November 25, 2012

Freeing the Soviet Jews- The Altoona Connections

Filed under: Bill — michael @ 4:01 pm




On November 12 at the National Conference of Jewish Federation, my friend Laura Bialis moderated a dialogue about the 1987 March on Washington D.C. for Soviet Jewry.  The dialogue was between Nobel Laureate Ellie Wiesel and Jewish Agency Executive Nathan Sharansky- who together planned the march.

The event took place on December 6th and the 250,000 people there included a bus full of children and adults from Altoona coordinated by our Sunday school.  It was thrilling to be a part of this historic event and to greet friends from other cities in PA and many other states- all there to seek freedom for our fellow Jews who were held hostage in the Soviet Union.

Sharansky had been freed from prison just several months before the March.  The event was the result of a grassroots effort of “students and housewives,” who began the education and advocacy of American Jews about the plight of our Soviet brothers and sister.

The story of their fight for freedom is told in the film Refuslnik– that was produced and directed by Laura Bialis. We showed that documentary at our Film Festival in 2009.  The film is available to borrow or purchase from the Federation office.

Laura is also the producer/director of Tak for Alt, the documentary on the life of Holocaust survivor and civil rights activist, Judy Meisel, who will  visit us again in April of 2013.

Our greatest connection to Soviet Jewry occurred in 1990, when we “adopted the Aryev and Belenitsky families and helped over 30 “new Americans” come to Altoona as their first homes in the United States.  Our community was blessed in having the opportunity to work together in this effort and be a part of a modern day Exodus miracle.


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