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  • Writer's pictureAnat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov

1948: The Need For A Jewish State


The Soviet Union banned any unique religious ceremony from 1917 onwards.

When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, the leaders of the Soviet Union and the media claimed that no one would feel an affinity for the Jewish state because their ability to engage in Judaism had been suppressed for many years and this was the impression that Jews in Israel also had.

But, when Golda Meir, the first head of the Israeli delegation in the Soviet Union, arrived on Rosh Hashanah 1948, a groundbreaking unexpected event occurred...

Learning objectives

At the end of the lesson, students will be able to identify the role / influence / importance of the young State of Israel to Jews around the world.



a. If it's the students first lesson about the Soviet Jewry Struggle: start with a short introduction about what the USSR was, and the Jewish situation.

b. Start the lesson with asking: Do you think it is important or not important that the State of Israel was established and defined as a Jewish state? Why do you think it is important or not important?

c. Show the following quotes to the students:

Pravda newspaper (daily newspaper in the USSR, the official newspaper of the Communist Party):

"The State of Israel has nothing to do with the Jews of the USSR. We have no problem with Jews and therefore the Jews of the USSR have no need for Israel."

Before Golda's visit, even Zionist leaders believed for that to be true.

Haim Weizmann (President of the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency), in a 1940 speech:

"Jews in the USSR may be lost to the world Jewish community, but they are protected from the Nazi danger."

Both parts of that sentence are incorrect: in the end, Soviet Jewry became the largest aliyah in the history of the Jewish people, and unfortunately about 3 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in Soviet territory.

But that was the perception, until Golda Meir came to Moscow and saw that the situation was different. Of course some of the Jews liked the Soviet regime and some others suffered and wanted to be in Israel but were not allowed to leave.

After realizing in Israel that the situation was different from what they were presented with, the struggle for Soviet Jewry began in secret in the early years, with a secret government ministry "Nativ" and only in the mid-1960s did the struggle become overt.

d. Watch a short video clip (Hebrew with English subtitles)

e. Read from Golda's memoirs:

Instead of 2,000 Jews who usually come to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, an audience of 50,000 arrived" Golda recalls in her diary. "I could not believe that it happened or even who these people are. Then I realized: they came - the good, brave Jews, to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel."

f. Guided group discussion:

  1. Why did the Communist Party declare that the Jews of the Soviet Union had no need for the Jewish state?

  2. Why do you think so many people came to the synagogue when Golda Meir came to Moscow?

  3. What is the symbolism of this event that takes place on Rosh Hashanah?

  4. When Golda entered, the crowd shouted at her, "Golda, we are alive! We are alive!" Why did they say that? (One can hint and help that this was said in the context of World War II which ended only four years earlier)

  5. What do you think was the meaning of the establishment of the State of Israel for the Jews in Moscow who met Golda?

g. Recommended: Let the students read the following article to extend political understanding of that visit:

h. Final note:

Despite Stalin's repression of Jewish identity in the Soviet Union, the turnout showed that the Jewish community was still strong and united. The Israeli 10,000 shekel banknote issued in November 1984 bore a portrait of Golda on one side and the image of the crowd that turned out to cheer her in Moscow, on the other.

Following Golda's visit in Moscow, the Israeli government led the struggle for the Jews of the USSR and in 1952, under the direct directive of then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, a special organization was set up for the liberation of the Jews of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who were imprisoned behind the "Iron Curtain." This organization later became known by various names, one of which was the "Liaison Office". But the best known and most familiar name is "Nativ."


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