The sixties and seventies sent us to the streets frequently.
Beginning for me in the late 1960s, the cause of the Soviet Jews became mine. Slowly at first, but by the time of the first march on Fifth Avenue, fully mine. I was a marshal at the first march; hoping that there would be no violence from the anti-semites.
It was a time when west siders who were traveling to the Soviet Union filled their suitcases with Levi jeans and books. These were two very hot commodities in the Soviet bloc.
We sent messages of support to the prisoners in the gulag and to ordinary citizens trapped behind the iron curtain in an anti-semitic, anti-Israel country.
We raised money to take in refugees and help support immigration to the Holy Land.
I was volunteering with the youth group at Rodeph Sholom. We marched and we had educational programs. It was an exciting time (in a sort of negative way). The eventual successes made it all worth while (and turned much of it positive.)
There were also Israel marches I attended in those days, with and without my youth group. Living in the City of New York made attendance easy and the importance of the State had been impressed upon us in religious school and at home.
Being Jewish on the West Side was, in fact, fairly easy. Yes, there were epithets and pushing and shoving but for the most part we lived separately and at peace.
I look back at these days of marching, which for the most part came after my peace marching college days and I see myself trying to do the right thing and trying to encourage young Jews down the right paths.
My youth group days at B’nai Jeshurun included Israel parades and the teaching by United Synagogue Youth group leaders intended to instill a love of Israel in me and my cohort.
It was also the time of the JDL or Jewish Defense League. Led by Meir Kahane, this was a tough group founded I believed to protect Jews who were being victimized in New York City. As time passed, it, like Kahane, became more political.
My one contact with Kahane was unfortunate. There was an attempt to block an intersection, at a march, by lying in the street. As the police reached the group to move them along, picking up some bodily, out of a building across the avenue came their leader. It was a display that distressed me greatly.
I never went to Israel or Russia as a teen; we could not afford such trips or even the programs offered with reduced costs. I would go to Israel in my twenties and again in my thirties and to Russia as well, at fifty.
I will say this for sure, neither was like the West Side I grew up in.