Jerry Goodman, founding executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, has announced that he will leave the agency. Goodman, who helped organize the conference in 1971, said he intends to pursue other areas of professional endeavor.
Goodman announced his intention to resign at the group’s executive committee meeting on Jan. 10. The news was reported by NCSJ Chairman Morris Abram the following day, at a meeting of the group’s board of governors.
But the news was not made public until more than two weeks later. NCSJ press spokesman Jerry Strober said there was no particular reason for the timing of the announcement.
Goodman said that he was influenced in his decision by several important milestones in the Soviet Jewry movement, including the release of many long-term refuseniks whom he had personally known and the success of the Dec. 6 Freedom Sunday Mobilization in Washington.
Goodman will remain in his position until a successor is found and will serve as adviser to the search committee appointed by Abram to fill the job. Myrna Shinbaum, NCSJ associate director, remains in her position.
At the Jan. 11 meeting, the group’s board of governors elected Goodman a life member of the executive committee, a move which he did not expect, Goodman said in a telephone interview.
Commenting on Goodman’s announcement, Abram said, “Jerry Goodman has been the professional most responsible for placing the redemption of Soviet Jewry as a high priority in Jewish life. He has been a wise, intelligent and honorable executive to whom the movement owes a debt it can never sufficiently acknowledge.”
‘A TIME OF CHANGE’
Goodman, in his own statement to the executive committee, assessed the Soviet Jewry movement currently. “This is a time of change,” he said. “We are on the threshold of new developments, and we must now build on the momentum and the energy of Freedom Sunday, throughout this country. I am certain that the NCSJ and the community will willingly accept this challenge.”
Goodman described the outlook for Soviet Jews right now to be “a mixed bag. There are some positive signs; there are some problems that have to be resolved.” He highlighted the situation of Yuli Kosharovsky, now the longest-waiting refusenik in the Soviet Union.
There are some indications that the emigration authorities are more stringently enforcing requirements that those applying to emigrate have first-degree relatives abroad. He described the Soviet moves as “a kind of antiseptic approach to curbing emigration. It doesn’t include harassment, just strict adherence to laws which we find unacceptable to begin with.”
At the same time, informal Hebrew classes are currently functioning without harassment from Soviet authorities, Goodman said. “They haven’t approved Jewish cultural study groups, but (they) have not been harassed,” he said.
In looking back at the almost 17 years he has been with the NCSJ, Goodman admitted, “I never thought Soviet Jewry would be a career; it was originally supposed to be a temporary job. But nobody foresaw how the movement would evolve.”
At that time, Goodman took a leave of absence from his job as European affairs director and Soviet Jewry specialist for the American Jewish Committee. “For the first couple of years, it was considered a temporary job, and I was considered on leave from the American Jewish Committee.”
Between 1972 and 1975, he said, “There was an aura of great optimism. Then the Soviets introduced the ‘ransom tax’ — the education tax — of 1972 after the Nixon summit with Brezhnev, which led to the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, and everyone realized it was not going to be a ‘quick fix.'”
He was referring to a heavy tax Soviet Jews were required to pay upon leaving the country, levied ostensibly to reimburse the government for the amount it had spent on the citizens’ education.
Goodman’s plans for the future are not definite at this time. He will work “where I can be most productive,” he said. “I would like to explore other things. I just hope that they will be half as fulfilling or significant.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.