Grassroots Efforts

Championing Israel & Forging the Soviet Jewry Movement

Many American Jewish philanthropists were called to action to support the development of a Jewish state. Letters from Chaim Weizmann to American Zionists attested to the importance of American Jewish support for the young nation. Additionally, some philanthropists who donated to relief and education organizations in the United States gave to similar causes that served Jews in Israel. American Jews who felt particularly connected to Israel donated their time and service. In 1948, the MACHAL (“Volunteers from Abroad”) fought for the very establishment of Israel.

In the mid-to-late 20th century, Jews of the Soviet Union were still trapped in oppressive living conditions. They were persecuted for being Jewish but were not permitted to leave. Congregations and communities across the United States attempted to help, and new social justice organizations were born. The Soviet Jewry Movement brought attention to the plight of Soviet Jews and encouraged the United States government to intervene. The grassroots nature of the movement awakened individuals and communities to what they could do, and helped to create a new generation of philanthropists who were mindful of and dedicated to Jewish causes worldwide.

  • Appeal for aid for Sephardim from the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Palestine that claims that “libels spread abroad” threaten the unity of the Jewish Community.

    Turn of the 20th century

  • Nathan Straus was co-owner of Macy’s and a prominent Zionist philanthropist who also supported local efforts to build pasteurization labs and prevent illness. In this letter he apologizes for not being able to participate in a cause.


  • Correspondence from Nathan Straus to the American Jewish Historical Society, which is now one of the partners of the Center for Jewish History.


  • In 1918, Louis Lipsky was “secretary for organization” of the Zionist Organization of America. In this letter he thanks the wife of a Rabbi for assistance in recruiting members in Birmingham, Alabama.


  • Letter from Albert Einstein in Berlin with proposed solutions to concerns that money earmarked for a university would be used for other purposes.


  • Bezalel Exhibition Journal. Nathan Straus was a major donor to what would become the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, the national art academy of Israel.


  • Advertisement for a slideshow of pictures of the Holy Land.

    Early to mid 20th century

  • Note from Justice Louis Brandeis expressing concern about his name being used in fundraising efforts.


  • Tribute to Albert Einstein concert program for a New York Zionist Region event at Carnegie Hall.


  • Journal of the Mizrachi-Zionist Organization of America Convention in Washington, D.C.


  • Letter to Louis Lipsky after the United Palestine Appeal fundraiser “Night of Stars” stating the highest amount of money that was raised in the series of annual events.


  • Letter from Chaim Weizmann, first President of the State of Israel, to American Zionists.


  • Cover of the "Mizrachi Women’s News," Chanukah/Convention edition.


  • Letter from Brandeis to David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel.


  • Advertisement for a Zionist gathering sponsored by major Zionist organizations.


  • Letter from Chaim Weizmann, first President of Israel, inviting American Jews to New York to discuss the “present Zionist situation.”


  • The Haganah Ship Exodus carried 4,515 passengers who were attempting illegal immigration to the Holy Land. All of the passengers were turned away and sent back to Europe.


  • Plane with a Star of David that was probably used in the fight for independence.

    Mid-20th century

  • “Yankee Pasha the Bagel Lancer” plane and its pilot, Hal Auerbach. The plane was used in the fight for independence.


  • “Yankee Pasha the Bagel Lancer” plane and its crew. The plane was used in the fight for independence.


  • Photograph from the AMIT collections depicting ambulances paid for by Americans. AMIT is the largest women’s religious Zionist organization, with 40,000 members in 2010.

    Mid 20th century

  • Zionist rally.

    20th century

  • American Jewish Congress members at Soviet Jewry Solidarity Day.


  • Demonstration Speak out for Soviet Jews in Stern Grove, San Francisco.


  • Membership brochure of the Religious Zionists of America.


  • Brochure about tours to Israel sponsored by the Religious Zionists of America.


  • Freedom Assembly for Soviet Jews in Washington, D.C.


  • Rally for Soviet Jewry in Washington, D.C.


  • Montefiore seniors participating in a vigil for Anatoly Sharansky in San Francisco.

    Late 20th century

  • Soviet Jewry Solidarity Sunday. Left to right: Morris Abram (Chairman of National Conference on Soviet Jewry), Ed Koch (former Mayor of New York City) and Anatoly Sharansky.

    Late 20th century

  • A bus being decorated with a Soviet Jewry Movement banner in Washington, D.C.

    Late 20th century

  • Soviet Jewry Movement poster.

    Late 20th century

  • Soviet Jewry Movement poster.

    Late 20th century

  • President Reagan with Ovadia Yosef, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.

    Early 1980s

  • Soviet Jewry Movement poster.

    Late 20th century

  • Simhat Torah demonstration in San Francisco.


  • Soviet Jewry Movement poster.

    Late 20th century

  • Soviet Jewry Movement poster.

    Late 20th century

  • Photograph of World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem.


  • Soviet Jewry Movement poster.

    Late 20th century

  • National rabbinic leaders being arrested for demonstrating in front of the Soviet Embassy.


  • Soviet Jewry Movement poster.

    Late 20th century

  • Soviet Jewry Movement poster.

    20th century

  • Ansie Sokoloff, civic leader and singer, speaks on Israel.


  • Helen Drook, Former Assistant Director of Immigrant Services at the UJA Federation of New York currently Senior Staff Attorney with the Immigrant Protection Unit New York Legal Assistance Group, speaks on her experiences as a Jewish child in the Soviet Union.



Contributors to the Cause includes only a small portion of the material that is housed at the Center for Jewish History. The five partners’ archival collections span more than 700 years of history. To search the catalog, click here. To plan your visit to the Center’s New York home, click here.