The power and success of a magical Sunday

In November, I had the privilege to represent Genesis Philanthropy Group, a foundation co-founded by Mikhail Fridman and his partners to strengthen the Jewish identities of Russian-speaking Jews around the world, at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

At the opening plenary of this significant gathering of the organized Jewish community, we presented a video dedicated to the 30th anniversary of Freedom Sunday, the day the Jewish community marched on Washington. That day became a critical point in the movement to free Soviet Jewry.

The video highlighted the tremendous success since of the North-American Russian-speaking Jewish community, which would not have been possible without the tremendous efforts by the organized Jewish community in North America toward freeing and resettling Soviet Jews.

I was honored to use this important occasion to formally express, for the first time, a deep appreciation and gratitude, which is shared by former Soviet Jews and their children, to all those who have worked tirelessly to make our success and safety possible.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Freedom Sunday, Ilia Salita, President and CEO, Genesis Philanthropy Group (center), expresses gratitude on behalf of former Soviet Jews and their children, to all those who have worked tirelessly to make the success of the North-American Russian-speaking Jewish community success possible. Surrounding him at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, in November 2017, are the four most recent chairs of JFNA. From left: Joe Kanfer, Richard Sandler (current chair), Kathy Manning, and Michael Siegal

Below are my remarks delivered from the stage of JFNA’s General Assembly, to an audience of 3,000 participants.

In the early 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled the cruelty of the Russian empire in a search for better lives and religious freedom. Seventy years later, their children and grandchildren – along with the rest of the North American Jewish community – marched on Washington to demand that such freedom and the better life that comes with it be afforded to a new generation of Jews.

From Moscow and Odessa, from Riga and Vilnius, from Tashkent and Kiev, Soviet Jews were for 70 years denied opportunities that their Jewish brothers and sisters in Canada and the United States cherished and embraced. All of them just wanted to live their lives without limits, without quotas, and without discrimination.

To an extraordinary degree, Soviet Jewish emigres succeeded in turning those dreams into reality and are considered one of the most successful immigration waves in the history of the United States. In the process, these Soviet Jews also became an integral part of Jewish communities across North America.

This amazing story of success and fulfillment would never have been possible, if not for the organized American Jewish community and Jewish federations across the continent.

You heard in our cries for freedom from behind the Iron Curtain the echoes of divine providence and the call of history – and you answered it with the full force of righteous conviction and brotherly love.

The Song of Solomon commands “let me hear your voice.” The voice of united Jewish millions rang out in Washington and across the country, and it was heard loud and clear. And then American Jews went to work, opening up your doors and your hearts. You helped us discover that wonderful, incredible thing – the American dream.

American Jews helped us in a myriad of ways to take our first steps, get settled, and establish roots in this great, yet strange new land. You did it, not only because you were generous and kind, but also because you, thankfully, recognized that in helping us, you were investing in our common Jewish future.

I am here today as a proud and grateful Russian-speaking Jewish American and as someone who has the privilege of leading Genesis Philanthropy Group, a foundation inspired by the vision of Mikhail Fridman and his partners and dedicated to strengthening Russian-Jewish communities around the world. And so, please allow me, on behalf of Russian-speaking Jewish Americans of today and tomorrow, for the first time, from this remarkable stage, to thank you all.

I thank every single one of you in this room and beyond, all Jewish communities across North America. I thank the Jewish federations, large and small, everyone who was involved in this historic fight for freedom.

In thanks, I would like to present to the current and past leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America (represented by Richard Sandler, Joe Kanfer, Kathy Manning and Michael Siegal) a triptych by Alina and Jeff Bliumis, Russian-Jewish American artists from New York. Inspired by the Song of Songs and created for this specific occasion, may this small token of our gratitude serve as a reminder that there is no limit to what we can achieve when we stand together.

About the Author
Ilia Salita is president and CEO of Genesis Philanthropy Group, a foundation supporting projects and institutions that develop and enhance a sense of Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide.
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