American Jewish Committee Discusses Situation of Jews in Many Lands
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American Jewish Committee Discusses Situation of Jews in Many Lands

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The 55th Annual Meeting of the American Jewish Committee opened here today to discuss problems affecting Jewish life in this country, Israel and other overseas lands, including the situation of the Jews in the Soviet Union and the problems faced now by Jewish communities in Latin America as a result of political upheavals there. Leaders from all parts of the United States are participating in the four day sessions.

Dr. John Slawson, executive vice-president, in a major address on Jewish identity in the United States took issue with those who “strive to have American Jewry appear as a religious group in the strictly creedal sense” because they feel that this conforms more to the American pattern.

“It is a known fact,” Dr. Slawson said, “that while there has been a great increase in affiliation in this country. with both Church and Synagogue, devotionalism or orthodoxy has by no means increased. As a matter of fact, the communal aspect of religious association–i. e., the sense of community, the feeling of belongingness–is becoming increasingly a factor in religious association. Jews may attend Synagogue less often than certain Christian groups, especially the Catholic, but they meet much of their communal association needs in the secular area. Philanthropy is an example. In Christian communities philanthropy is frequently organically related to Church.

“It is also to be remembered that in Jewish tradition the distinction between the sacred and profane (secular) is much smaller than in Christian traditions Dr. Slawson stressed. He pointed out that while Christian groups meet their communal participation needs within the Church, Jewish groups get the larger part of their communal participation outside Synagogue auspices, although even in the case of the synagogue, affiliation is taking on more and more of a communal aspect.

“It is not necessary for Jews to adopt Christian patterns or of course vice versa,” the American Jewish Committee leader said. “It is not necessary for Jews to water down Jewish identity to meet the fantasy of a sort of monolithic American pattern that does not exist. There is no absolute formula as to the type and character of group identification in the United States. Some are more creedal, others more communal. One may generalize from observation that Jews who are secure in their identity and knowledgeable in their tradition win for themselves and their group respect and acceptance to a greater extent than those Jews who are not sure-footed in their identity.


Zachariah Shuster, director of the American Jewish Committee’s European office, reported a “widespread movement” among European Catholic and Protestant church leaders “to combat anti-Jewish prejudice rooted in religious texts and materials.” He said that in the European Christian world, there is “a ferment of reappraisal going on with regard to attitudes toward Jews.”

In practical terms, Mr. Shuster said, this ferment has found expression in a ” renewed study and respect for the Old Testament and Judaism, not just as relics of Biblical times but as having contemporary force and meaning. ” In addition, he said, there has been in-creased research to determine more exactly the historic ties between Judaism and other religions. He added:

“Such understanding often results in changes in the teaching of the catechism and in religious texts. This has been particularly true in France, and generally such revisions go hand in hand with the combating of prejudice.”

Mr. Shuster said that recent steps by leading Catholic authorities have raised hopes that the forthcoming Ecumenical Council (October 1962) will “pave the way for a fundamental re-examination of distorted pictures of other religious groups contained in religious texts which in the past have been the source of misunderstandings and prejudice.’


Abraham Monk, Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Latin American office, reported that anti-Semitism in South America generally–and particularly in Argentina–is presently at its “highest level since the end of World War II. ” Mr. Monk said that the Frondizi Administration in Argentina did not interfere with the activities of the neo-fascist

Although Tacuara and other fascist groups in Argentina momentarily lessened their activities during the political crisis which brought Jose Maria Guido to the Presidency, “a new spate of vandalism–this time attacks against Jewish school children in San Martin”–has recently erupted, Mr. Monk said.

He reported that even in Brazil, a country traditionally free of religious and racial bias, Jewish cemeteries in two cities were recently desecrated, “These are the worst anti-Semitic incidents ever recalled in Brazil. Despite intensive government action to apprehend the culprits, they are still at large,” he said.

In Argentina, Mr. Monk named three other anti-Semitic groups now operating in addition to Tacuara. They are Grupo Social Christiano in the province of Cordoba, Alianza Libertadore Argentina in Buenos Aires and FAJA in the province of Misiones. All these groups have in common “anti-Semitism and utter disregard for liberal democracy and a deep-seated hatred for the United States.”

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