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  • Writer's pictureUnpacked For Educators

Watch & Discuss: Freeing Russian Jewry, The Refuseniks

A lesson created by Unpacked For Educators.


The video tells the story of Soviet “refuseniks,” Jews in the former Soviet Union who were denied access to emigrate to Israel. Jews faced severe anti-Semitism and persecution and Natan Sharansky became a symbol of Jewish pride and strength. The international Jewish community united in protest of the Soviet policy against Jewish emigration and rallied for the Soviet Jews’ freedom. Known as “Let My People Go,” this movement was headed by prominent American rabbis Lookstein and Carlebach and the controversial Meir Kahane, and many others. The video features the story’s themes of Jewish unity, activism and longing for Israel.


  1. Play this video for your students and split them into small groups of 3-4. In their groups have them brainstorm 4-6 themes they can think of from the song “Am Yisrael Chai” based on the Refuseniks, the Kululam video and their own opinions and life experiences. Ask your students to share all the ideas they came up with for the rest of the group.

  2. Supplement your unit on Refuseniks by showing your students our video on the women of Refuseniks which includes educational resources.

  3. Engage your students in an experiential learning activity around the theme of Home, a theme found in the accompanying video.


  1. What tactics did Avital Sharansky employ to help rescue her husband from Soviet prison?

  2. What role did American Jews play in helping Russian Jews at this time?

  3. True or false? The 1987 rally in Washington D.C. was the largest Jewish gathering of American Jews in US history, totaling 250,000.

  4. How many Jews emigrated from the USSR between 1989-2006?

    • 60,000

    • 600,000

    • 1.6 Million

    • 6 Million

  1. What famous Jewish song, that became the anthem of the “Let My People Go” movement, did Shlomo Carlebach compose after the 1964 New York rally to free Russian Jews?

    • Hava Nagilah

    • Hatikvah

    • Am Yisrael Chai

    • Oseh Shalom


  1. The Pravda, the official USSR newspaper, wrote in 1948: “the State of Israel has nothing to do with the Jews of the Soviet Union, where there is no Jewish problem, and therefore no need for Israel.” Does a country need to have a “Jewish problem” in order for its Jews to “need” Israel? In the 21st century, do you think Jews in the diaspora need Israel?

  1. Why did the majority of Soviet Jews have their eyes set on Israel rather than America or another country?

  2. When Golda Meir, who served as the first Israeli ambassador to Russia, visited Moscow on Rosh Hashanah 1948, 50,000 Jews turned up to see her. What do you think her visit meant to Russian Jews at that time?


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