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Unbroken Spirits: Yosef Mendelevich and Soviet Jewry Activists

Center for Jewish History

November 20, 2013, 7:00 pm

Public Invited to Record Videotape Memories

“Yosef Mendelevich is a true hero of one of the most successful human rights struggles in history...” — Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School


Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, one of the boldest and most influential Refuseniks, served 11 years in the Soviet Gulag for his Jewish activism. Since his release in 1981, he has lived in Israel and received his rabbinic ordination and a master's degree in Jewish history.

Rabbi Avi Weiss — renowned Jewish activist, spiritual innovator, educator and communal rabbi. Former national chairman, Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry; currently national president, Amcha—Coalition for Jewish Concerns.

Cantor Sherwood Goffin — Senior Chazan, Lincoln Square Synagogue; cantorial educator at Yeshiva University’s Belz School of Jewish Music; a leading musical voice of the American Soviet Jewry movement.

Richard Stone — faculty, Columbia University School of Law; former national chairman of both the NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Eurasia, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Pam Cohen — former national president, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews; a leader of the American Soviet Jewry movement.

Morey Schapira — former chairman, New England Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry; executive director, Northern Pacific Region of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; former national chairman, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

Pauline Bilus — founder with her late husband Ira of the dynamic grassroots Oceanfront Council for Soviet Jews; long-term advocate for Russian Jewish émigrés in New York City.


Mendelevich will discuss his grassroots activism and his memoir Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage and Survival (Gefen Publishing, 2012) and pay tribute to the American Soviet Jewry movement, which freed him and over 1.5 million fellow Jews from Russia’s iron grip. He will be reunited with prominent veteran activists for an evening of memory, song, and inspiration. The public is welcome to sign up to videotape memories of their related stories, protests, and travel to the U.S.S.R. The event is presented by the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS).

Evening Program

  • Welcome
    Rachel Lithgow, AJHS Executive Director

  • Introduction
    Rabbi Avi Weiss

  • Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage and Survival
    Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich

  • Why Travelers to the USSR
    Pam Cohen

  • Into the Bear’s Den — Travelers to the USSR
    Richard Stone

  • Congressional Action and the Jackson-Vanik Amendment
    Morey Schapira

  • Grassroots Activism
    Pauline Bilus

  • Soviet Jewry Movement Song Medley
    Cantor Sherwood Goffin

We want your memories, too! Come from 5 — 6:30 pm. We'll videotape your best stories of protests, travel into the USSR, and what the movement meant to you. Your memories will become part of the permanent collection of the Soviet Jewry movement archives of the AJHS.


November 20, 2013, 7:00 pm


The Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York City


Admission is $15 general; $10 AJHS members, seniors, students at or 212-868-4444


Yosef Mendelevich was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1947. When he was 22, he participated in an attempt to hijack a plane to the West, an act designed to raise awareness about the desperate plight of Soviet Jews. He was arrested before the plane ever left the ground and served 11 years in the Soviet Gulag. After more than a decade of worldwide protests and his own 56-day hunger strike, Mendelevich was suddenly freed, arriving to an ecstatic welcome in Israel. The father of seven, Rabbi Mendelevich lives in Israel and travels frequently to tell his story in the U.S., Europe, and Russia.


Nicole Straus Public Relations

Nicole Straus, 631-369-2188, 917-744-1040,

Margery Newman, 212-475-0252,
    Center for Jewish History

    15 West 16th St.
    New York, NY 10011
    Tel: 212-294-6160
    Fax: 212-294-6161

    99-101 Newbury Street
    Boston, MA 02116-3062
    Tel: 617-226-1245
    Fax: 617-226-1248
This section was last updated on September 17, 2014
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