A crowd packed into CU’s Center for Community on Monday to hear journalist, author and Soviet Jewry scholar Gal Beckerman talk about his recent book, “When They Come for Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry.”
The evening began with an introduction to the Oral History Project by Professor David Shneer, the Director of the program in Jewish Studies and an associate professor in History at CU. A dessert buffet was served. The event was sponsored by the Program in Jewish Studies, the School of Journalism at CU and the Maria Rogers Oral History Program of the Boulder Public Library.
Shneer introduced Bill Cohen, a founder of Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry, which was part of the larger national movement that advocated on behalf of Soviet Jews. Bill Cohen and others discussed actions including taking the new immigrants to see a baseball game, because American culture is full of baseball cliques.
Jewish Studies Project Coordinator Brandon Springer then interviewed Forward reporter Gal Beckerman.
Beckerman discussed how Jews were not allowed to leave the Soviet Union and despite having little Jewish identity, they were unable to fully assimilate because it was marked that they were Jewish on their passports. He discussed how in the 1960s, there was little known about the Soviet Jews.
He also said that the Soviet Union would not let people leave, because it was supposed to be a utopia and it would look bad for people to leave and describe how the country was hell for them. He added that Israel “invented” families to allow people to leave.
After his remarks, Beckerman took questions and further described various topics regarding the Soviet Union and his book. Springer said he got involved with the project about a year and a half ago, after Professor David Shneer mentioned it.
I didn’t realize that there were this many Soviet Jews in town,” Springer said. “I didn’t realize there were this many Jews in town.”
Conor Richards, a 19-year-old sophomore business major, said that he came to the event for extra credit for his Jewish Culture class. He also said that he was interested in the topic.
“I read the flyer and it interested me to hear people’s accounts of their struggle to break free from the Soviet Union,” Richards said. “I thought it was interesting, and I gained a new perspective.”