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Jews in Russia Seek Identification with Religion, J. W. V. Commander Reports

A keen, “almost pathetic” desire for identification with the Jewish religion, coupled with “stark fear, ” are the characteristics of Jewish life in the Soviet Union, Sam Shaikewitz, national commander of the Jewish War Veterans, declared here today.

Mr. Shaikewitz, whose home is in St. Louis, returned here early today from a visit to the Soviet Union. He is here to attend the 64th annual convention of the JWV which will open formal sessions Wednesday. Today, national committees dealing with organizational affairs opened their annual pre-convention sessions.

Mr. Shaikewitz said that, under the current regime of Nikita S. Khrushchev, “things are much better for the Russians, including Jews, ” than they had been under the late Joseph Stalin. The JWV commander, who visited not only Moscow but many other centers of Jewish population in European Russia, said he found “fear and desire for Jewish identification” wherever he went.

“In one large city, I was told there was a synagogue within a few minutes walk of my hotel. I searched for an hour and a half and found no synagogue. I talked to people on the street, and some were Jewish– I talked to these in Yiddish. Those who speak Yiddish would start answering in Yiddish, then look behind them, and quickly change to Russian, insisting that all’s well, we can find work whenever we want it. They are just plain scared. “

Mr. Shaikewitz said that he heard protests from Jews in Kiev about reports in the American press that their synagogue had been closed down by the government. Actually, he said, he saw the synagogue in operation. It is open several hours each morning and each evening, and services are held on the Jewish New Year and on Yom Kippur. He was told that, during the last High Holy Days, as many as 30, 000 Jews passed through the Kiev synagogue to show that they were “still Jews.”

In another large city, however, said the JWV commander, he found that the old synagogue is now used partly as a planetarium, partly as headquarters for the Communist Party’s “agitation and propaganda” commissariat.

Mr. Shaikewitz said he found “a woeful ignorance” among the Russian Jews about Israel. “Many of them,” he declared, “believe what they have been told that Israel is a desert wasteland where all the people are underfed, poverty-stricken, and live under substandard conditions.”

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