NEW YORK (Nov. 24)
An impressive and colorful report on the life of Jews in Japan, Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, Australia and Iran was presented at a press conference here today by Moses A. Leavitt, executive vice chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee, following his return from a four-month survey of Jewish and refugee problems.
Mr. Leavitt emphasized that Jews in Southeast Asia are scattered in small groups of 50 to 150 persons. “Cut off from the main stream of Jewish life, they face assimilation and extinction and may soon disappear as Jewish entities, unless organized Jewry comes to their rescue.”
The JDC leader reported that in Tokyo there are about 150 Jewish families, most of them Russian Jews who escaped from Soviet territory. They are all well established and although not fully aware of traditional Judaism, they maintain a beautiful Jewish club in which membership is restricted to members of the community’s lone synagogue. The Jewish Club is located in a palace which formerly served as the headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the occupation of Japan. The Jews in Tokyo have invited a religious teacher from London to teach their children Jewish traditions.
A similar situation exists in Hong Kong and in Singapore, Mr. Leavitt said. There small groups of Jews maintain beautiful Jewish clubs and synagogues, but the synagogues are used only for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. The Jews have not ties to Jewish culture, although they consider themselves members of the Jewish community.
Mr. Leavitt spoke at great length about the 18,000 Jews of India, most of whom are B’nai Israel Jews who look and act like Hindus but are extremely Orthodox, practice circumcision, fast on Yom Kippur and observe all other Jewish traditions. They include about 3,000 Iraqi Jews, most of them wealthy, but who maintain no contact whatsoever with the B’nai Israel Jews who are very poor and actually face starvation. There is also a small group of Cochin Jews whose records date back to the Fourth Century. Most of them are colored and many of them have emigrated to Israel, as did many Bill Israel Jews.
The JDC leader gave high praise to the Jewish communities of Australia for their warmhearted “generously hospitable” reception of Polish and Hungarian Jewish refugees. Thanks to the work being done by Jewish agencies in Australia and “the friendly and sympathetic attitude” of Australian authorities, Mr. Leavitt said, the cost of integrating Polish and Hungarian refugees was “at a minimum.” In two to three weeks, he reported, “they are on their feet and earning a living.” Australia, Mr. Leavitt emphasized, could be “a land of unlimited opportunity for refugees of all nationalities.”
Reviewing the situation of the 70,000 Jews in Iran, Mr. Leavitt emphasized that there is no anti-Semitism whatsoever in Iran, but the Jews there live in great poverty–in circumstances which are even poorer than in Morocco or Tunis. He outlined the work of the JDC in Iran, aiding the Jews there through establishing clinics, hospitals and children’s institutions. He also lauded ORT program of vocational training for young Jews in Iran.