvanizing event in organized, North American Jewish life, with communities canceling and rescheduling events planned months ago for next Sunday.

The United Jewish Appeal, for instance, has moved its National Campaign Cabinet meeting from New York to Washington so that UJA leaders can participate in the demonstration.

And in Boston, the Jewish community has canceled its Super Sunday fund-raising event and plans to turn out at least 1,000 people for the Washington rally. Demonstrators will travel by train, aboard two chartered planes and on at least 20 buses. Hillel groups on area campuses are busy signing up students for the trip. The event has “really struck at young people’s hearts,” said Philip Perlmutter, executive director of the JCRC of Greater Boston.


In Kansas City, Mo., 300 people are already signed up for spots on three chartered planes. On Monday, Natan Sharansky spoke at a rally there that kicked off a week of activity, including noon-hour vigils and a Soviet Jewry Shabbat. According to Judy Hellman, associate director of Kansas City’s Campaign to the Summit committee, Jewish delegates will be joined by non-Jewish students from Corning, Iowa; two student representatives elected by the William Jewel Baptist College in Liberty, Mo.; and leaders of three farming associations in Missouri and Kansas.

San Francisco is also planning a week of activities, in addition to sending a delegation to the rally. The first will be a vigil in Union Square on Dec. 6, according to Ruthellen Harris and Dan Hoffman, co-chairs of the Bay Area Summit Task Force.

Twenty people will travel the 3,000 miles from Washington state to Washington, D.C., according to July Balint, chairperson of the Seattle Action for Soviet Jewry. And the Duluth delegation will number 11, according to Gloria Vipullo, administrator of the Jewish Federation and Community Council there.

Foreign participants are expected from Israel, the Netherlands, Mexico, Great Britain, France and other countries. Chartered flights will leave Montreal and Toronto for Washington, and seats have already been reserved by people in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Saskatchewan. The Canadian Jewish Congress estimates that 500 Canadians will make the trip.

But while the representation of small and distant communities attests to the excitement generated by the event, mobilization organizers are depending on the Northeast corridor for sheer numbers.


The UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York has allocated $1 million to produce attendance. At least four planes will be chartered and hundreds of seats have been reserved on commercial flights. Five-hundred buses will make the trip. The Coalition to Free Soviet Jews has set up a special hot line for bus information in the New York area: (800) 328-5727, ex. 20.

New Jersey’s Jewish communities will send at least 200 buses, and a freedom Train will leave Newark with 1,500 people, including New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Baltimore has chartered 135 buses, and Philadelphia has reserved at least that many. Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode has declared Dec. 6 “Summit Sunday” in the city. “We hope to get 10,000 people,” said Marian Levine, director for Soviet Jewry at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia.

In Washington, the Board of Rabbis has announced a goal of turning out 50 percent of its congregational membership, which could yield as many as 15,000 people.

It also falls on the Washington community to accommodate the day’s thousands of visitors. According to Jerry Strober, spokesman for the Campaign to the Summit committee, shuttle buses will serve Washington’s three airports and Amtrak’s Union Station. The committee is also creating the battle plan that will enable hundreds of arriving buses to discharge passengers at the Ellipse Sunday morning, and pick them up again near the Mall late that afternoon.

If all goes according to plans, a one-mile march will begin at the Ellipse at 1 p.m. and proceed down Constitution Avenue. At 2 p.m., a rally will begin in the area of the Mall.


Five former prisoners of conscience will appear at the rally: Yuli Edelshtein, Ida Nudel, Vladimir Slepak, Sharansky, and Mikhail Kholmiansky. Joining them will be Vice President George Bush, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Israel Ambassador Moshe Arad, and Helen Jackson, widow of the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson and a founder of Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry.

Also speaking will be Morris Abram, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; Rev. Arie Brouwer, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; and Bishop William Keeler, representing the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The organizing committee has declined to estimate how many will attend. But it is certain it will surpass the crowd of 12,000 who gathered in Washington for the June 1973 visit of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, while falling somewhat short of the 300,000 who attended last year’s Solidarity Sunday for Soviet Jewry in New York and heard an address by the recently free Sharansky.


While there is some debate in the Jewish community about the goals of the event, only one major Jewish group has openly come out against it, while a second, smaller group is planning an alternative demonstration near the Soviet Embassy in Washington.

The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada is urging Jews not to take part in the demonstration or support it, quoting the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who felt mass demonstrations could only arouse the anger of the Soviet authorities.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Center for Soviet Jewry will stage its sit-in at the Soviet Embassy in order to “intensify the tone of the rally,” as its leader, Rabbi Avi Weiss, told the Washington Post.

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