Longing for Unity

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Longing for Unity

Thirty years ago, on Dec. 7, 1987, the Jewish community organized the largest Jewish protest in American history — Freedom Sunday — in which 250,000 people gathered on the Washington Mall to demand free emigration for Soviet Jews as Soviet Premier Gorbachev and President Reagan held their first summit on American soil (“Freedom Sunday: An Example of Bipartisan Support and Intergroup Cooperation,” Nov. 16).

As a junior at the University of Maryland, I was in charge of the public relations on campus for this rally, getting articles in The Diamondback and plastering the campus with flyers. I can’t remember how many busloads of students marched behind a University of Maryland banner for the freedom of Soviet Jews. But I do remember countless planning meetings and strategy sessions, and then finally standing in our heavy winter coats on a cold Sunday watching Anatoly Sharansky light the menorah on stage and listening to Peter, Paul and Mary sing “Light One Candle” to close out the event.

Just about every Jewish person of my generation who was remotely involved in community events was at that rally. I meet people today who tell me, “Yeah, I was there. Of course I was.” The Soviet Jewry movement unified our otherwise heavily fractured community like no other issue has since.

If anyone can suggest another issue that everyone from Chasidic to secular Jews can agree on, I would love to hear it. We need unity more than ever now in the face of the crises that divide the American public.

Today, I live in Rhawnhurst. I shop at Bell’s Market, a grocery store that caters to the ever-growing Russian community that lives here, thanks in no small measure to the flood of immigrants who left the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Last month, the synagogues in our neighborhood celebrated the second annual “Shabbat Shel Achdus,” a “Sabbath of Unity,” during which the rabbis spoke at one another’s congregations as a sign of mutual respect. It culminated with a melava malka, a party organized to include the entire community and celebrate our unity.  

That our community came together like this is wonderful. That other Jewish communities are not so unified is a problem. We are all Jews, no matter what communal, cultural or religious label we choose to describe ourselves. The Soviet Jewry movement brought us all together once, on a national level. What other issue can do it again, with positivity and action?

Bettina Dunn | Rhawnhurst

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