NEW YORK (Sep. 9)
A delegation of nine rabbis of the Rabbinical Council of America who visited the Soviet Union this summer called today for immediate measures to ease the plight of Soviet Jewry which, they declared, “remains grave and must be the continuing concern and responsibility of the entire free world.”
Reporting on their visit and meetings with Soviet Jewish leaders, Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the Orthodox rabbinical group, who headed the delegation, said that the most urgent needs included the setting aside of new land for Jewish cemeteries in Moscow and Leningrad, where Jewish burial grounds are completely exhausted; permission for parents to arrange for religious instruction of their children; and permission for Jews to rejoin their families in other countries.
The delegation also called for the creation of a “central Jewish council or agency to coordinate the activities of synagogue and rabbinic functions” and for permission to be granted Soviet rabbinic leaders to attend rabbinical conventions and convocations in other countries. The Rabbinical Council had invited Moscow Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin to attend the organization’s annual convention next year.
Nothing that the Jewish community in Moscow had now been given permission to bake matzon for Passover, Rabbi Miller urged that this right be extended to other Jewish communities in the Soviet Union. He also called for the establishment of Jewish theological seminaries in other Soviet cities besides Moscow.
SEE EVIDENCE OF SOVIET SENSITIVITY TO CRITICISM
Asserting that there were “signs on the horizon that the governmental authorities of Russia are sensitive to the outpouring of criticisms from the Western world and are removing some curbs which had been placed upon Jewish citizens,” Rabbi Miller said that the “Russians react to these voices of protest when they are convinced there is no political motivation behind these expression of dissatisfaction.”
Citing the easing of the Soviet policy toward religion, shown in the recently issued map showing the locations of Moscow’s churches and synagogue, Rabbi Miller said that Soviet Jewry would “also be the beneficiaries of such change.”
He noted that “in sharp contrast to the dearth of young people at synagogue services in such major cities as Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, where the worshipers were in their sixties or older, we were pleasantly surprised to find several hundred young, middle aged and elderly people at the daily service in Tbilsi (Tiflis). We were impressed with the vitality of Jewish life in the Georgian Republic.”
Rabbi Miller said that the measures announced at the time of the delegation’s visit, including permission to print 10,000 Hebrew prayer books and the reopening of the Moscow Rabbinical Seminary to 30 students, “represent only the beginning of change which, we hope, will result in the normalization of life for the entire Jewish community of Russia.”
Rabbi Miller also called for support of the Eternal Light Vigil meeting to be held in Washington on Sunday, September 19, noting that “this is the type of responsible demonstration which can be effective.”
Referring to recent changes in the structure of the Soviet economy which introduced many elements of capitalism and private enterprise, Rabbi Miller expressed the hope that “these changes will also bring doctrinal innovations which will liberalize the attitude toward religion in general, and the Jews in particular. It is our hope that the Russian Government’s attitude toward the religious education of the young will also undergo change, and that parents will be permitted to provide for the training of their children in accordance with their ancestral beliefs. The fact that conditions vary within Russia strengthens our hope that such a change can be effected.”