“Soviet Jewry Day”: The life and struggle of Jewish activists in the U.S.S.R. - 1977 Soviet Jewry Camp Kit


Soviet Jewry Day is the second program of many listed in the “1977 Soviet Jewry Camp Kit.” Educators have the option of implementing these activities as a historical dramatization, or they can be easily adapted. While these particular activities are written for a summer camp, many parts can be done at a school or synagogue. 

The aim of the following activity is to create an atmosphere that recreates the daily realities of life of a Soviet Jew, a life filled with tension, feelings of isolation, self-consciousness regarding his Jewish identity, and mistrust, stemming from constant surveillance by authorities and informers.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will have a firm understanding of the difficulties facing Jews in the former Soviet Union.
  • Students will have an understanding of the importance of religious freedom.





Daytime Program for Camps – Scenario 1

1. As campers wake up and dress, counselors should, as inconspicuous as possible, record bits of their conversation containing Jewish references, e.g. Hebrew words, mention of Israel, religious rituals, Jewish songs, etc.

2. At flag-raising, “officials” dressed in uniforms, or with name tags, should prevent the Israeli flag from being raised and detain those who had made the attempt to raise it.

3. A sign at the prayer site should announce: “By Order of the government: “Services Forbidden. “Post uniformed guards at each entrance to the site. An alternative prayer site should then be used. A short discussion following services can be led by a counselor, encouraging campers to express their reactions to these disruptions in the morning routine. 


Contributing Organization

Contributed by: Enid L. Wurtman’s Soviet Jewry Archives on the History of the Zionist Movement from the Soviet Union


4. As campers enter the dining hall, bunks should be divided and friends separated. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner should be conducted in silence. Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) should be recited silently. Throughout the meal, a voice over the loudspeaker should read a list of Soviet Jews who have been harassed. This steady drone should continue unabated until the close of the meal. At that time an “official” should announce a list of those campers being “detained” for questioning. (Detention site should be prepared beforehand with counselors serving as guards outside). Those being detained are those whose remarks were overheard by counselors that morning. Remarks could be read over the loudspeaker as a warning to others.

Daytime Camp Program- Scenario 2

1. Awaken campers in the middle of the night or at dawn. Have uniformed guards hand out special “identification papers” to each camper. “Identification Papers” should contain:

  • Internal Soviet passport, bearing camper’s new identity as a Soviet citizen;
  • Information regarding his or her profession and family;
  • A Short history of his or her emigration status: I.e., how many times the visa application was filed, whether it was granted or denied, were any close relatives permitted to leave, etc.
  • Money (to some campers) for bribes, fees, or taxes;
  • Special information: whether exit will be hampered by the dependency of a sick relative, prior military service, access to classified information, knowledge of Hebrew, etc.
  • Specific instructions on obtaining visas.
  • Map of government offices, guarded checkpoints throughout the camp, and the location of the “airport”, “secret hiding place”, “Israel”, etc. (All locations having been designated and marked throughout the camp in advance).
  • Each set of identification papers should be different

 2. Set up the following in various locations:

  • Dutch Embassy (which processes invitations from Israel); OVIR (Visa Office); Bank
  • Places of business where character references must be obtained from the employers
  • Housing Authority (to certify the sale or return of the apartment and to arrange for necessary repairs before departure).
  • Post guards at each location

 3.  Give campers a strict deadline by which time they have to have escaped to freedom or be arrested.

 4. Rowboats and canoes might well serve as escape vehicles. One part of the pier or shoreline could be “Israel,” complete with Israeli music, refreshments, and a Hebrew-speaking welcoming committee.

5. Morning and Afternoon Activities

  • Build a model labor camp or prison cell.
  • Have campers set up a Soviet Jewry poster, song, slogan, or art display museum using references from the Resource Library.

6. Evening Activities

  • Performance of “Utopian Chronicles” or “Mother Russia,” (see skits in materials)
  • Invite a former Refusenik or activist to speak to your campers
  • Watch one of the many films in our resource library to show what life was like in the Soviet Union and the work of the Refuseniks and activists.
  • Have a Soviet Jewry campfire: include Dramatic readings and freedom songs about the Soviet Jewry movement (Included in the materials).
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