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Soviet Jewish Va’ad Established; First Umbrella Group in History

December 22, 1989
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Soviet Jewry achieved an historic milestone Thursday, when its representatives voted in Moscow to establish the Soviet Jewish Va’ad, an umbrella body that will coordinate activities of Jewish organizations all over the Soviet Union. It is the first such institution in Soviet Jewish history.

The Va’ad fulfills the primary goal of the founding conference of the Congress of Jewish Organizations and Communities of the USSR, which was to establish an independent confederation of Soviet Jewish organizations that would develop a consensus on the priorities and objectives of their constituents.

Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executive, promised the new body the full support of the Israeli government and the agency in all of its endeavors and activities.

Dinitz, speaking in Hebrew, urged the Va’ad to make Israel the center of its cultural activities.

Va’ad is the Hebrew word for committee. Mikhail Chlenov, the conference organizer who heads the Jewish Cultural Association, was elected its chairman.

The conference, attended by some 700 delegates from 75 cities and towns across the Soviet Union, opened at Moscow’s Cinema Center Monday and closes Friday. Representatives of international Jewish organizations and Diaspora Jewry attended as guests and observers.

Meanwhile, a group of 15 Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate to Israel began a five-day hunger strike when the conference opened in Moscow. But they are not protesting the refusal of Soviet authorities to give them exit visas.

In a statement issued through the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews in San Francisco, the group complained of delays of between six to 18 months in obtaining invitations from Israel, which are needed to apply for permission to emigrate.

“We turn to world Jewry. Help us out,” the statement said.

B’nai Brith Canada wrote, meanwhile, to the Soviet ambassador in Ottawa, Alexei Rodionov, to express concern over “the presence of the anti-Semitic group ‘Pamyat,” which demonstrated outside the conference with placards that said ‘Jews Out’ and ‘Down with Communism and Zionism.'”

The letter observed that “The rapid growth of Pamyat is of grave concern,” and urged the Soviet government “to be ever vigilant in its efforts to curtail the spread of anti-Semitism.”

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