Saving the Jews of Russia: One Woman’s Story of Rescue and Resistance

Sunday, October 29 2017, 3:00 pm


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Saving the Jews of Russia: One Woman’s Story of Rescue and Resistance Image

In an intimate setting, activist Pamela Cohen talks about her experiences in identifying and rescuing Jews from Soviet Russia at the height of the anti-Semitic violence during the 1970's and 1980's.

Guided tours available at 2pm and 4pm. 

In partnership with Jewish Women's Archive. 

Pamela Cohen was an activist in the Soviet Jewish emigration movement from the early 70’s through 1996. She began her activity with, Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (CASJ), the independent grass roots council and in 1978, served with Marillyn Tallman as co-chairman until 1986 when she became the national president of the Washington-based Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ).  She served in that capacity for 10 years.  

Beginning in 1978 she traveled throughout the USSR to visit emigration activists and Refuseniks, Jews who were refused emigration visas, to bring out information and to develop strategies for UCSJ’s  grass roots support. In 1987 she led a UCSJ delegation to Reykjavik, Iceland and to Moscow for the  Reagan-Gorbachev Summit.  In 1989 Mrs. Cohen led an international delegation, representing five countries, to the Soviet Union to hold the historic first open meeting between Jews of the Soviet Union and the West and Israel. Later that year, at the request of Refusenik activists, she traveled again to Moscow for the opening of the Solomon Mikhoels Cultural Center.  In 1991, she returned to Russia for a Round Table of Human Rights, co-sponsored by the Union of Councils, with participation of indigenous human rights and democratic leaders. In response to reports of anti-Semitic violence in the Soviet Moslem Republics, she led a UCSJ fact-finding team to Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and returned to Kyrgyzstan the following year with a UCSJ delegation to conduct an International Symposium on Human Rights as requested by local Jewish leadership.  In the same year, she participated in a Human Rights Experts meeting in Vilnius Lithuania, co-sponsored by UCSJ.

Mrs. Cohen has participated in numerous international and national conferences on the issues of Soviet Jewish emigration, Soviet anti-Semitism, and the right to Jewish identity in the former USSR.  On behalf of the Union of Councils, she attended three separate sessions of the Vienna Follow-Up Meeting of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE); the 1989 CSCE Paris Conference of the Human Dimension; the Paris CSCE Summit of 1990; the Copenhagen Conference of the Human Dimension in 1990; the 1991 Moscow Conference of the Human Dimension and served as a public member of the official U.S. delegation to the CSCE Conference on Minorities in Geneva, Switzerland in 1991.  She traveled to Israel on bi-annual basis with UCSJ activists to debrief Jews who were able to receive visas.

Pamela Cohen established underground networks for transferring information to and from Refuseniks throughout the USSR and maintained regular telephone contacts with activists during the darkest years.  She testified at Congressional hearings on Soviet emigration policy and state sponsored Soviet anti-Semitism and participated regularly in briefings for the Congress, the White House,  the departments of State, Commerce, and defense.  She participated in briefings for President Reagan, Secretaries of State Schultz, Baker and Condoliza Rice.  In 1992, she was a guest at the White House State dinner during the Summit between Presidents George Bush and Boris Yeltsin.

During the course of her service, Mrs. Cohen has received the Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Award from the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of Chicago in 1981 and the Edward J. Sparling Award from Roosevelt University’s Alumni Association. In 1989, during the UCSJ Conference in Moscow, Mrs. Cohen was given the Medal of Honor by grass roots Soviet Jewish activists and leaders for her achievement on behalf of Soviet Jewry.  In 1997, she received a degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Spertus College of Judaica.  In October 2010, she was asked to speak on behalf of the Soviet Jewry Movement in the West at the Knesset event sponsored by the Committee on Aliyah and Klita. 

In 1995, Pamela Cohen and Rabbi Ezra Belsky co-founded Komimiyus, the North Shore Torah Center, the Deerfield-based, independent grass roots education center dedicated to Jewish classical education for adults in the Chicago area.  She lives in Chicago with her very supportive husband, Leonard; enjoys their children and grandchildren, and travels frequently to their home in Jerusalem.  She is currently active in building grassroots movements in support of Israel.

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