A coalition of virtually every Jewish organization of any substantial size in the United States is planning an all-out demonstration here on Dec. 6, one day before the arrival of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for the superpower summit.
The demonstration will be held on the Mall amid security that officials say will be possibly the most stringent in this city's history.
Organizers say their protest will not have an angry or anti-Soviet tone, but a respectful one, in the hope of getting tangible results on the issue of Jewish emigration.
By contrast, a smaller New York-based Jewish group, which believes the mainstream groups are sellouts, is planning a sit-in near the Soviet Embassy on 16th Street NW to protest Gorbachev's visit.
Gorbachev's 2 1/2-day stay will bring out a host of other demonstrators: persons from the Baltic states who want freedom for their lands, seized by the Soviets 47 years ago; two competing factions of Afghans opposed to the Soviet occupation of their nation; and peace activists supporting the talks to reduce the two superpowers' nuclear arsenals.
But the Jewish rally almost certainly will be the largest. Its organizers say it will be the biggest gathering ever of Jewish protesters in Washington, far surpassing the 12,000 protesters during the June 1973 visit of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
Jewish activists hope the summit will be a turning point in the struggle for Soviet Jewry's rights, for a number of reasons: Gorbachev's reformist policies; the Reagan administration's commitment to human rights in the Soviet Union; and the general atmosphere of Soviet-U.S. cooperation on arms control, trade and other issues.
"This is a historic moment, a crucial moment," said Morris Abram, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. "It could be one of the turning points, not only in Jewish rights but in normalization of relations."
Jewish leaders are trying to project an image of restraint in comments about Gorbachev.
"This is not a protest against the summit," Abram said. "We are watchful, waiting and determined."
But they are effusive in praising President Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz for continually bringing up the issue of the Jews to Soviet leaders.
"There's a widespread recognition in the Jewish community of the yeoman efforts and unyielding persistence by the president and the secretary to raise the human rights question," said David Harris, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee. "The secretary is one of the best friends of the Jewish community in memory."
The Reagan administration has said it will press the question of the Jewish "refuseniks" -- Soviet citizens repeatedly denied requests to emigrate -- and other human rights issues when meeting with Soviet negotiators next month.
Harris said Jewish leaders want to be "supportive" of Reagan so that he can mention the rally to Gorbachev and say, "Look at this event and you'll see the concern for this issue."
The Dec. 6 rally is not expected to be nearly as large as a pro-Soviet Jewry demonstration in New York City in May 1986, when 300,000 heard a speech by Natan Shcharansky, a dissident imprisoned for nine years and released last year. The reasons are the cold weather and the fact that New York is home to many more Jews, organizers said.
Since Oct. 30, when the summit was announced, Washington's Jewish community has been pulling out all stops in planning the rally, including arranging mailings and telephone calls to 67,000 area Jewish households.
"We're completing our first week of phone calls and it feels like three years," said Samuel Sislen, an official with the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington.
Jewish groups say the statistics on Jewish emigration give them hope for the future.
The number of emigrants has risen and fallen according to the state of U.S.-Soviet relations. It rose as relations improved in the 1970s to a high in 1979, when an average of 4,200 Jews was leaving each month. But relations soured after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that year, and continued to deteriorate in Reagan's first years in office. The average last year was 76 per month; recently, the numbers have risen dramatically to about 800 a month. Experts said that this may reflect an effort to win public relations points during pre-summit maneuvering.
Besides Shcharansky, a number of others released recently have been well-known dissidents, including Vladimir Slepak, released last month after a 17-year effort, and Ida Nudel, once sentenced to four years' exile in Siberia after conviction on "hooliganism" charges for hanging a protest banner from her Moscow apartment.
The U.S. government has identified about 12,000 refuseniks who are waiting for release. But Jewish groups believe there are about 20,000 more, from among about 2 million Soviet Jews, whose names they don't know but who also have been refused emigration requests.
Another 360,000 Soviet Jews have taken the first step in the process of applying to Soviet officials for release by requesting an affidavit from relatives in Israel, activists said.
The Soviet government has been unwilling to accept new applications -- beyond the 12,000 identified by the West -- except under certain circumstances, Jewish groups said. It continues to deny applications from those it claims know "state secrets." Activists say the Soviets apply this rule arbitrarily.
Jewish groups are asking for a streamlined emigration process and a range of other reforms to stop what they consider the Soviets' forced assimilation of the Jews. Jewish leaders here believe that the fate of Soviet Jewish culture -- the heritage of many American Jews -- is at stake.
Jews have suffered almost uninterrupted misery in Russia since about 800 A.D., and historians say that anti-Semitism did not stop when the Russians overthrew Czar Nicholas II. The study of Hebrew is outlawed, and there are only a few dozen synagogues run by state-appointed rabbis. There is a severe shortage of prayer books and religious objects. No religious groups are allowed, nor Jewish history courses.
The Jewish emigration movement started 20 years ago in a burst of Jewish pride after the Israeli victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, and the underground distribution of the Leon Uris novel "Exodus" printed in Russian.
Some of those who apply to leave have been fired from their jobs or kicked out of universities, shunned by colleagues and sometimes harassed by security agents.
"The emergence of a Soviet Jewish national movement in the last 20 years is for Jews one of the most significant events in modern Jewish history," Harris said. "These are people who by Soviet design ought to have been consigned to the dustbin of history."
Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York agrees, but he dislikes the tenor of the Mall rally. Weiss, leader of a group called the Center for Soviet Jewry, will take part in the Mall rally but also is organizing an act of nonviolent civil disobedience against the Soviets. It will resemble 12 others his group has staged here and in New York in recent years, mostly sit-ins outside Soviet consular offices followed by arrests.
Weiss said he disagrees with the "establishment" Jews' "love fest" with the Reagan administration. "It's doing some good work, but not enough," he said. "We'll do everything we can to intensify the tone of the rally."
An umbrella of Baltic groups -- Estonian, Lithuanian and Latvian -- is planning a similarly anti-Soviet rally, a candlelight gathering Dec. 8 at Lafayette Park. They are protesting what they consider the Soviets' destruction of their national cultures, and expressing support for unprecedented protest movements that have sprung up in their homelands in the last year.
Two feuding groups of Afghans -- each claiming to represent the guerrillas fighting the Soviets in their home country -- are planning rallies during the summit.
One group, the Islamic Party of Afghanistan, says the other, the Islamic Revolutionary Movement, is being manipulated by the Soviets and is pushing for the return of the king, Mohammed Zahir, who was removed in a 1973 coup and now is living in Rome. But the latter group says the former is made up of Islamic fundamentalists who unwittingly help the Soviets by spreading disunity.
There is also the "Summit Group," made up of some disarmament organizations cheering the idea of arms talks.
"We're trying to show a common bond between the two people," Summit Group spokesman Jose Rodriguez said. "We're all on the same planet."