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200,000 People at Solidarity Sunday for Soviet Jewry Rally; Atmosphere of Renewed but Cautious Hope

May 4, 1987
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An atmosphere of renewed but cautious hope prevailed in the annual Solidarity Sunday demonstration here where an estimated 200,000 people turned out to march for the freedom of Soviet Jewry.

Natan Sharansky, who led the massive demonstration on its march from Central Park to the United Nations with other prominent former refuseniks, Jewish leaders and Mayor Edward Kock, cautioned against false optimism.

“On this Solidarity Sunday, we confront two unmerciful enemies which threaten to destroy our Jewish solidarity,” said Sharansky, who wore a green Israeli Army cap. “Those two enemies, had they been victorious, would have sealed Soviet Jewry behind the Iron Curtain.”

The repressive dictatorial system of the Soviet Union and the feeling of despair on the part of Soviet and world Jewry are the two enemies Sharansky named. But Sharansky warned that the feeling of despair is giving way to false hopes and unwarranted optimism about the fate of Soviet Jews.


“It is the feeling of false optimism that makes us think the struggle is over before the victory is reached,” he said.

Sharansky said the false optimism is perceived by Jews in the Soviet Union as hurting their cause, and added that the recent plethora of over-optimistic reports have met with trepidation inside the Soviet Union.

“Refuseniks in Moscow are afraid that we are ready to accept the release of 12,000 Jews as the final victory They’re afraid we are ready to trade the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, the most powerful weapon that is in our hands, for some cosmetic gestures,” Sharansky said.

“Shall we stop the struggle until the last of our brothers in the Soviet Union will join us in freedom?” Sharansky asked the adoring crowd, who answered in unison, “No!”

Other speakers expressed hope stemming from the small increases in emigration figures in the last two months. Over 1,400 Jews have left since February.

In a dramatic move, Yosef Mendelevich — a former Prisoner of Conscience and one of the more radical leaders of Soviet Jewry movements in Israel — unexpectedly broke into the ceremony following Sharansky. Mendelevich shook Sharansky’s hand and stepped up to the microphone despite organizers’ efforts to prevent this.

“Nobody invited me here to speak, but I will speak,” he said. “Friends, something is wrong here… is there any struggle?” Mendelevich began by blasting Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Morris Abram, chairman of both the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, saying the only thing that followed their recent visit to Moscow was more massive refusals. “I know you have your leaders… you like them? Have them. But don’t send them any more to Moscow. They don’t know how to deal with the Russians.”

Mendelevich said that Abram’s optimism that he brought back from the Soviet Union only paves the way for large companies to pressure Congress for increased trade with the Soviet Union. “The Soviet Union is a fascist country that oppresses basic human rights.”

Mendelevich advocated a total ban on trade with the Soviet Union, and praised Koch, Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R. NY) and Richard Schifter, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Right, for supporting this position. Mendelevich added that he disagrees with American Jewish leaders’ advocacy of patience. “We have to rush. We will struggle now, struggle now, real struggle,” Mendelevich screamed as he stepped down. His remarks met with mixed response.

For the first time ever, the demonstrators this year received messages from the Soviet Jews themselves via videotaped interviews made by American Congressmen on a visit in April and smuggled out from the Soviet Union.

In one of the interviews, Ida Nudel pleaded to keep up the struggle. “You (in America) keep us alive. You really do. But it is not enough. We have limited strength, both physical and spiritual… Put yourselves in our place,” said Nudel, whose face is one of the most frequently seen on placards carried by the demonstrators.

Iosif Begun said on videotape, “We feel your support every day, and without it we could not exist.” Lev Elbert spoke visibly weakened from his bed on the 42nd day of his hunger strike. “It is the children who really suffer.” Vladimir Magaryk, father of Prisoner of Conscience Aleksei Magaryk, was among the march leaders, dressed in a black and white striped prisoner’s uniform, holding a picture of his son behind prison bars.


Messages from Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir and President Reagan were also received via satellite.

“We have to ask for a total change, substantial change of the Soviet policy, to let all our people go,” Shamir said. “We cannot let the Soviet authorities confuse us with some contradictory statements. We want to see all the Jews who want to leave Russia. We want to see them leave Russia and come to Israel.”

Reagan challenged the Soviets to show some proof of ‘glasnost’ by allowing Soviet Jews to practice their religion openly and emigrate. “This demonstration today is proof that the American people and their government hold the Soviet Union to the international agreement (Helsinki Accords) to which it subscribed in 1975. We have not and will not forget Soviet Jewry. The cause of Soviet Jewry is our cause — because we are committed to freedom for all people everywhere,” Reagan said.

John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, addressed the demonstration, saying he encouraged thousands of Catholics attending mass today in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pray for the freedom of Soviet Jews and for the strength to continue the struggle.

Former refusenik David Goldfarb led the march in his wheelchair with his son Alex pushing him. Goldfarb lost his leg in the Battle of Stalingrad and was in danger of amputation of the other leg from diabetes when Armand Hammer suddenly got permission from the Soviets in October to take him to the U.S.

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