In 1987, I was 17 years old. I got on a bus in Cleveland with many of my friends from school, synagogue, camp, and my youth group. We were bound for Washington D.C., to send Mr. Gorbachev a message: We, the Jews of the United States, stood with the Jews of the Soviet Union. We wanted them to stop being refuseniks… and start being olim to Israel or immigrants to America.
As we arrived, my busload was mingled with others from Ohio. As we marched, alphabetically by state, we passed the National Archives. Our signs waved in the same wind that blew through the banners on that building’s columns, declaring the 200th anniversary of the Constitution.
When our march arrived before the White House, I could not see or hear any of the speakers, from back in the “Os” with Oklahoma and Oregon. I could barely make out some strains of Peter Paul & Mary, who were playing at the event. But I held my “Glasnost for Soviet Jews” sign as high as I could. “Glasnost” being the Russian word for “openness.” (The sign now hangs on the wall of my house.)
I also found a poster that said “B’nai B’rith Youth Demands: Open Your Iron Gates!” It seemed to me that the mighty Soviet Union might not exactly quail before some Midwest suburban Jewish teens. But you know what? Every voice joined in the chorus makes it harder to ignore.
I later learned that Gorbachev did not make his scheduled visit to the White House that day. Message received.
Just before Rosh Hashanah this year, my great-uncle’s brother, Isaac-Mordchah, passed away in his late 90s. He had been stuck behind the Iron Curtain after surviving the Holocaust. But for decades before he died, he sat between my great-uncle and grandfather in synagogue every Shabbat, worshipping as a Jew in the land of the free.
So on this 25th anniversary of that rally, I say: God bless America. Thank God that I live in a country that teaches me that I can use my voice to make sure other voices are heard. And that because I can, I must. And so I hold high my 25-year-old sign, and write these flickering words, and I raise my single voice.
Until all eyes and ears are open. Until all hearts and minds are open. Until all iron gates are open: Glasnost!