A day we thought would never happen

Only a decade ago, most Jews would have laughed at the thought they might ever be invited into the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco.

The large, brick fortress on Green and Baker streets was tantamount to the Kremlin. The consulate was the evil empire. Inside of it were the communists who imprisoned Jews.

Outside the building, Jews demanded, "Let my people go." At every opportunity, Jews would form picket lines around the building, chain themselves to the wrought iron fence, use bullhorns to shout their demands, and flood the air with loud Israeli music.

All that came to an end when the Soviet Union collapsed. But it wasn't until last week that the demonstrators and the former Soviets broke bread together inside the consulate.

This was not an informal gathering. Instead it was an event to honor those rabble-rousers who had caused all the commotion through the years outside the building. Members of the former Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews — now the Bay Area Council for Rescue and Renewal — had finally been invited inside not only to tour the building but to hold a ceremony honoring two of their early presidents — Greg Smith and Sheldon Wolfe.

How many of the thousands of Jews who demonstrated outside of the building every Simchat Torah thought such an event could ever happen inside? Even those who dreamed of the day when Jews would be allowed to leave the Soviet Union could never foresee a time when Russian officials would welcome Jews inside their San Francisco outpost.

It's just a shame the former Soviet Union is not as welcoming to the Jews who remain. The pages of this newspaper often run stories about Jews inside the former USSR who are the targets of anti-Semites. We hear about vandalism against synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.

At least Jews in the Bay Area now have a way to register their complaints without resorting to mass demonstrations. Let's just hope that the Russian consular officials care enough to send those messages home.