U.S. Jewish Groups Issue Statement on Planned Talk with Khrushchev

Twenty-one national Jewish organizations which were prepared to send a delegation to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, to discuss with him the status of Soviet Jewry, today issued a lengthy statement giving the background of their decision and emphasizing that they have reason to believe that, although Mr. Khrushchev refused to see their five-man delegation, their views did reach the Soviet Premier.

The statement of the 21 organizations reads:

“When the United States and the Soviet Union announced an exchange of visits between President Eisenhower and Chairman Khrushchev, many groups recognized the possibility for a presentation of a variety of issues. Understandably, American Jews became concerned with seeking an opportunity to bring the plight of their co-religionists in the Soviet Union to the attention of Mr. Khrushchev. At the outset, several groups sought an appointment. In the absence of a single recognized forum, this too was understandable. After some negotiations, 21 major national Jewish organizations, whose names are attached, undertook to consolidate their approach to the problem.

“The concern and attitude of the United States was indicated by the words of the Secretary of State, Mr. Christian A. Herter, who said: ‘In the State Department we have requests from a number of different organizations to try to arrange appointments for them with Mr. Khrushchev. The Jewish organizations did it individually, asked for an appointment with him, then joined together and asked if they might send a representative to represent all of them to see Mr. Khrushchev. We endorsed strongly that request.’

“In the short time available, the co-operating organizations faced two tasks: a. To agree on the issue and the position to be taken; b. To select a delegation in the event that Mr. Khrushchev heeded the strong representation of the State Department, which was supported by officials in both executive and legislative branches of the Government.”

LIST THEIR CONCLUSIONS ON THE POSITION OF SOVIET JEWRY

“The necessities of the situation were such as to make ongoing releases of news, as to steps taken, inadvisable. Now it can be stated that it had been agreed to limit the number of the delegation to five, and that the organizations had indeed reached substantial agreement on the five. Then it became clear that Mr. Khrushchev would not find time for the meeting. Earlier the organizations had reached common ground as to conclusions concerning the position of Soviet Jewry as follows:

“1. The estimated number of Jews in the Soviet Union is approximately three million and the Government of the USSR has always regarded them as a distinct national and religious group.

“2. However, despite the de jure recognition of their status, the Jews are the only religious group which has no nationwide religious association. There is no comprehensive federation of Jewish communities. As the Soviet authorities themselves demand the existence of such a federation as a condition for the organized construction, supervision and maintenance of houses of prayer, and for the manufacture and distribution of articles of religious worship, the denial of the right of federation suffocates the effective operation of Jewish religious life, even in the confines open to other religions.

“Jews are not permitted to maintain religious associations with Jewish religious organizations outside the Soviet Union, such as the relationship permitted between the Russian Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches. Soviet Jews are not permitted to teach their children the Hebrew language, without which Jewish religious observance is impossible for them. While some synagogues have been allowed to function on a local basis, there have been disturbing reports in recent months, even in this regard. There is authentic information of the closing of synagogues and prayer groups in a number of provincial cities.

“3. From the point of view of group culture, the position of the Jews in the Soviet Union has deteriorated sharply in the past 20 years. In the 1930′s, Soviet Jews had a widespread system of cultural and educational institutions in the Yiddish language, including schools, theaters, newspapers, a large literary clubs and associations. The process of elimination of these institutions reached its climax in the years 1948-1953, when these institutions were closed. In 1952, scores of leading Jewish writers and other cultural leaders were liquidated. Since 1953, nothing has been done to restore these rights, which were forcibly suppressed, and which are accorded to all other groups in the Soviet Union, even to tiny and dispersed groups, numbering only a few thousand souls.

“4. There also exists a humanitarian problem of broken families, which has resulted from the migrations of recent generations and the dispersed condition of the Jewish people. Many Jews in the Soviet Union are separated from their families elsewhere. Any action by the Soviet Government to alleviate this situation would constitute a great contribution towards better understanding between peoples.

“We have reason to believe that these views did reach Mr. Khrushchev. What will happen in this connection, as in the case of many other issues, must await the passage of time,” the statement concludes. The organizations which signed the statement are: American-Israel Committee for Public Affairs; American Jewish Congress; American Trade Union Council for Labor Israel – Histadrut; American Zionist Council; B’nai B’rith; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Hadassah; Jewish Agency for Israel; Jewish Labor Committee; Jewish War Veterans of the United States; Labor Zionist Assembly; Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi; National Community Relations Advisory Council; National Council of Jewish Women; Rabbinical Assembly of America; Rabbinical Council of America; Synagogue Council of America; Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; United Synagogue of America; and the Zionist Organization of America.

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