Updated: May 28
The following can be used as a lesson or an activity.
The lesson covers some creative protests for Soviet Jewry, that received media attention.
The activity also covers stories of Refuseniks and Prisoners Of (for) Zion.
In the activity lesson plan, the students will imagine that they are activists in the free world, advocating for Soviet Jews.
Each group will learn about a different refusenik, and come up with a plan for how to bring public attention to their refusenik’s case through drawing, writing, creating songs, speeches, collages, etc.
Blank board for collage, pens, markers, papers, glue, etc
Download/Print the lesson:
1. Tell the students about the Soviet Jewry Struggle background and protest, using the images (you can download/view them HERE)
The Soviet Union was one of the two superpowers in the world (along with the United States), but this power did not last and disbanded in 1991, only after 74 years of existence.
The occupying government tried to erase any non-Russian communist identity.
In the Soviet Union there were 3 million Jews, but the policy was against religion, any religion.
The Soviet regime banned Jewish life, but on the other hand prevented Jews from entering Israel.
From the point of view of the Soviet leadership – the exodus of the Jews was a symbol of the failure of propaganda that the Soviet Union is a paradise on earth. Therefore, any expression of Judaism, Zionism, sympathy for Israel or the desire to immigrate to Israel was considered treason. Many were arrested without actual crime, and sent to jail for espionage or treason.
The Soviet government treated citizens as state property, and it was forbidden to leave the country without special permission: not for a trip and certainly not to leave the USSR.
Anyone who wanted to leave had to go through the Interior Ministry, and usually get a refusal. In the Soviet Union, unemployment was prohibited by law, anyone who was marked as a “traitor” (= whoever wants to leave is a “traitor”) was also usually fired from his job and thus became a criminal.
In the Free World:
The struggle for the free exit of Jews from the USSR was particularly notable for its originality and brilliant marketing, which received headlines in non-violent media (more precisely - almost non-violence. Out of dozens of organizations around the world only one organization used violence, but this was exceptional and denounced by the rest of the organizations).
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets around the world, but how can you get the right attention?
Here are some examples of creative protests: (You can also view photos by clicking here)
a. Creating and wearing jewelry:
It started in England and spread all over the world: a bracelet or pendant with a Star of David and the name of a prisoner of Zion - everyone who was active in the struggle wore them.
The original idea came from a women's organization called "35" (a women's organization, about 35 years old) established in London under the leadership of the Israeli secret government office "Nativ", and reached the rest of the UK as well as Canada and the United States.
The launch of the jewel was a media event around "Gulag Dinner" with the world-famous actress - Ingrid Bergman. Ingrid Bergman wore a pendant that read on one side Let My People Go and on the other side: Prisoner Of Conscience Sylva Zalmanson (who was arrested with a group of her friends in an attempt to escape to Israel, and received ten years in prison in the Gulag).
Even after the incident, Ingrid Bergman continued to wear the pendant, and so wherever he went she was asked what the pendant meant, she could tell about Sylva Zalmanson, who was imprisoned by the Soviet government only because she wanted to come to Israel.
Another 35's protest that aroused much interest in the media was when the Russian ballet "Bolshoi" arrived in New York:
The members of the NY 35's, bought tickets to the front row for the ballet, dressed like Pierrot (the silence clown, symbolically to the phrase "Jews of Silence"). During the break of the show, they turned to face the audience, without any words they gave information flyers about Prisoners Of Zion.
The next day the newspapers had written about the protest and not about the ballet itself.
In Boston, for example, The Student Struggle For Soviet Jewry marched on Passover with images of the Exodus from Egypt: At the head of the march were dressed as Moses and Aaron, and all were dressed in prison uniforms and signs: Let My People Go!
* Photo from the archives of Morey Schapira
2. Learn the story of a Refusenik
Divide the class into small groups. Each group should chose (or be assigned) a Refusenik (see link to folder in materials). Students will read their refusenik’s biography and look at his/her photos.
3. Present your story
Each group should imagine that they are activists working to free their refusenik. To do so, they need to tell his/her story to the world. Students should begin by writing an outline of how they would like to tell this story. Then think of creative ways to present it using their talents.
Suggestion: in each group have one student draw, one write the speech/presentation, two-three to create an archive collage. Presentations can include dances, songs, etc.
Students should prepare their presentations and present to their class, school, community.