The earliest impetus for the creation of a Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) committee to focus on the issue of Soviet Jews was in response to the infamous “Leningrad trials” of 31 dissident Soviet Jews in the winter of 1970. Concurrently, the Soviet government began to systematically persecute almost all Jews who applied for permission to emigrate. The issuing of exit visas was refused (the genesis of the term “Refusnik”), usually on exaggerated claims of national security, after which the applicants were often dismissed from their jobs, recalled to military service, or similarly persecuted by state authorities. Those who publicly protested such treatment were subsequently arrested, detained for long periods, or tried as examples to others and sent to Siberian labour camps.
When information about the plight of Soviet Jews reached Canada, Toronto’s Jews responded immediately and decisively. Synagogue congregations, student groups, women’s organizations, professional organizations and community groups all established independent committees to aid Soviet Jews directly and to pressure local, national and international governments to address Soviet antisemitism. Very quickly these committees began organizing mass rallies, letter writing campaigns, petitions, targeted protests and direct aid involving large numbers of people and considerable fundraising efforts. From 1971 to the late 1980s the cause of Soviet Jewry remained, along with support for The State of Israel, the most significant issue to the Jewish community.
The Action Committee for Soviet Jewry (ACSJ) was formed by the (then) Central Region of the CJC in early 1971 in order to coordinate the activities of, and provide stable funding and administrative support for, the various ad hoc committees and action groups that had sprung up across Toronto and the rest of Ontario. Organizations coordinated by the Action Committee included university student groups, the Group of 35, Women for Soviet Jewry (WSJ), B’nai B’rith, and the Canadian Zionist Federation (CZF). The ACSJ originally reported to the CJC’s Steering Committee for Soviet Jewry (SCSJ), but by the mid-1970s the reporting of the two committees was reversed, with the Steering Committee reporting to the Action Committee. By 1977, the Action Committee and the Steering Committee were merged into the newly-renamed CJC Ontario Region’s Committee for Soviet Jewry (occasionally referred to as the Toronto Committee).
The first Chairman of the SCSJ was the prominent Toronto politician and activist Joseph B. Salsberg. Later chairs, including Sam Filer, Phyllis Sugar, Reg Adelman, author Jeanette Goldman, Joyce Eklove, and Judge Ted Matlow were also involved with affiliated local groups whose activities were coordinated by the SCSJ. Sam Filer, its first permanent Secretary, became in 1976 its second Chairman. He also served as Chairman of the Toronto Action Committee for Soviet Jewry and was an original co-founder of Lawyers and Jurists for Soviet Jewry. Similarly, Phyllis Sugar was a Co-chair of the ACSJ with Reg Adelman in the early to mid-1970s, while simultaneously serving as the Chair of WSJ. Genya Intrator, the first Chair of WSJ in the early 1970s, later served as first Chair of the Canadian Committee for Soviet Jewry. Despite having its first meeting in Winnipeg, the Canadian Committee had most of its leadership and activities in Toronto. Toronto residents Sydney Harris (later Judge Harris), David Satok, Genya Intrator and David Sadowski all chaired this committee as it developed a national agenda through contacts with affiliated organizations across the country, while coordinating internationally with groups such as the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews based in New York.
Towards the end of the 1980s, many of the restrictions regarding exit visas for refusniks were removed and increasingly Russian Jews began to immigrate to Israel, the United States and Canada. A large percentage of the latter settled in Toronto. By 1991, in response to the changes in Russia and the former Soviet republics, the CJC’s local and national Soviet Jewry Committees were wound up and their leadership began to focus on new issues, such as the integration of Soviet Jewish immigrants into Canada and the continuing struggle to fight antisemitism in the successor states of the former Soviet Union. To this end, the CJC formed a Political Liaison Committee in the early 1990s. Internationally, however, many Russian Jewish advocacy groups continued to operate on the foundation of activism and community organization established during the decades of solidarity built around the Soviet Jewry cause.
The records in this series were accumulated and maintained in the offices of the CJC under the jurisdiction of Samuel Resnick, in his role as the Director of the Community Action for Israel Committee, and as the main CJC staff employee for overseeing the Action Committee for Soviet Jewry and Steering Committee for Soviet Jewry, which eventually coalesced as simply the Committee for Soviet Jewry circa 1977. By 1980, Resnick’s title was Director of the Committee for Soviet Jewry, Central Region, making him the primary full-time staffer of the CJC involved in the Soviet Jewry cause.
Scope and Content
Series consists of extensive planning, administrative and operational records including meeting minutes, correspondence, budgets and membership lists. Records pertaining to activities include numerous event and protest photographs, articles, petitions, posters and other press materials. Records related to the gathering of information regarding Soviet Jewry include transcripts of telegrams and telephone conversations, background fact sheets and many individual case files.
This series has been arranged into six sub-series. Sub-series 1 consists of Ontario Region committee meeting agendas and minutes. Sub-series 2 consists of the correspondence files documenting various activities of that committee. Sub-series 3 consists of the agendas, minutes and general correspondence of the National Committee for Soviet Jewry. Sub-series 4 consists of records documenting affiliated Jewish organizations that collaborated with the CJC in protesting the persecution of Soviet Jews. Sub-series 5 consists of records documenting the various protest activities such as lobbying, letter writing, public rallies, marches and demonstrations. Sub-series 6 , Rufusnik Cases, consists of 3 sub-sub-series, containing individual case files, large published lists, and reference publications about Soviet Jews who were refused permission to emigrate (refusniks).
Physical extent note: although over 28 m of Soviet Jewry records were originally transferred to the OJA, more than 23 m of those records have been culled due to their origin (non-Canadian sources), format (outside periodicals and publications), because they were merely externally-created reference materials, or because they were part of the very large volumes of duplicates that made up the majority of the box contents. Records documenting the activities of other CJC Committees have also been removed for future processing within more appropriately-titled series within Fonds 17.
Because the Soviet Jewry records donated by the Canadian Jewish Congress had not been maintained in a discernable original order, they had to be reorganized into their current arrangement by the processing archivist.