Thursday, October 19, 2006


In the mid-late 1960's I was one of the Jewish youth activists for Israel and Soviet Jewry. SSSJ, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry had my allegiance. Yaakov Birnbaum and Glenn Richter were my leaders.

Our demonstrations were brilliant, orderly, dignified, enormous and based on "gimmicks." For example, in the fall of 1968 we took a ferry to the Liberty Island. (If I remember correctly.) The name of the ferry was the SOS EXODUS, and the banner was painted on a white sheet by two of my former Stern roommates; they worked the whole night through on that banner. The publicity was great.

When Meir Kahane and his JDL began demonstrating, fighting with the police, getting arrested, etc, they got more publicity. They put us down saying that if we weren't willing to get arrested, we didn't care enough about Soviet Jewry.

We discussed the issue at meetings. I remember Yaakov and Glenn saying:

"If one of our demonstrators gets arrested, I will have to call his parents, and I don't want to be put in that situation."
So we continued in our dignified ways. Then in June 1970 I got married and we docked in Haifa port that September, so I was no longer involved.

So, I've always had a "weakness" for "clever," "gimmicky" demonstrations. This morning I read about a really clever one to publicize the unfair and unprecedented imprisonment of Jonathan Jay Pollard. It has been taking place in Danville, VA, a place I had actually visited, for Yom Kippur, 1967.

read this:

Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Giant T-shirt protest for Pollard - Danville, VA


Justice4JP Release - October 19, 2006

"I want to help Jonathan, but what can an ordinary citizen like myself do?"
is a question that we at J4JP hear all the time.

A man named Barry Koplen in Danville, Virginia wrote to tell us what he is
doing. His letter proves that everyone can find something effective to do to
help Jonathan if they really want to.

Here is the text of Barry's letter to us ( reprinted with his permission).
We hope that it will be as inspiring to our readers as it was heart-warming
for us!

I purchased a huge T-shirt (five feet tall and almost seven feet wide) and
had the words FREE JONATHAN POLLARD embroidered on it. I mounted the giant
shirt on wooden posts then planted it, like a most unique sign, on a piece
of property that our store owns. The property and the sign face the end of
one of the more prominent bridges in our town.

For almost a week, the Pollard sign stood proudly. Then someone stole the
sign. I reported the theft to the police and called the newspaper. The paper
wrote a front page story about it. Everyone in our town (Danville, VA, less
than three hours from Jonathan's prison) read about the shirt and the
Pollard story.

Next week, in the same paper, we will advertise a REWARD for the return of
the shirt while continuing to explain Jonathan's plight. To that end, I have
used the editorial. [Release Jonathan Pollard - Jlem Post Editorial ]

"If the T-shirt is not returned, we will erect another and will get
television coverage while it is being erected.

Just wanted to let you know that, in our own small way, we are doing our
part to help secure Jonathan's release.

Thanks, as always, for your good work.

Barry Koplen

Stolen: One really giant T-shirt

Register & Bee staff writer
September 30, 2006

DANVILLE - Barry Koplen, vice president of Abe Koplen Clothing, chose his familiar world of clothing as a way to advertise a cause he strongly supports, but then someone else chose to steal his message.

Koplen has long been concerned about the complicated case of Jonathan Pollard, a former American naval intelligence analyst who has been imprisoned for 22 years for spying for Israel. Koplen agrees with thousands who believe that Pollard has been held far too long.

“He’s a cause célèbre in Israel,” Koplen said.

After receiving no response from letters to congressmen and senators, Koplen decided in his own way to bring public attention to the matter of political

prisoners being held unjustly in America.

“I went to a big and tall men’s clothing show where I’m always looking for clothing that is hard to find, like pants size 76, and clothing I can display,” Koplen said. “I saw a big T-shirt, so I decided I’d make the world’s biggest Abe’s T-shirt.”

Lacking the space inside his store to hang the giant shirt, he decided to hang it on the outside of his store.

That’s when Koplen got the idea to merge the giant T-shirt display with his feelings about Pollard, so he had a second giant T-shirt embroidered with “Free Jonathan Pollard.”

“I wanted to do something to bring it to everyone’s attention and get the representatives of this area to do something,” Koplen said.

Mounting and displaying the shirt - about a size 200 - on his store proved to be more complicated and expensive than he expected. Then, about the same time, he noticed that candidates for the upcoming elections had displayed signs on property the store owns on Memorial Drive across from Robertson Bridge.

“I realized that people could put signs up without permission,” he said, “and I realized if I displayed the shirt that people would know that this is something we are interested in.”

So Koplen had his giant T-shirt mounted on the propertyÂ’s hill, which, he said, brought the cost of the project to more than $350.

It stayed there a week before Koplen noticed on Monday that it had been stolen. A police report was filed and Koplen said that his father, Abe Koplen, has plans to offer a reward for its return.

In the meantime, Barry Koplen said he feels good about his effort to make people aware of the injustice he feels Pollard has suffered.

“My feeling is that there are things we have strong feelings about and if we don’t do anything, we are part of the problem,” he said. “At least if nothing comes of it, I’ve tried.

“I’m involved because it’s time to set the record straight that America ... is not living up to the standard they want the rest of the world to live by. We can be an example in setting Pollard free.”

Contact Susan Elzey at or (434) 791-7991.


Anonymous said...

And let's not forget that the author of this blog met her future husband at a sit-down Tisha B'av demo outside the Soviet UN Mission.

Batya said...

I was going to blog about it!

Anonymous said...

the SSSJ demonstrations were just gimmicks and did accomplish nothing, lets not kid ourselves, and the confirmation that the JDL was right has also come to light with recently declassified FBI files confiriming what anyone with a ounce of sense already knew. The Soviets laughed at groups like the SSSJ but chose to let Soviet Jews go rather then risk detente, a risk created by the JDL. Is it really any surprise, your leader wouldnt want any of his boys arrested because he'd have to explain the arrest to the parents, no wonder you never accomplished anything

thanbo said...

But they did bring money & support for people who were smuggling in siddurim, tefillin, and other Jewish objects.

Batya said...

We did a lot, and looking back, I can't see how violent demonstrations do more.