Soviet Jewry, Noshrim, and Yordim

The HIAS Public Affairs/Relations (it went by each of these names at various points through its history) kept a wide variety of record types. These include organizational policy statements, board materials, correspondence documenting work with various museums, conference seating plans, and news clippings.

Beginning in the early 1970s, more and more of these documents centered on the burgeoning issue of Soviet Jewish refugees. While processing these materials, I noticed to recurring terms researchers should be aware of when working with these materials: noshrim and yordim.

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A small sample of the HIAS Communications materials utilizing these terms.

In 1968, the USSR began granting Jews visas allowing them to emigrate to Israel. In 1970, international condemnations led the USSR to increase its immigration quotas. However, many of the emigrants chose not to stay in Israel, but to instead proceed to transit centers–such as the HIAS offices in Rome, Geneva, and Vienna–to apply for US refugee visas. By 1976, over 50% of Soviet Jews granted permission to leave the USSR for Israel instead proceeded into Europe in the hopes of getting to the United States. In political dialogues, these people were referred to as “dropouts,” or noshrim.

The other term, yordim, refers to the emigration of Israeli Jews from Israel, primarily to the United States and Canada.

Noshrim and Yordim were of great concern to the State of Israel, as well as to the ideological branch of the Zionist movement. This placed HIAS at an awkward crossroads in which the aid of Soviet Jewish refugees stranded in Europe brought into question their commitment to their place within the international Jewish community, their commitment to the freedom of all people to determine their own destination, and their relationship with Israel.

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