Freedom Sunday: December 6, 1987
More than 250,000 people called for freedom for Soviet Jewry in a massive rally of support.
On the eve of President Ronald Reagan’s diplomatic summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a broad coalition of national Jewish organizations led the largest Jewish demonstration ever held in Washington. Thousands traveled across the country from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii, arriving by plane, bus, and train. Recently released Prisoners of Conscience, national politicians, community leaders, and musicians called for the freedom of all Soviet Jews.
Among the marchers were 50,000 from the Washington area. The Jewish Community Council worked with national groups to organize the event, and hundreds of local volunteers worked for weeks to make it a success.
Let’s not see five or six or twenty refuseniks released at a time, but tens of thousands. Mr. Gorbachev: Let these people go! Vice President George H.W. Bush, speaking at the Freedom Sunday rally
A marching family
Rabbi Fred N. Reiner (Temple Sinai), his wife Sherry Levy-Reiner, and son David bundle up to participate in the march.
National Summit March t-shirt
Paula Pascal Levine bought this t-shirt when she attended the march with a group from B’nai Israel.
Rabbis at the march
Custom t-shirts enable Washington Hebrew Congregation Rabbis Joseph Weinberg, Bruce Lustig, and John Rosove (shown right to left) to wear their sentiments on their sleeves.
March to Capitol Hill
On a cold December Sunday, demonstrators marched from the Ellipse to the Mall in front of the Capitol.
Message from the Vice President
Facing the Washington Monument, Vice President George H.W. Bush called on Soviet leader Gorbachev to “Let these people go!”
Natan Sharansky lights the flame
Israeli human rights activist and former Soviet prisoner Natan Sharansky lights a candle on the menorah at the rally. “History will judge if the world had enough will and resolve to do what you are doing today—to stand up and be counted and make your voices heard,” he said.
Inspiration from Elie Wiesel
Twenty years after his book, The Jews of Silence, raised public awareness of the plight of Soviet Jews, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel addresses the 1987 rally. “If I had three days, I would read the name of every Jew refused permission to leave the Soviet Union,” he said. “All these names must be known.”
Bob Dole addressing the rally
As Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole speaks to the rally, Anna Blank holds up her poster to plead for Gorbachev to release her father, Benjamin Charney, a scientist whose exit visa had been refused nine times. Charney was allowed to emigrate the following year.