U.S. Jewish Leader Finds Jewish Life in Soviet Russia Fading Away

Jewish life in the Soviet Union “is in danger of extinction, and appears to be fading away,” Louis P. Smith, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, reported here today. Mr. Smith had just returned from visits to Russia and Poland. Prior to those visits, he was in Israel as a member of a Jewish leaders’ study mission sent by the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds.

Mr. Smith said that, in the USSR, “there appeared to be nothing but a community of elderly Jewish men and women, clinging tenaciously to the lone, remaining thread within their reach, Jewish religion.” Aside from the synagogue, Mr. Smith reported, “there is no Jewish communal organizations, no Jewish cultural institutions of any sort. All that remain–and it is the only unifying force–is the synagogue. And the synagogue is for the aged.

“I found little to give us any immediate hope of survival of Jewish life as we know it in the free world,” he continued. “This is a disturbing situation. Jewish youth in Russia shies away from things Jewish. Far too many intermarry.” The Boston leader found that “the Soviet Government still blocks those things which could lead to some revitalized Jewish life.” Yiddish books, newspapers or magazines, he declared, are unavailable. “Even prayer books are becoming scarce,” he reported.

Having visited both Moscow and Leningrad, Mr. Smith reported that he found “Jewish life in Leningrad as drab as it is in Moscow. The sole rallying force for the Leningrad Jews is also the synagogue. Here, too, there are no Jewish schools, no cultural links with Jewry through the medium of the printed word,” he told the Boston Jewish Advocate.

SAYS JEWISH LIFE IN POLAND IS ACTIVE AND ALIVE

By contrast, he reported, he found Jewish life in Poland active and alive. “Warsaw’s Jews,” he said, “have a devoted group of men who constitute the leaders of the organized Jewish community. The Joint Distribution Committee and ORT are doing an effective job through their social services and education programs. Jewish youth are trained for modern science and technology–skills which they hope will enable them to become self-supporting, and which they hope, some day, to use in other countries, if and when they get out.”

As to Israel, Mr. Smith reported he found vast progress there. “Israel,” he said, “is alive, moving forward despite the country’s border problems.” Mr. Smith said that the problem of developing Israel’s Negev Desert is still a difficult task. “Water, people and industry are the answers to the transformation of Israel’s southland,” he stated.

“Jewry in the United States and in Israel must do a great deal of re-thinking of our relationships and our respective responsibilities,” Mr. Smith said. “Both the American and the Israel community must develop the Jewish cultural institutions which will insure a continuation of Jewish learning and knowledge for the preservation of Jewish life and Jewish values. Unless we do it in this country and in this community, we are defaulting our position of leadership and responsibility. And unless Israel broadens her cultural and educational programs, it will be in danger of becoming a primitive Levantine state.

“This is a two-way bridge which American Jewry must build cooperatively and firmly with Israel. In this way only can we preserve that which has been wiped out in Eastern Europe and at the same time lend vitality to Jewish living to serve Jews everywhere.”

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