Their newborn baby, Aliyah, seemed to arrive determined not to add to her parents' stress.
She slept through the night from the day they brought her home. The KGB ransacked the family's small apartment when Aliyah was 2 months old, and she didn't even wake up.
"God gives everyone what they can handle," Marina said.
Finding a cause -- and a voice
People had tried for years to get Constance "Connie" Smukler and her husband, Joseph, involved. But the Philadelphia couple already had their causes, and these Soviet Jews were faceless, their issues foreign.
Starting in 1973, their perspective changed when the matter became personal. They were visiting Israel when they met and befriended a man who begged them to help free his brother.
Irma Chernyak had applied for an exit visa and been denied. The request to leave cost him his job. The aeronautical scientist was now operating elevators -- and going on hunger strikes.
Connie tried to bring attention to his story by calling media and speaking about him in synagogue. But she wanted to know more about the man for whom she was fighting. "I can't keep working for him without meeting him," she told her husband. So in July 1974, with the kids off to summer camp, the Smuklers made their first trip to the Soviet Union.
They spent their days meeting with refuseniks in apartments they found by memorizing addresses or referencing information written in code. Believing the flats were bugged, they brought magic slates, the child's toy that lets a person write on a plastic sheet, then lift it to erase the words.
In one Moscow flat, they sat and waited as, one by one, refuseniks came to see them. Having studied their faces, names and bios over the past year, they had become "like movie stars" to the Smuklers. "There's Slepak, Lunts, Prestin, Abramovich," Connie said, remembering that day. "It was an embarrassment of riches. We were seeing all of them."
When they finally met with Irma Chernyak, they fell in love with him, Connie said.
"When we said goodbye, we didn't know what would happen to him, and I started to cry," she said. "He said, 'Connie, don't cry for me. For the first time in my life, I'm a man, not a mouse.'"
They saw Chernyak again in the summer of 1975 and told him they'd return to see him a year later. But in February 1976, at 4 a.m., their home phone rang. The Israeli Embassy in Vienna, Austria, was calling. "We just want you to know that Irma Chernyak has come out of the Soviet Union, and he wanted us to call you."
The embassy planned to send him to Israel, but the Smuklers had other ideas. The couple was flying to Brussels, Belgium, the next day to attend a world conference on Soviet Jewry, and they wanted Chernyak to join them. They also suspected he had been released ahead of the conference on purpose; letting people go made the Soviets look better.
At the gathering, the Smuklers realized how global this movement had become. There were delegations from countries where they knew activism was strong, such as Britain and France. But there were also delegations from countries that surprised them, including Argentina, Mexico and Zaire (now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo).
As the lights went down, the Israeli delegation walked on stage. Among them were Israeli leaders such as Menachem Begin and Golda Meir. Each one held a candle.
What happened next still makes Connie cry.
"The last one was Irma (Chernyak)," she said, her voice cracking. "He was the newest Israeli citizen."
Soviet Jews had become pawns, author Beckerman said -- let go when the Kremlin needed good PR and refused when anger at the West was strongest. After the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, for example, the numbers dropped.
Much of the concern was about appearances. To let people flee in droves, Beckerman said, would be an admission that life under the Soviet regime wasn't paradise.