More than two decades ago, I became active in Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry. It was my door into Jewish life. A late bloomer Jewishly, raised with no religious education or experience, I was attracted by the idea of helping Jewish refugees create a new life in America. My parents were Holocaust refugees who fled Nazi Germany in 1939, arriving in America badly shaken – my father spent two months in Dachau – with two young sons, and without money, family or friends or to help them. It felt right for me to help other new Americans escaping persecution, and so I became a host family and served on the BASJ board. It was an immensely rewarding experience.
In the fall of 2009, I presented the film “Refusenik,” a new documentary about the Jews who were persecuted for seeking the right to leave the Soviet Union and the American Soviet Jewry movement created to champion their cause. The screening at the Boulder JCC honored Bill Cohen, founder of BASJ, and my fellow volunteers. The audience also included many of the families successfully resettled by the organization. As the film so aptly revealed, the Soviet Jewry movement is one of the great exodus stories of modern times, as well as one of the most successful human rights campaigns in history.
Apparently, I was not the only person moved by the evening. The film and discussion led to the creation of the Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry Oral History Project, which will preserve for posterity the good work of an agency that impacted so many lives. The project is a collaboration between the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado , and the Maria Rogers Oral History Program, a program of the Boulder Public Library’s Carnegie Branch Library for Local History.
In celebration of the official launch of this ambitious project, author Gal Beckerman will be in Boulder to discuss When They Come for Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, which won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award. The evening will feature a conversation with Beckerman and an introduction to the Oral History Project by Professor David Shneer, director of the Program in Jewish Studies. The event will take place on Monday, March 14, at 7:30 pm at the C4C building on the CU campus. RSVPs are required as space is limited. Additional information can be found at www.colorado.edu/jewishstudies or by calling 303-492-7143.
Gal Beckerman is a reporter at the Forward. He was a longtime editor and staff writer at the Columbia Journalism Review and has also written for the New York Times Book Review, the Jerusalem Post, and Utne Reader, among other publications. He was a fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin and the recipient of a Pulitzer traveling fellowship from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.