A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from June 23, 2014

A “refusenik” originally was someone (usually Jewish) was was refused a visa to leave the Soviet Union. The term was based on the Russian “otkaznik” (one who refuses). Soviet Jewry activist Michael Sherbourne died at age 97 in June 2014; he was given credit in his obituaries for coining “refusenik.” The blog My Right Word in 2013 quoted Sherbourne:

“Did you know that I also coined the word ‘refusenik’ (as a translation of the Russian ‘otkaznik’ ) in early spring 1971.”

The term “refusniks” was cited in print in The Times (London) in 1973. An expanded meaning of “refusenik” is a protester who refuses to do something.

Wikipedia: Refusenik
Refusenik (Russian: отказник, otkaznik, from “отказ”, otkaz “refusal") was an unofficial term for individuals, typically but not exclusively Soviet Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate abroad by the authorities of the former Soviet Union and other countries of the Eastern bloc. The term refusenik is derived from the “refusal” handed down to a prospective emigrant from the Soviet authorities.

Over time, “refusenik” has entered colloquial English for a person who refuses to do something, especially by way of protest.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
refusenik, n.
Etymology:  < refuse v.1 + -nik suffix, after Russian otkaznik Jew who was refused permission to emigrate (1970 or earlier), person who refuses to do military service
1. In the Soviet Union: a Jew who was refused permission to emigrate, esp. to Israel. Now hist.
1973 Times 15 Aug. 15/7 Let us not forget that Soviet official hostile attitude towards ‘refusniks’ endangers every day of their harassed life.
1980 Jewish Chron. 18 July 18/1 The dissidents languishing in exile,..and the refuseniks cut off from family and friends and..from their sources of livelihood.
2. colloq. A person who refuses to do something, esp. as a protest.
1981 N.Y. Times 13 June 22/3 He who might deign to prefer public transportation over the car as a matter of principle..is the ultimate refusenik, the true outcast.
1986 City Limits 10 Apr. 7 The 30 ‘refuseniks’ who would not go to Wapping have been joined by 50 people.

OCLC WorldCat record
Life among the refuseniks : talks with Soviet dissidents
Author: Herbert Gold
Publisher: [New York : s .n., 1974]
Edition/Format: Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Operation Soviet Jewry write-in for Russian Jewish scientists, professionals and other ‘refuseniks.’
Author: Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, [1974]
Edition/Format: Book : English

3 June 1974, American Dental Association News (Chicago, IL), “US Jewish Dentists Harassed By Soviet Police During Visit,” pg. 1, cols. 3-4
Dr. Blank said that he and his four Jewish colleagues were invited by the so-called “refuseniks” to come along on their outing, which, he added, was well within Russian law.

15 November 1974, The Daily Review (Hayward, CA), “Jewish activist wins fight to exit Russia” (UPI), pg. 28, col. 5:
“Maybe this is the first, maybe not.” said Polsky. who acquired the title of the nation’s leading “refusenik” for the number of times his applications to leave were refused.

Google Books
21 August 1975, New Scientist, pg. 426, col. 3:
There are now many cities in the Soviet Union without “refusnik” leadership, which can only slowly be rebuilt.

OCLC WorldCat record
Refusnik scientists: keeping science alive
Author: Max Gottesman
Edition/Format: Article Article
Publication: Nature, v269 n5626 (19770922): 276-276
Database: CrossRef

OCLC WorldCat record
Azbel describes problems of refusniks
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication: Physics Today, v31 n1 (1978): 102
Database: CrossRef

OCLC WorldCat record
Refusenik life
Author: Daniel M Jaffe
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication: Soviet Jewish Affairs, v8 n2 (197801): 24-35

Google News Archive
15 May 1978, Pittsburgh (PA) Press, “Activist Sharansky Faces Soviet Trial After Year In Jail” by William Steif (Scripps-Howard Staff Writer), pg. A12, col. 1:
Sharansky is one of the relatively small number of “refuseniks” — people who have been waiting as long as nine years for exit visas and have been repeatedly turned down.

My Right Word
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Hope to See a Hero Soon
Hopefully, during the Limmud event, I will meet Michael Sherbourne.
Who is Michael?

When I’ll let him speak for himself:
“Did you know that I also coined the word ‘refusenik’ (as a translation of the Russian ‘otkaznik’ ) in early spring 1971.”
In another bigraphical note, Michael wrote this:
“I’ll omit many years now and jump to 1969 when I joined the local AJEX Soviet Jewry Committee and began phoning to the USSR.  I coined the word ‘REFUSENIK’ in 1971, and over the next 20 years I made over 5,000 (five thousand) calls to Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Kharkov, Gomel, Minsk, Grodno, Sverdlovsk, Smolensk, Tbilisi, Yalta, and ...  and ... and ..wherever there were Jews who were having problems, even to Vladivostok in the very Far East.”

Jerusalem (Israel) Post
Soviet Jewry activist Michael Sherbourne, who coined term ‘refusenik,’ dies at 97
06/22/2014 22:39
Michael Sherbourne, a human rights activist who played an influential role in the movement to win Jews the right to emigrate from the Soviet Union, died Saturday at the age of 97.

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky spoke about Sherbourne’s greatness and the impact he had on the plight of Soviet Jews in the 1970s.
Sherbourne coined the term “refusenik” to describe Soviet Jews who were refused permission to leave the Soviet Union by the authorities.

“He was so deeply invested in our campaign that a word of his invention – refusenik – became our internationally recognized moniker,” Sharanksy said.

Soviet Jewry campaigner Michael Sherbourne dies
By Rosa Doherty, June 23, 2014
Soviet Jewry activist Michael Sherbourne, has died at the age of 97.

London-born Mr Sherman played an important role in the campaign to win Jews the right to emigrate from the Soviet Union during the 1070s.

And coined the term ‘“refusnik" to describes Jews who had been denied permission to leave.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Monday, June 23, 2014 • Permalink