Union of Councils for Soviet Jews

Last updated
Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ)
ServicesDefending human rights and the rule of law
FieldsMonitoring, reporting, research, lobbying, direct-appeal campaigns
Key people
Lawrence Lerner, President and Executive Director
Leonid Stonov, International Director
Website www.ucsj.org

Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) is a non-governmental organization that reports on the human rights conditions in countries throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, exposing hate crimes and assisting communities in need. UCSJ uses grassroots-based monitoring and advocacy, as well as humanitarian aid, to protect the political and physical safety of Jewish people and other minorities in the region. UCSJ is based in Washington, D.C., and is linked to other organizations such as the Moscow Helsinki Group. It has offices in Russia and Ukraine and has a collegial relationship with human rights groups that were founded by the UCSJ in the countries of the former Soviet Union.


The UCSJ was formed in 1970 as part of the Movement to Free Soviet Jewry, a response to the oppression of Jews in the Soviet Union and other countries of the Soviet bloc. [1]


Activities of the UCSJ include reporting on the human rights situation in countries of the former Soviet Union, assisting communities in need, providing support for asylum seekers and migrants, and exposing human rights violations and hate crimes, whether directed against Jews or other minorities in the region, such as Romani or Muslims. According to a UCSJ report in 2013 approximately 1.71 million Jews remained in the post-Soviet states at that time. [2] The reports it produces on the situation in various countries are often presented to the US State Department.


The 2015 leadership of the UCSJ includes Larry Lerner as President, Dr. Leonid Stonov as Director, and Meylakh Shekhet as Director of the L'viv Bureau. [3] Former presidents include Yosef Abramowitz, Pamela Braun Cohen, and Morey Schapira. [4] Dr. Leonid Stonov has been involved with the UCSJ since before his emigration to the U.S. in 1990, when he was a prominent Refusenik and author of the first emigration law in Soviet history, which was presented to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union in 1989. [5] David Waksberg served as National Vice President during the 1980s. [6]


UCSJ has received funding from the European Commission of the European Union as part of a three-year project designed to combat racism, antisemitism and islamophobia in Eastern European countries.

Supporters and contributors

Today, UCSJ supporters and contributors include individuals around the world who are concerned about human rights transgressions, and the fate of the 1.71 million Jews who still reside in countries of the former Soviet Union. Those wishing to contribute have four options. [7]

Notable cases

Statement of UCSJ on alleged antisemitism in the Russian State Duma

Nineteen members of the State Duma from Motherland and the Communist party have signed a letter demanding Jewish organizations be banned in Russia. The letter referred to Judaism as a religion promoting ethnic hatred and made reference to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. In that regard, UCSJ made the following statement:

The best example of how far some members of the national parliament are willing to go to demonize minorities came in January 2005, when 19 members of the State Duma from Motherland and the Communist party signed an open letter to the Prosecutor General's office demanding that Jewish groups be banned in Russia. The letter referred to Judaism as a "Satanic" religion and made reference to the medieval Blood Libel (the belief that Jews ritually murder Christian children during Passover and use their blood to bake matzo). Russian Jewish groups—who have long ago grown accustomed to more modern-day antisemitic accusations of controlling the media, the financial system, etc.—reacted with horror to this intellectual descent into the barbarism of the Dark Ages. [8]

An investigation was launched. [9] [10] The Prosecutor dropped charges of antisemitism against Duma deputies. [11]

The case of Boris Stomakhin

Former UCSJ president Micah H. Naftalin condemned the conviction of journalist Boris Stomakhin, who was accused of hate speech:

This sentence exposes the underlying hypocrisy of the Russian government's half-hearted struggle against extremist groups and hate speech. ... This month alone, the FSB refused to investigate the distribution of a neo-Nazi hit list containing the names and addresses of human rights activists whom the authors 'sentenced to death,' a publisher of a newspaper in Ulyanovsk who publicly called for the murder of Jews got a suspended sentence, and three youths who broke the jaw and fractured the skull of the Minister of Culture of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic while screaming racist slogans were sentenced to just six months to a year in prison. You don't have to agree with Mr. Stomakhin's radical, though non-violent, views on Chechnya to see that his sentence was disproportionate and unjust. [12]

In Belarus

The UCSJ alerted [13] the public to the revival of the cult of Russian Orthodox Church child saint Gavriil Belostoksky and related blood libel accusations in Belarus, after the Belarusian state TV showed a film alleging that his ritual murder was a true story. [14] [15]

A branch of the UCSJ was closed by the government of Belarus as part of what many observers saw as a wider crackdown on political dissent in the region. (main article - Human rights in Belarus )

Recent history

Magnitsky legislation

Sergei Magnitsky was a lawyer in Moscow for an international financial company. He advised the Russian authorities that the tax agents he was dealing with was stealing US$320 million from Russia. He was arrested, tortured and eventually killed by the Russian authorities. The Russian Human rights NGOs wanted to support a bill in the US Congress to punish those responsible for his torture and murder by denying them visas to the US and freezing their assets in the US. The UCSJ supported the legislation at the behest of the Russian NGOs and put together a coalition of international religious freedom organizations to petition the Congress. The State department fought against the legislation and the Jewish establishment organizations opposed the bills, until they saw that it was going to pass and then publicly supported the bills. The Magnitsky Act has been used by President Obama to punish Russia for violations of human rights today.

US grants

UCSJ was given a grant by US Ambassador to Moscow to bring together Russian pro-democracy human rights with their US counterparts to aid the NGOs in their work.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) granted UCSJ grants to monitor human rights violations and anti-semitism and the actions of the Russian Judicial system. The UCSJ sponsored a trip to Ukraine when the Russians were trying to take over Eastern Ukraine by meeting with high Ukrainian government officials to see if the UCSJ could help.

Lviv office of the UCSJ

Meylach Schochetl heads the UCSJ office in Lviv. In addition to running a soup kitchen for the poor of Lviv and running Jewish services for the Jews of Lviv, he has taken on the task of working to protect Jewish historical sites and to fight for human rights. He has been successful[ citation needed ] in lawsuits against the authorities in Lviv to preserve cemetery sites and destroyed synagogues from commercialization. He has also been successful in pursuing actions against officials who violated the human rights of individuals.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Pamela Cohen

Pamela Braun Cohen is an activist in the American Soviet Jewry movement. She began her activist work in the Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry in the 1970s and served as the national president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) from 1986-1997.

David Jonathan Waksberg, was a leading activist in the Soviet Jewry Movement during the 1980s and early 1990s. In the 1970s he became involved in the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. In the early 1980s he moved to California and began working for the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews, first as Assistant Director, and later as Executive Director. He initiated public and political activities on behalf of Soviet Jewry, supervised research and monitoring of their welfare and coordinated financial, medical and legal aid to Refuseniks and Prisoners of Conscience trapped in the Soviet Union. During his first visit to the USSR in 1982, Waksberg was arrested and detained by the KGB while attempting, along with refusenik Yuri Chernyak, to visit Kiev refusenik Lev Elbert. He organized numerous protest demonstrations and vigils to raise public awareness of the plight of Jews in the USSR. In 1985 Waksberg became National Vice-President of BACSJ's umbrella organization, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. Waksberg frequently visited Jewish communities the Soviet Union and the Former Soviet states and coordinated briefings of the American travelers interested in visiting those communities. In 1990 Waksberg took on the role of Director of the Center for Jewish Renewal, newly established by UCSJ. The mission of the CJR was to promote the renewal and development of Jewish life in the USSR and the emigration rights, human rights and resettlement needs of Jews in the Former Soviet Union. The CJR established a network of human rights and emigration bureaus in major cities of the former Soviet Union. In mid-1990s Waksberg was a member of Bay Area Council's Board of Directors and served as Director of Development and Communication of the UCSJ. Since 2007 Waksberg has served as Chief Executive Officer of Jewish LearningWorks.

Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews

The Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews (BACSJ) was founded in 1967 by Harold B. Light, Edward Tamler, Sidney Kluger, and Rabbi Moris Hershman as a grassroots human rights organization with a mission to advocate for Soviet Jewry's freedom of religion and the right to emigrate to Israel. BACSJ was one of the largest and most active local grassroots organizations in the American Soviet Jewry movement. BACSJ was a member of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ), an umbrella institution for approximately 50 organizations working on behalf of Jews in the USSR. After the fall of the Soviet Union BACSJ was renamed Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal and shifted its focus to monitoring the human rights conditions in countries throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia and assisting former Soviet Jewish communities in need.

Louis Rosenblum was a pioneer in the movement for freedom of emigration for the Jews in the Soviet Union, was a founder of the first organization to advocate for the freedom of Soviet Jews, the Cleveland Council on Soviet Anti-Semitism, founding president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, and a research scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Lewis Research Center.

Freedom of religion in Ukraine refers to the extent to which people in Ukraine are freely able to practice their religious beliefs, taking into account both government policies and societal attitudes toward religious groups. Due to the ongoing Russian military intervention in Ukraine, some regions which are de jure and internationally recognized as parts of Ukraine are administered either by Russia or by separatist groups.


  1. History of UCSJ
  2. Report: Estimated Jewish Population in the former Soviet Union (FSU). (July 3, 2013). Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. Retrieved 2015-09-24. The report states that the figures were "compiled by researcher Allan Miller," without further explanation.
  3. "Meet Our Staff - UCSJ". UCSJ. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
  4. "Pamela Cohen". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  5. "Meet Our Staff - UCSJ". UCSJ. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
  6. palevsky, stacey. "Soviet Jewry activist chosen to head BJE | j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California". www.jweekly.com. Retrieved 2016-10-26.
  7. "Donate". UCSJ. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  8. Testimony of Nickolai Butkevich, Research and Advocacy Director, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union Archived December 27, 2006, at the Wayback Machine . CHRC Members' Briefing: Human Rights in Russia – Religious Freedom Under Attack. (US Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC)) May 17, 2006
  9. Deputies Urge Ban on Jewish Organizations, Then Retract Archived May 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine - Bigotry Monitor. Volume 5, Number 4. January 28, 2005. Published by UCSJ. Editor: Charles Fenyvesi
  10. Russia to Drop Probe of Jewish Law Code Accused of Stoking Ethnic Hatred Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine - Bigotry Monitor. Volume 5, Number 26. July 1, 2005. Published by UCSJ. Editor: Charles Fenyvesi
  11. Prosecutor Drops Charges of Antisemitism Against Duma Deputies Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine - Bigotry Monitor. Volume 5, Number 24. June 17, 2005. Published by UCSJ. Editor: Charles Fenyvesi
  12. Press Release: Jewish Activist Convicted in Russia Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine . News from UCSJ. November 20, 2006
  13. "Blood Libel" Documentary Broadcast in Belarus Archived June 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine - The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) Action Alert - campaign against antisemitic programming on state TV. September 16, 1997
  14. July 1997. Blood Libel Accusation Revived Archived October 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine Belarus Report, Dr. Yakov Basin, August 10, 1997. UCSJ Position Paper. Belarus - Chronicle of Antisemitism. April–December, 1997.
  15. (in Russian) Is the New in the Post-Soviet Space Only the Forgotten Old? by Leonid Stonov, International Director of Bureau for the Human Rights and Law-Observance in the Former Soviet Union, the President of the American Association of Jews from the former USSR (Vestnik magazine)

Other Jewish organizations in the former Soviet Union