Unsung Hero of the Month
Each month, we will identify an “Unsung Hero” - someone who, while living, made significant contributions to the Soviet Jewry Movement. This is my attempt to recognize and celebrate their efforts even though they are no longer with us.
On November 30, 2005 Lynn Singer, the “quintessential activist of the grassroots movement”, passed away. Her story is chronicled in Chapter 17, “The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews”.
Lynn Singer, one of the founders of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry and for many years its executive director, became the UCSJ’s seventh president in 1980. She had been awakened to the plight of Soviet Jewry by the Leningrad arrests and trials of 1970, and on the last night of Chanukah that year she led a protest march, after having invited every elected official and clergyman on the North Shore of Long Island. Other demonstrations followed, including an event in which an unused military airplane hangar was decorated with barbed wire to resemble a Soviet prison and young people dressed as guards and prisoners served black bread to over 5,000 people.
A program called “Adopt-A-Prisoner” was initiated by the LICSJ in 1972 to pair members of Congress with prisoners of conscience in the Gulag. The congressmen wrote letters to the prisoners and to Soviet authorities urging their release. During the first ten years of the program more than half the prisoners adopted through the LICSJ were released.
Singer’s first of seven trips to Soviet Union was in 1975 and her meeting with Aba Taratuta led to a schedule of weekly telephone calls to him. When the telephone in his apartment was disconnected he would go to a post office to receive Singer’s calls and provide up-to-date information for the UCSJ.
Singer and the LICSJ arranged for the dedication of the “Anatoly Shcharansky Freedom Grove” on the grounds of the Nassau County Supreme Court Building in Mineola. This was the venue for numerous demonstrations of activists fasting for a day during times when Sharansky was on a hunger strike. It was also the site of a ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of Ida Nudel’s arrest and imprisonment. When Sharansky was free and able to visit the United States, he visited the grove and thanked the students and housewives who had assembled there for all their support during his struggle.
The Soviet delegation to the United Nations rented a country estate in Glen Cove on Long Island and LICSJ events, including an annual vigil on Tisha B’Av (a fast day recalling the destruction of the First and Second Temples), were often staged in front of its gates. The opening of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow coincided with the third anniversary of the Shcharansky trial, the third year in exile for Ida Nudel and Vladimir Slepak, and the eleventh year of imprisonment for Yuri Federov, Yosef Mendelevich and Alexsey Murzhenko, as well as the week of Tisha B’Av. An all-night demonstration called “The Olympic Village in Exile” was staged opposite the Soviet compound to call attention to these anniversaries, and to protest forced relocation of refuseniks from Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev during the Olympics.
Singer and the LICSJ were always concerned about the prisoners of conscience, and in 1979 compiled a book of their case histories called Life Behind the Gates of Hell. A copy was presented to Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin when a UCSJ delegation met in Jerusalem.
The LICSJ was extremely successful in dealing with elected officials and in fund-raising. Through the 1980s an annual dinner was held that attracted upwards of a thousand guests and raised several hundred thousand dollars each year for resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel and for material aid to refuseniks.
When she passed away on November 30, 2005, she was eulogized on a memorial website signed by over 100 former resfuseniks as “our Yiddishe Mama… the quintessential activist of the grassroots movement.”