Summit Rally (Vol. 53, Issue 6)
On Sunday December 6, two hundred and fifty thousand American Jews descended upon Washington for an unprecedented march. Others, such as Martin Luther King’s followers and AIDS victims, have marched on the Capitol to demand more rights for themselves; this Sunday's participants, however, came not to demand anything for themselves, but for the well-being of others - namely Soviet Jews,
To the four thousand year old cry of “Let My People Go”, a quarter of a million people made the march from the Ellipse to the mall at Capitol Hill. The Yeshiva University contingent of 500 regrettably arrived too late to participate in the march, and proceeded straight to the sight of the rally. There, the program opened with a band singing popular Hebrew songs with people of every religious persuasion joining in. Then, after an impressive spiritual by Pearl Bailey, the numerous speakers were introduced as their turn to address the crowd came. The speakers consisted primarily of Jewish organizational leaders, supportive American politicians and freed Soviet refuseniks.
As the Jewish leaders delivered their messages to the crowd, they stressed that the rally was not one of protest, but one of support for the administration in its quest for improved human rights in the Soviet Union. It was declared that we will not stand idly by as other humans suffer and that Soviet Jewry must remain an issue until every individual is granted the inalienable right of emigration. Among those speaking were Shoshana Cordin, head of the National Council of Jewish Federations, and Morris Abram, president of the National Council for Soviet Jewry.
Presidential hopefuls figured prominently amongst the American politicians who spoke. Candidate Vice-President Bush delivered what many considered to be the finest speech of the day. Many Interpreted this as a conciliatory move towards the Jewish public which regards Bush as anti-Israel. Jack Kemp also spoke about the imperative upon Americans to speak out for human rights, “...for if we don’t, who in God's name will?” Other hopefuls visible were Alexander Haig, Albert Gore, Robert Dole, and Paul Simon. Mayor Koch and Governor Kean were also present as were other politicians. One particularly well received address was delivered by a prominent civil rights leader. To loud cheering the recalled the Jewish people's involvement in the black civil right's movement. This undoubtedly included many individuals standing in Sunday's crowd,
Many prominent Soviet emigres were also on hand to light the candles of the menorah and speak to the huge crowd supporting the cause. Heroes such as Natan Scharansky, Ida Nudel, Yosef Mendelovich, and Vladimir Slepak addressed the crowd in encouraging terms. They spoke of how they had been helped by our activities in the past and how we must continue them in the future. They pleaded that America should not be taken in by empty promises of “Glasnost” while four hundred thousand Jews are held cut off from their people. In lighting the Channukah menorah, they expressed the hope that the light of religious freedom will soon shine in darker parts of the world. Other personalities of note appearing were folk singers Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers from the famed Peter, Paul, and Mary, long time human rights activists, who easily started everyone singing their popular ballads “Light A Candle” and “If I Had A Hammer”. Elie Wiesel reminded the crowd of the dangers of silence and said that had we gathered like this in
1942, the fate of European Jewry might have been different.
The Yeshiva was able to send 500 students due to the low cost of the trip. This was made possible by subsidies provided by the Office of the Dean of Students and the Coalition for Soviet Jewry. In addition, a number of rebbeim came along and gave shiurim on two of the buses.
Overall, the mobilization for Soviet Jewry for Summit ‘87 was a success. What remains to be seen is how important a role the issue played in the dialogues between President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev.
Painfully, it became known during the rally that a counterpart demonstration Monday in Moscow had been brutally broken up with many individuals assaulted. Apparently, as Mayor Koch said, Glasnost has not meant any real changes in the fundamental nature of “the evil empire”. Still, as two hundred and fifty thousand of us sang to close the day: “Od Lo Avdah Tikvateinu - they still have not destroyed our hope.”