Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center

By 1985, Yuri’s work with his friends in the Soviet immigration group, which had continued unabated, became his sole focus. Believing he was lucky to flee the Soviet Union on the “last train out,” Yuri refused to forget those friends and family members who had been less fortunate, and felt morally compelled to act on their behalf. Together with Sasha Shippov, Shmuel Azrach, Valodia Gluzman and recently released Prisoner of Zion Yosef Mendelevitch, Yuri set up the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center, an apolitical and non-affiliated organization that gained acclaim both in Israel and around the world for its outstanding, often unconventional pursuits to free Soviet Jewry.

As Center spokesperson, Yuri became the voice and the spirit behind the organization. Every public and media opportunity was exploited in order to speak out and protest the plight of Jews in the USSR, the true nature of the Soviet authorities and their deplorable treatment of Jews behind the Iron Curtain. Group members were present everywhere, and everywhere they were ready to capture media attention: at the Reagan–Gorbachev summit, at  international conferences or at Jewish organization conventions in Europe and the United States. Their dedication was absolute, and propelled them to defy the directives of the Mossad and the Israeli government where necessary.

The Soviet Jewry Zionist Forum

Toward the late 1980s, with the fall of the Communist regime, the opening of the gates of the Soviet Union to allow emigration and the release of Natan Sharansky, the impetus for this protest movement subsided. The pressing need of the day became the hundreds of thousands of new immigrants arriving in Israel from the former USSR, and the ogranization began to channel its energies to aiding in their absorption.  

Thus the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center gave birth to a new organization, the Soviet Jewry Zionist Forum. At this point, due to differences in opinion, Yuri returned to economics. But the Forum, in turn, eventually generated two Russian immigrant political parties, Yisrael BaAliya and Yisrael Beytenu.