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Despite the diversity of the narrators, six common themes emerged from the stories told by Soviet Jewish emigres and Jewish American activists. Each theme highlights one aspect of the movement for Soviet Jewry and deepens our understanding of questions, such as: How does an injustice that affects a small group of people inspire a national protest and eventually create an international movement? And, How does participation in such a movement alter the lives of individuals and entire communities?

Janna Kaplan

The Decision to Emigrate

The decision to leave one’s country is rarely an easy choice. Yet many Jews in the Soviet Union in the late 1900s came to believe it was their only viable option.
Janna Kaplan at a Refuseniks Ulpan

Life as a Refusenik

Soviet Jews who were denied exit visas were known as refuseniks.
Temple Israel Mission to the Soviet Union

The West Responds

As people in the West became increasingly aware that Soviet Jews were being denied basic human rights including religious freedom and the right to escape discrimination through emigration, some were moved to take action.
Anna Charny

Building an International Network

By the mid-1970s, the movement for Soviet Jewry had become an international effort with ties to activists around the world.
Janna Kaplan in Leningrad, cropped


As the Soviets slowly removed barriers to emigration, the number of Jews eager—and able—to leave the country skyrocketed.
Judy Patkin


The movement for Soviet Jewry is over, but its spirit lives on and inspires other causes.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Themes." (Viewed on February 19, 2019) <>.


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