Reminiscing on the golden days of Jewish American activism, two heroes of the Soviet Jewry movement took to the stage at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in its main plenary session on Monday.
Natan Sharansky, the former refusnik who is now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Nobel peace prize laureate Eli Wiesel, shared the stage as the Jewish community marked the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington, a seminal moment in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry and a high point in Jewish mobilization for a national cause.
The idea for the march on Washington, planned to coincide with a meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, came from both sides of the Iron Curtain, with activists on both ends sharing the vision of a massive call for opening immigration doors to Soviet Jews. Sharansky was released from the Russian prison several months before the December 6 protest, which brought more than 250,000 Jewish activists to the nation’s capital.
“We showed how strong we are as a people,” Sharansky said. “When we feel this power, as one people and one family, we can change the world.”
Myriad hypotheses have been floated already about what compelled Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith to write the New York Times op-ed that shot around the globe this week.
Smith’s broadside against Goldman’s “toxic and destructive” culture has been depicted as the ranting of a disgruntled employee, the “objection of the underclass of younger bankers and traders stymied by a lack of career mobility” and a sure sign of an impending midlife crisis.
But what if Smith, a South African Jew, was simply continuing a South African Jewish tradition of speaking truth to power?
Tony Karon, of Time magazine, has spent years as an outspoken critic of Israeli policy. Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s controversial book on Israel’s military cooperation with apartheid-era South Africa caused a few red faces in Jerusalem in 2010. Next week, as he gins up publicity for the release of his book, Peter Beinart will launch another attack on the American-Jewish establishment for fueling disillusionment with Israel among young, Jewish liberals.