When Lou Rosenbloom led the establishment of Cleveland’s Council on Soviet Jewry in 1963, he was determined to help Russian Jews achieve freedom. Although he believed in the dream, he couldn’t have imagined that 44 years later, he and his wife, Evy, would encounter a new generation able to experience Jewish life in a country once known as the Soviet Union.
This summer, Anna Parshina and Elena Basova, (ages 20 and 19 respectively) participated in the “St. Petersburg, Russia, Summer Camp Counselor Exchange Program, a partnership of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland. They were invited to travel from St. Petersburg to Cleveland to be counselors in local campus, and they also gained the singular opportunity to learn the history of the religious and cultural freedom that they can now take for granted.
In a meeting in Cleveland that took place in June, young camp counselors were able to tell members of the community about their Jewish educational and recreational experiences in St. Petersburg. In turn, Lou Rosenbloom shared the struggle of American communities to help Russian Jews attain their rightful heritage. Anna and Elena knew little of the history of this passionate movement, which included public education efforts which led the to the Jackson-Vanick amendment in 1975, as well as grassroots campaigns that assured Soviet dissidents that they were not alone.
The meeting, an encounter between generations, enabled everyone present to feel the pride of historic achievements that were years in the making. Among the events recalled were protests on behalf of prisoners of conscience and the march on Washington of a quarter of a million participants on the eve of Prime Minister Gorbachev’s visit to the U.S. some twenty years ago. Today, young Jews of the former Soviet Union study their heritage openly in schools, youth groups and camps. They visit Israel and have ties to Jewish communities across the globe. The realization of the dream affirms that indeed, together, we make it possible!