Soviet Jews Arrive in Baltimore


On January 18, 1971 nearly 1,500 members of Baltimore’s Jewish community marched from Mt. Vernon Place to Johns Hopkins University to express their protest of the treatment of Soviet Jews. Walking up Charles Street, they shouted, “One, two, three, four, help break down the iron door! Five, six, seven, eight—let our people emigrate!”

And, eventually, faced with mounting pressure, the Soviet Union did.

Between 1970 and the mid-1990s, some 291,000 Soviet Jews were granted exit visas, of whom 165,000 migrated to Israel, and 126,000 came to the United States. More than 10,000 settled in Baltimore.

But accommodating the newly arrived refugees brought additional challenges. “The goals of the previous protest movement having to some extent been realized, the American Jewish community now faces the very real problems resulting from its dreams coming true,” wrote Jerome M. Gillison, a political science professor at Hopkins.

The Associated’s agencies mobilized. HIAS worked in conjunction with numerous other agencies on resettlement. CHAI provided newcomers with rental information and home-ownership assistance. Jewish Family Services handled pre-resettlement orientation, case management and counseling. The Board of Jewish Education awarded scholarships for children to attend Jewish nursery and religious schools and offered programs to teach families about their own religion, which they had been forbidden to practice in the Soviet Union. And newly arrived Jews were welcomed with Purim parties, picnics, and an annual Reception and Tea for New Americans in order to integrate them into the Jewish community and help them feel more at ease in their new-found homes.

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