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Conference on Soviet Jewry Stresses Concern for the Plight of Separated Families

April 5, 1984
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A Canadian who participated with American, Canadian, British, Dutch and Israeli wives of members of Congress and Parliaments in a three-day conference on Soviet Jewry stressed that their concern for the issue was over the plight of separated families.

“What we are doing is not political, ” nor is there any “ulterior” motive, Penni Collinette, wife of Canadian Liberal MP David Collinette, said at a news conference at the end of the International Conference of Parliamentary Spouses for Soviet Jewry.

“What we are doing as wives and mothers is caring about families, ” she said. “We are caring about families that are not allowed to be together.” Collinette added that the women were also asking “why a powerful country such as the Soviet Union, with the Russian well-known love of the family, would do this sort of thing.”


Helen Jackson, widow of Sen. Henry Jackson (D. Wash.) and founding co-chairwoman of the Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry, noted that the conference came at a bleak time for Soviet Jews with only 51 allowed to emigrate in March. But she said she was “pleased with the renewed commitment” by the 22 women who participated this week and their determination that the effort for Soviet Jewry must be “intensified.”

“We will not give up this fight as long as the jews in the Soviet Union risk everything to be free, ” Mrs. Jackson said. She noted that she was “trying to carry on” in the “tradition” of her late husband.

The Congressional Wives were founded in 1978 under the sponsorship of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. In April 1983, they held a meeting with the Canadian Parliamentary Spouses Association in Ottawa. The first international conference which concluded today will be followed up by a second conference in London in 1985.

Valerie Cocks of Great Britain said today that the U.S. and Canadian groups have inspired the European Parliamentary wives to form their own organization. She said that she hoped that the meeting in London will include women from all West European countries.

Markye Van Den Bergh of the Netherlands said she found it “remarkable” that non-Jews were so deeply involved in the issue since the efforts of Soviet Jewry in Holland was carried out exclusively by Jewish groups. She said she planned to change the situation.

Tamara Barlev, wife of Israeli MK Haim Barlev, and Nitza Ben-Elisar, wife of Likud MK Eliahu Ben-Elisar, expressed Israel’s gratitude for the efforts the women were making. Mrs. Ben-Elisar said that Israel is “ready and willing and anxious” to receive all the Jews of the USSR in their “historic homeland.”

Mrs. Barlev said “the Jews have no future in Russia,” but she believed that “there is a chance the Soviet Union will let them go to Israel, and only to Israel” because “to some extent, they do recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Although the Canadian spouses group was refused twice by the Soviet Ambassador to Canada, Mrs. Jackson said that Soviet Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, refused to see the Congressional wives after the Ottawa meeting last year or to meet with the international group here this week.


The women adopted a resolution which will be presented to the Soviet Ambassados in their respective countries. It said they “are resolved:

“To press for the release of the Prisoners of Conscience in the USSR–most notably Anatoly Shcharansky and losif Begun who were sentenced to especially long terms.

“To press for the reunification of families– most notably” Ida Nudel, Vladimir Tsukerman, Vladimir Slepak and Vladimir Tufeld.

“To urge the USSR to allow those who desire, the right to observe, study and practice their religion, language and culture.

“To urge Soviet authorities by all means available to adhere to internationally accepted standards of human rights behavior and the human rights provisions they pledged to respect in the Helsinki Final Act and other international covenants.”

The resolution also said they would seek to have Soviet Ambassadors in their countries “enter into dialogues on Soviet Jewry” and pledge the women “to continue our national and international efforts by involving similar groups from other countries.”

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