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Photograph of Roz Garber with Soviet Refusniks, c. 1970s
Photograph of Bella Abzug signing a Declaration of Freedom for Russian Jews, Washington D.C., c. 1970s

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Historical Background

Discussion Questions

Level: Middle School and above

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Teacher Notes

Student Activity Sheet

More Document Study Sheets

More of this TYPE: Photographs

More of this TIME PERIOD: 1950-2000

More on these TOPICS: Anti-Semitism, Immigration, Law & Politics


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During much of the twentieth century, Jews in the Soviet Union did not have the freedom to practice their religion or become educated about Jewish culture. When Jews applied to the Soviet government for exit visas to emigrate, their applications were refused and they became Refuseniks, under suspicion and surveillance from the secret police force, the KGB. Soviet Jews faced loss of jobs, arrest, and even torture if they expressed interest in Israel, studied Hebrew, or tried to live openly as observant Jews.

As the situation worsened in the 1970s, Jews around the world traveled to the Soviet Union and met with Refuseniks, alerting the world to their plight. Efforts existed on both individual and collective levels, in local and international arenas. Women as well-known as Bella Abzug used their prominent positions to generate interest. The quieter yet equally crucial work of women such as Roz Garber was also instrumental to informing the world about the situation of Soviet Jews.

In the 1980s, the Soviet government eased emigration restrictions in exchange for receiving most-favored nation status in trade relations with the United States. Mikhail Gorbachev's presidency, his policy of openness with the West, or Glasnost, and the end of the Cold War in 1989 brought lasting changes in emigration policy. Hundreds of thousands of former Soviet Jews came to Israel and the United States in the last fifteen years of the twentieth century.

For more on this activism, go to JWA’s Women Who Dared exhibit at and JWA’s Women of Valor exhibit.

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1. Describe the people pictured in both photographs. What types of people were trying to help Soviet Jews?

2. How do these two photographs differ in terms of place and events? How were both scenes important in the battle to help Soviet Jews?

3. Which picture seems to be more of a “photo op”?

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How to Cite This Page
Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - Photographs - Photos of Work on Behalf of Soviet Jews." <>.