It would have been a shorter trip for Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld to go yesterday to the Soviet Union than to the District of Columbia.
Rosenfeld, who leads a Jewish congregation in Anchorage, traveled thousands of miles early yesterday to participate in the march and rally to support Soviet Jewry. Several Siberian islands are only three miles away from Alaska.
"It's important that someone be here from as many states as possible," said Rosenfeld, 32, who marched with about a dozen other Alaskan Jews.
Rosenfeld's group joined about 200,000 demonstrators who poured into Washington by plane, bus, car and train from across the country to march in yesterday's rally.
The Soviet Jewry march represents the first time that all the major U.S. Jewish organizations, including the two factions of the pro-Soviet Jewry movement in the United States, have come together at one event.
Demonstrators were protesting the Soviet Union's refusal to permit hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to emigrate and be reunited with their families in Israel and the United States. Also, they called for religious and cultural opportunities in the Soviet Union, including the right to teach and study Hebrew freely.
"We want Russia to know that we are not taken in by the fact that they let out a few dozen of the most popular refuseniks," said Rabbi Yaakov G. Rosenberg, 62, of Jerusalem, who greeted a group of friends from a congregation in Providence, R.I., with exclamations of "shalom." One offered Rosenberg a flask of scotch to brace him against the cold; the rabbi said a Hebrew blessing and downed a gulp.
"Major schlepping" was the way David Waksberg described the trek that he and about 130 other demonstrators made from the San Francisco Bay area. They flew in for the march on a red-eye special Saturday night and returned home last night.
From Florence, S.C., came Marjorie Henderson, 35, who drove to Washington Saturday with her husband Rusty and her three children, Charlie, Samuel and Suzanne.
Henderson, a Christian activist, stood in the middle of the Ellipse yesterday morning holding a banner and shaking a tambourine with a green and white handkerchief tied to it.
"I went to Russia in May and visited Vladimir Slepak," she explained. "He dried my tears with this handkerchief and comforted me." She said she wore the handkerchief on her arm until he was free, and now writes the Slepak family in Philadelphia every week.
"But they're harder to get in touch with now than they were in Russia," Henderson said, laughing.
Slepak, a leader of the Soviet Jewish emigration movement and a "refusenik" for 17 years, was released in October with his wife Maria after an intense lobbying effort by his two sons, Aleksandr and Leonid, who were in the United States.
The Birmingham contingent donned matching red sweat shirts and buttons as they set out on the march.
"Everything is matching, including our commitment," said Steven Brickman, 38, who arrived by plane Saturday night with about a dozen other marchers.
An emotional Judy Borisky from Birmingham traveled to the Soviet Union last month to meet with refuseniks, Soviet Jews who have been refused the right to emigrate. "You're so much a part of it having been there," Borisky said. "I just want to cry all day long."
Borisky, a travel agent who described herself as a "very intense Jew," said she had been been booking flights for the march all week from tiny southern towns.
Dan Pearlman left his home town of Miami early yesterday with about 50 marchers who had chartered three flights. "We can donate money to charity, but this is something more," he said. "We can tell our children and know ourselves that we were here December 6."
About 10:30 a.m., as groups of marchers bundled in parkas, scarves, mittens and earmuffs gathered on the Ellipse under signs emblazoned with their state's name, one man in Army fatigues and sunglasses sat on a cinder block holding a sign for Arizona.
"I'm not Jewish, but I have a lot of Jewish friends," said Allen Harvey, 38, a carpenter from Glendale, Ariz. "And I think everyone should have freedom. It's wrong to hold people against their will."
Many of the demonstrators were participating in a major march for the first time. Some sang and danced to Hebrew folk songs on the Ellipse before the march began about 1:10 p.m.
One of those first-time marchers was 9-year-old Aryeh Kieffer from Schenectady, N.Y. Aryeh, who was carrying a blue hand-painted sign in English and Hebrew that read "Let My People Go," said he was there "to let the Jews out of Russia."
Daveen Litwin, 24, the director of the Hillel organization at the University of Kansas, left Lawrence by plane about 4:30 a.m. yesterday with 20 other students. "We're here to make a difference," Litwin said excitedly. "We want our legislators to press this as an issue during the summit."
Some of the marchers, despite physical handicaps, said they just had to be there. One was Ruth Sky, a 64-year-old woman from Portland, Maine, who uses a wheelchair.
"Most people think I'm crazy, coming here and not being able to walk," said Sky, who arrived in Washington early yesterday morning. "But this is a wonderful opportunity for solidarity. And I want to see history being made."