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October 29, 2016

Rarely Seen Vintage Photos of Soviet Jews in 1959

The years between 1948 and 1951 witnessed the largest migration ever to reach the shores of modern Israel. This influx began at a time when the state was in the throes of its greatest struggle for survival, the War of Independence, and continued throughout a period troubled by both security concerns and economic hardship.

In the mid-1950s, a second wave arrived in Israel. The immigrants of the country's first decade radically altered the demographic landscape of Israeli society as well as the balance between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. Many of today's social issues are rooted in this mass migration: Israel's rapid economic growth, social stratification and the formation of new political frameworks and elites.

Over the last several months in 1959, the Soviet Union’s campaign against Jews and Judaism has intensified. All over the country synagogues have bee closed, prayer meetings have been raided and newspaper articles have appeared attacking Jews as “thieves” and “enemies of socialism.” In this climate of official attacks, hoodlums have felt free to stone and set fire to synagogues, Jews have been severely beaten and even killed.

Jew wrapped in ragged ritual shawl w. phylacteries on head and arm praying in dilapidated synagogue.

Elderly Jew at service in Synagogue.

Hebrew students and teachers being instructed in the Talmud.

Elderly at Hebrew services.

Congregation at Hebrew services in synagogue.

Old believers outside Hebrew Synagogue.

Woman in synagogue using worn prayer book to follow service.

Shopper in one of the three ritual butcher shops permitted to Moscow Jews is out of Kosher meat.

Kosher butcher preparing to kill chicken for customer.

Jews worship in chilly dilapidated synagogue.

Orthodox bearded Jew.

(Photos by Jerry Cooke, via Life archives)


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