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Can you imagine: to put our life in two suitcases?

4 Jan

This video, “Coming to America: Soviet Jews Reflect on Their Immigration Experiences,” was created by Cat Bell, who was an intern for the Maria Rogers Oral History Program during the fall semester of 2012.

The oral history program has partnered with the University of Colorado Jewish Studies program since 2010 to collect oral histories about Soviet Jewish immigrants who left the Former Soviet Union and relocated in Boulder from 1987 to 1997. This collection includes interviews with both the immigrants themselves and with members of Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry, a group that assisted hundreds of Soviet Jews in both their emigration from the Former Soviet Union and resettlement in Boulder.

Cat Bell conducted new interviews for the collection and reviewed the existing interviews as part of her internship. These interview clips, from interviews with Alla Levy and Anna Nemirovskaya, were chosen for their moving stories about leaving and finding home.

The original interviews were conducted by Shirley Steele, David Shneer, and Brandon Springer. They can be heard in their entirety at, the Boulder Library’s online oral history archive (choose “Special Collections,” then choose “Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry”).

“I Feel Home,” Now on Vimeo

5 Apr

By Brandon Springer

FOR INNA, A TEENAGE JEW LIVING IN MOSCOW during the last days of the Soviet Union, being Jewish was not a religious identity, it wasn’t even entirely a cultural identity. Rather it was an identity of resistance, almost a form of teenage rebellion against the Soviet state. She recalls in her interview a day while living in the Soviet Union that there was rumored to be a pogrom. She was around seven months pregnant at the time. Her brother-in-law had come over to their apartment, ostensibly for tea, but in reality to protect her if the rumors proved true. Inna remembers feeling that it did not matter if the pogrom had happened or not, rather what mattered was that there was even a possibility that it would happen. She said:

“I simply don’t want to live in a situation where the possibility of pogrom would always be on my mind.”

While in her early 20s, Inna would immigrate to Colorado with the help of Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry. She was one among hundreds resettled by the grass-roots group of activists, community organizers and concerned volunteers. 

Inna, along with others interviewed for the Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry Oral History Project, a collaboration between the University of Colorado Program in Jewish Studies and the Maria Rogers Oral History Program, are part of a short compilation of the oral history interviews the project is producing. The short film, now available on Vimeo, is titled, I Feel Home: The Essence of Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry. It was first screened at the launch of the project and book talk with journalist and expert on the Soviet Jewry movement Gal Beckerman on March 14.

Though Inna’s interview is not yet archived, a dozen full interviews from this special collection are available online at: Click on Special Collections and choose the Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry Collection.

More are appearing every month!

When They Come for Us We’ll Be Gone

15 Feb


An Evening with Author Gal Beckerman…

Save the date:

Monday, March 14 @ 7:30 PM
On the CU-Boulder Campus
Center for Community (C4C),  
Flatirons Room 

An event sponsored by the CU Jewish Studies Program and the Maria Rogers Oral History Program of the Boulder Library’s Carnegie Branch Library for Local History

The Soviet Jewry movement is one of the great exodus stories of modern times, as well as one of the most successful human rights campaigns in history. Now, in journalist Gal Beckerman’s When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone, comes the account of the battle to save Jews from Soviet oppression after World War II, a struggle that shaped the world we live in today.  The mass emigration that finally occurred in 1989 has had enormous political, social, and cultural consequences, virtually remaking Israel and forever altering American politics. 

At the end of the war, nearly three million Jews were trapped inside the Soviet Union. They lived a paradox: unwanted by a repressive Stalinist state, yet forbidden to leave. Those who tried were followed by the KGB, often denied jobs and higher education, even forced into menial labor or imprisoned simply for gathering with other Jews. It was illegal to study Hebrew or the Torah, and the punishment was often internal exile—not external exile, which is what they really wanted.   

Gal Beckerman is a reporter at the Forward. He was a longtime editor and staff writer at the Columbia Journalism Review and has also written for the New York Times Book Review, the Jerusalem Post, and Utne Reader, among other publications. He was a fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin and the recipient of a Pulitzer traveling fellowship from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

The evening will also be a celebration and launch of the Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry Oral History Project.  Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry (BASJ) was a local group featured in Gal Beckerman’s book.  Twenty-four years ago it advocated for and eventually secured the release of more than 250 Soviet refuseniks and refugees.  The work of this group remained largely untold and unpreserved, so in November 2009 a collaboration between veteran BASJ leaders and staff, CU’s Program in Jewish Studies, and the Boulder Public Library’s Maria Rogers Oral History Program began to document the oral histories of organizers, community leaders, host families, and resettled Soviet Jews and their families. This body of oral histories will constitute a comprehensive historical resource for research and understanding of the significance of this human rights and refugee resettlement movement.  

 This event is free and open to the public but  space is limited so RSVP’s are required.   
Please RSVP to
or  call 303.492.7143.  



The Man They Said They’d Never Free

13 Jan

By Brandon Springer

Bill Cohen and Naum Meiman, 1988

IN SEPTEMBER OF 1946, Soviet Jewish mathematician Naum Meiman was parted from his family. His daughter, Olga Plam; her husband, Misha; and their son were leaving the Soviet Union for the United States after spending a year as refuseniks, Soviet Jews who had applied for exit visas from the state and were denied repeatedly.

 Meiman would spend thirteen more years as a human rights activist fighting for his release and for the release of other Soviet Jews who desired and were denied the right to emigrate. He lived through severe repression from the Soviet state, isolation and loneliness. But through all of those years, his daughter, and later other Boulder residents who had formed the advocacy and resettlement organization Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry (BASJ), fought tirelessly on his behalf.

Listen to a podcast about “The Man They Said They’d Never Free.”

Continue reading

Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry: The Beginning

9 Nov

By Brandon Springer

AS THE SOVIET UNION BEGAN TO CRUMBLE in the late 1980s, a group of Jews in Boulder organized to aid and resettle Soviet Jews who faced increasing discrimination from the Soviet state and refusal of their requests to emigrate (earning them the label of “refuseniks”). These Jewish Boulderites called themselves Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry.

Listen to the first in a series of podcasts about the history of Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry.

Over the past year, interns and students from the University of Colorado, along with volunteers from the Maria Rogers Oral History Program, collected interviews with volunteers and organizers for BASJ as well as with new Americans resettled by the organization. Nearly 20 interviews have been conducted with these individuals.

Judge Murray Richtel during a trip to the former Soviet Union

The interviews ranged from the original founders of BASJ—attorneys Bill and Sara-Jane Cohen and Judge Murray Richtel—to some of the first board members; from families that served as “anchor families” to Soviet émigrés (providing them with guidance and advice on adapting to American culture and life) to professional and volunteer ESL tutors who taught English to the new Americans. In addition, of course, many of the interviews documented the lives of the Soviet Jewish émigrés themselves. Continue reading

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