PARIS (Jul. 11)
“Judaism in Russia is seriously threatened with extinction,” two American rabbis returning from a visit to the Soviet Union declared here today. The two, Rabbis Morris Kertzer and David Golovensky, members of a delegation of the New York Board of Rabbis, will land in New York tomorrow.
The rabbis said they had been led to this “melancholy conclusion” by what they had seen and by their talks with Soviet officials, religious leaders and people in many walks of life. “While the Soviet regime speaks of religious freedom and has in fact somewhat relaxed some of its repressive measures, its policies continue to restrict and strangle Jewish life,” Rabbis Kertzer and Golovensky said in a written statement.
“We were shocked to find the major institutions of Jewish religion and the vehicles of expression of Jewish culture all but vanished leaving a Judaism that is anaemic and moribund. We had hoped,” they continued, “to find in Moscow synagogues adequate to serve its approximately 300,000 Jews. All we could discover was one synagogue and two auxiliary houses.
“In Leningrad, a city with an estimated 200,000 Jews, we found only one synagogue where there were formerly sixteen. For two years we had heard of the publication of a new prayer book, yet we found it is still in the promising stage despite an obviously critical shortage of prayer books. The few prayer books in use were torn to shreds.
“We had heard of the establishment of a theological seminary for the training of rabbis and teachers to serve Russia’s estimated 3,000,000 Jews. However,” they emphasized, “we saw no evidence of any serious attempt to launch this desperately needed institution. We found no religious schools for the youth. Indeed, officials of the Council of Cults declared that a ban on such institutions was strictly in force.
“We found,” the two rabbis continued, “no Jewish cultural institutions, no religious literature of recent origin, no community organization, no Yiddish or Hebrew press, no national bodies, no Jewish social service institutions without which Jewish life cannot long endure. The brightest ray of hope is the still vigorous will for a Jewish life and the passionate desire of parents to instill in the younger generation a love for Cod and loyalty to Jewish tradition.
“Under present conditions, however, they have none of the bare physical means such as religious books and little possibility for transferring the Jewish heritage. They are desperately trying to build bricks without straw and this is the great danger to the survival of Judaism in the Soviet,” Rabbis Kertzer and Golovensky concluded.
The remaining six members of the rabbinical party continued their tour of the Soviet Union, planning to stop off in Kiev and Odessa. They will also visit the Jewish communities of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The delegation consisted of Orthodox. Conservative and Reform rabbis.