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Shultz Speaks from the Heart at Shabbat Dinner in Helsinki

May 31, 1988
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Secretary of State George Shultz, attending a traditional Shabbat dinner Friday night in Helsinki, stressed that the United States will “never give up” until Soviet Jews are allowed to emigrate freely or practice their religion unhindered in the Soviet Union.

“I am here to join you in making a statement that we understand the problems that others have in the Soviet Union,” Shultz said.

The dinner, which was organized by Denis Braham and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, was held at the Helsinki Community Center prior to Friday night services.

“We understand the problems of Soviet Jewry,” Shultz said. “We care about them. We want to see things change.”

The dinner was an emotional scene that began with Shultz’s entrance, when he was greeted by the crowd of 60 people with a rousing rendition of “Hayveinu Sholom Aleichem.”

Shultz joined in clapping to the song, as he made his way to his seat. Dinner consisted of gefilte fish, chicken soup with noodles, and roast beef. The tables were decorated with Finnish and American flags.

During his 15-minute speech, Shultz said improvements have been made in the Soviet Union, but “there is plenty more to be improved on.


“So our message is: we care, we dig in and we know about it, and we will never stop, we will never give up, we’ll keep working on it and working on it and working on it. We’ll never get tired . . . we’ll never forget those people. And we want them to know how much inspiration we get from them.”

Shultz, who was accompanied by his wife, Helena, U.S. arms negotiator Max Kampelman and other U.S. officials, said the dinner, while a typical Friday night Jewish gathering, was special because it made an important statement on the plight of Soviet Jewry.

“We’re here because we know that there are people that we care about who have problems,” Shultz said.

“In the first place, they’re not able to practice Jewish life as everyone in the room here is able to do so, in their country,” he continued.

“And we grieve for that fact, and we want them to know that. And we want the government of the Soviet Union to know that, and we care about it, and we’d like to see it changed.”

Morris Abram, chairman of the National Conference, praised Shultz, and spoke of Reagan’s speech Friday morning, in which Reagan stressed “that the path to normal relations is Soviet compliance with the full basket of the promises it made in Helsinki, especially its human rights obligations, including Jewish emigration.”

Also speaking at the dinner was the president of the Helsinki Jewish community, Gidon Bolotovsky.


Shultz, whose voice broke once when speaking of Soviet Jews, said that it is hard to understand why people are not allowed to worship as they want to, or be “taught languages that they want to learn, particularly when a language has the depth and tradition and history and relationship to a religion that Hebrew does have.

“And we think they should have, not only the right to emigrate, but also the right to travel.”

Asserting that he was embarrassed when he was thanked by American Jews for attending a seder in Moscow last year, he said it is he who is thankful.

“When you talk to people who have lived in an environment that’s hostile to their beliefs, but who have stood up for their beliefs and insisted on their rights and sustained themselves, you can’t help but get inspiration from it yourself,” the secretary said.

Shultz said he attended the dinner “in order to keep renewing my own sense of inspiration, to work on these questions hard, and to hope that somebody might take a picture so that it will be known that we care, and we do meet, and we do talk about it, and we do our research, and we do know what’s going on, and we are ready to engage in a serious dialogue, and that things can be better.”

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