Jews had been persecuted in the Soviet Union through much of the 20th century, where deeply ingrained antisemitism continued to influence policy. Starting in the 1930s, every Soviet citizen was required to carry an internal passport and under “nationality” Jews were required to list “Jewish.” These passports had to be shown every time individuals applied for a job or had to move housing. They were often unable to get a job because of antisemitism. Jews could apply to leave the country, but the vast majority were denied. By the 1970s, this was so common that a nickname was created to describe these rejected applicants: “refuseniks”.
The issue mainly discussed in Pittsburgh was the suppression of Jewish identity by the Soviets. Religious identity was virtually forbidden under communism. After realizing the horrors of the Holocaust, Pittsburghers were sensitive to any further oppression of European Jews, and lobbied vigorously on their behalf. About 1,000 Jews came to Pittsburgh from the USSR between 1974 and 1990.
Old Organizations, New Missions
With the dissolution of the USSR came the end of the last large wave of Jewish immigration to America. The organizations that had been established to benefit these groups shifted to helping other groups.
The United Hebrew Relief Association merged with other organizations (including Service to Foreign Born) and changed its name several times over the decades, becoming what is today known as the Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS), one of a few groups in Pittsburgh helping refugees to this day.
Today NCJW is focused on championing the needs of women, children, and families and taking proactive measures on issues impacting child welfare, women’s rights, and reproductive freedom. The Hebrew Free Loan Association of Pittsburgh grants interest-free loans on a nonsectarian basis to residents of Allegheny and surrounding counties who may not qualify for assistance through other institutions.
The Irene Kaufmann Settlement eventually merged with the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association in 1961 to form the Y-IKC, and in 1974, the name was changed to the Jewish Community Center (JCC), which continues to provide recreational activities for individuals in the area.
With the slowdown in Jewish immigration, and as a result of the successful Americanization of many of its members, the Friendship Club disbanded in 1979. In 1980 several of its former members were involved with a committee formed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to establish the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.