Published May 25, 2011
Glenn Richter
by: Nathan Weissler
  Issue: 12.05
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In the 1960s, many members of various Jewish communities began significant advocacy work for the rights of Jews, in the Soviet Union, who were often forbidden from making aliya to Israel and were not permitted to freely practice Judaism in the Soviet Union. Many young people were active in advocating for Soviet Jews. Among these activists was Glenn Richter who in 1964 was a co-founder of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ). He also worked as a volunteer for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In March 2010, I interviewed Richter about his life experiences, particularly relating to his activist work on behalf of Soviet Jewry and the Civil Rights movement. Glenn Richter was born in New York City in 1945 and was the youngest of two sons of Harold and Bella Richter. His older brother Dov later made aliya.

After finishing his freshman year at Queens College in 1963, Richter began volunteer work for SNCC in the organization’s New York office. “I was too young to go down South,” he told me, “and even if I had gone down South, I think it would have been a little difficult to keep kashrus in Mississippi in 1963.”

Although he was not present at the March on Washington in August 1963, Richter’s mother attended and mailed him a postcard. Richter told me that at the time he was participating in the Torah Leadership Seminar, run by Yeshiva University.

Richter told me that the Torah Leadership Seminar, "was there not only to inspire you Jewishly but to encourage young Jews to take leadership positions, that is, not just to think about doing something but to go out and do something….I think it helped inspire me to actually get out and do something for Soviet Jews.”

In 1964, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry was established which Richter and Yaakov Birnbaum co-founded. Birnbaum originally named the group, “Students Struggle for Soviet Jewry.” However, Richter changed the name from having a plural to a singular connotation; thus, ”Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.” Regarding the motivations for the founding of the group, Richter explained, “When I asked my parents, ‘Did you speak out during World War II?’ they said, ‘(A) we didn’t know and (B) what do we do? We as a Jewish community felt powerless‘….[during the Soviet Jewry movement] we tried to exercise our power.” The Soviet Jewry movement continued into the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1967, Richter married Lenore Wolfson who in May 1964 had become chapter chairwoman of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry at Stern College in New York City.

The message of the Soviet Jewry movement should be continued into contemporary life and is especially appropriate as we remember having celebrated Passover last month. We must continue to take advantage of every opportunity to help members of the Jewish people regardless of where they live.

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