Gal Beckerman: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry

MON, NOV 1, 2010 (45:35)

Gal Beckerman, reporter for The Forward, talks about his first book, an exploration of the lives of the Jews left behind in the Soviet Union after World War II. At the end of the war, nearly three million Jews were trapped inside the Soviet Union. They lived a paradox--unwanted by a repressive Stalinist state, yet forbidden to leave.

Gal Beckerman draws on newly released Soviet government documents as well as hundreds of oral interviews with refuseniks, activists, Zionist "hooligans," and Congressional staffers. He shows not only how the movement led to a mass exodus in 1989, but also how it shaped the American Jewish community, giving it a renewed sense of spiritual purpose and teaching it to flex its political muscle. He also makes a case that the movement put human rights at the center of American foreign policy for the very first time, helping to end the Cold War.

The book introduces us to all the major players, from the flamboyant Meir Kahane, head of the paramilitary Jewish Defense League, to Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky, who labored in a Siberian prison camp for over a decade, to Lynn Singer, the small, fiery Long Island housewife who went from organizing local rallies to strong-arming Soviet diplomats. This multi-generational saga provides an essential missing piece of Cold War and Jewish history.

+ BIO: Gal Beckerman

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, 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.

+ BIO: Joshua Rubenstein

Joshua Rubenstein has been professionally involved with human rights and international affairs for 30 years as an activist, scholar and journalist with particular expertise in Soviet affairs. A long-time Fellow of Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, he has made many research trips to Moscow and other Russian cities. He has lectured and written widely on the Soviet human rights movement, including a series of lectures in Russian at the Mendeleev Institute in Moscow in the fall of 1990 and in the spring of 1991.

His first book, Soviet Dissidents, Their Struggle for Human Rights (1980), was based on research and interviews in Western Europe, the Soviet Union, Israel, and the United States. Mr. Rubenstein's book, Tangled Loyalties, The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg, a biography of the controversial Soviet writer and journalist, was published after thirteen years of research and writing, including two months examining newly available material in Russian archives and libraries. Mr. Rubenstein has also contributed articles and reviews on Russian and international affairs to many publications including Commentary, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times and The Boston Globe.

Since 1975, Mr. Rubenstein has been the Northeast Regional Director of Amnesty International USA, overseeing Amnesty's work in New England, New York and New Jersey. His responsibilities have been wide-ranging. They include acting as an official Amnesty spokesman on radio, television and in the print media; maintaining extensive press contacts and initiating editorial board meetings on breaking human rights stories; organizing public forums and benefits; establishing Amnesty chapters in high schools, colleges and the community; directing a staff of five people and many volunteers in the Northeast Regional Office located in Boston; and participating in numerous human rights activities at the national and international level.

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