Exploring 'Leaving Mother Russia'

Discover the profound narrative of ‘Leaving Mother Russia’ by Robbie Solomon, a song that resonates deeply within the Jewish American community, highlighting the plight of Soviet Jewry and Natan Sharansky.

Robbie Solomon singing 'Leaving Mother Russia' for a crowd of over 300,000 at the UN Plaza in NYC

Robbie Solomon singing ‘Leaving Mother Russia’ for a crowd of over 300,000 at the UN Plaza in NYC

Unveiling the Legacy

Natan Sharansky reaches Israel!

The story of Leaving Mother Russia began with Anatole Sharansky’s arrest in 1977. His stirring words to the Russian court which were reported in the Boston Globe, so inspired me that I decided to write a song in which I imagined his state of mind. It poured out of me in an intense 24 hour period a day before Safam was scheduled to play a concert at the Rutgers Hillel house in N.J. I recorded the song on a cassette tape which I played for the bass player and drummer as we drove down on Sunday, and when we got to the concert hall, I informed the rest of the band that I was going to debut a song that they hadn’t heard, at the end of the first half. I knew they would be able to join in during the chorus. This first performance of Leaving Mother Russia was so electric that the whole audience stood en masse at the end and joined in. We knew we had captured the spirit of the Soviet Jewry movement in a way that only an inspiring song could.

Throughout Sharansky’s nine-year incarcerataion, and quite a few years after his release, Safam sang the song at every concert. During the instrumental break our custom was to read the names of all the refuseniks who were still behind bars. The song was sung at all the rallies throughout the country in support of Soviet Jewry, including the giant gatherings in front of the U.N. Plaza, which some years exceded 300,000 people. It was thrilling to hear so many people singing “We are leaving Mother Russia! We have waited far too long!” It was a time when we felt that spirited music advocating for change could be received with an open heart.

Under enormous international pressure, Sharansky was released and was promptly allowed to move to Israel in 1986, where he took the name Natan and became an advocate for human rights. In 1989, emigration laws were relaxed in the USSR and tens of thousands of Soviet Jews left the USSR for freedom in other countries.

During two of Sharansky’s visits to Boston, I met with him and sang the song where he was speaking. By then he knew it very well. Pictured below are scenes from a March 11, 2012 lecture sponsored by the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts at Temple Mishkan Tefilah with Safam performing. With 1,000 people in attendance standing and singing the final chorus of Leaving Mother Russia, Natan Sharansky came down the middle aisle and joined us up on the stage — a true highlight in the history of Safam.

Leaving Mother Russia

Words and Music by Robbie Solomon ©1978

They called me Anatole
In prison I did lie,
My little window looked out
On a Russian sky.
For nearly nine long years
Secluded and in pain
And all my people know
The charges were a frame.
See my accuser standing in the hall,
He points his finger at us all.
You now must pay the penalty
For the crime of daring to be free.

Chorus:
We are leaving Mother Russia,
We have waited far too long.
We are leaving Mother Russia,
When they come for us we’ll be gone.

For all those centuries
We called this land our home,
We loved the Russian soil
As much as anyone.
In countless armies
Our young boys have died for you,
But never did you call them “sons,”
You always called them “Jew!”
We fell in battle for the Tsar,
A hundred thousand died at Babi Yar,
And yet your monument denies their faith,
While on our passports you read “yevrai”.

Chorus

I send my song of hope
To those I left behind
I pray that they may know
The freedom that is mine
For in my darkest hour
Alone inside my cell
I kept the vision
Of my home in Yisrael.
My friends we know what silence brings,
Another Hitler waiting in the wings,
So stand up now and shout it to the sky,
They may bring us to our knees but we’ll never die!

Chorus