NEW YORK (Dec. 30)
Political instability–not anti-Semitism–poses the major threat to Jewish life in South America, it was reported today by Will Maslow, leader of an American Jewish Congress study mission that returned from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Venezuela. The executive director of the Congress and spoksman for the 21-member delegation presented the group’s findings at a news conference here.
The delegation completed a three-week survey of the organization and structure of the Jewish communities of Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Santiago and Lima. The group undertook the study at the invitation of the central Jewish bodies of the five countries visited and were officially received by them, Mr. Maslow reported. He said the study group was encouraged to find the activities of existing anti-Semitic organizations in South America were sporadic and their influence generally negligible.
He warned, however, that "pervasive political discontent throughout the continent, aggravated by acute poverty, could develop into violent social upheaval, gravely affecting not only local Jewish communities but every segment of society." A particularly acute problem facing South American Jewry, he said, was the "alienation from Jewish life of tens of thousands of young men and women–a whole new generation that is drifting away from the Jewish community. "Responsible Jewish leaders are aware of this estrangement but have not yet developed the instruments and techniques needed to halt this alarming development," Mr. Maslow stated. He continued: "Neither Zionism nor the present form of synagogue life nor the communal pre-occupation with philanthropy has proved sufficiently stimulating to the younger Jewish generation."
The American Jewish Congress leader described Jewish community life in South America as "centrally organized, democratically elected and effectively administered." He particularly praised the local Jewish educational systems, which he said were regarded by many South American governments as pilots for their own national educational efforts and could serve as models for Jewish communities around the world.
"In terms of the central and democratic organization of the community and the quality of Jewish education, U.S. Jewry has much to learn from the Jews of South America," Mr. Maslow declared. "In terms of a Jewish community taking its proud and rightful place in meeting the great social issues of the day–and thus in creating a brand of Judaism that has current relevance for today’s Jewish youth–we believe our own experience in the United States over the past generation may prove helpful to the South American Jewish communities."
Mr. Maslow also listed these findings of the American Jewish Congress study mission: 1. No South American government sanctions or condones anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish practices. In Argentina, the Tacuara, Guardia and similar groups have been outlawed; 2. Relations between the Jewish community and the Catholic Church vary from country to country ranging from "good" in Chile to "merely correct" in Argentina; 3. Organized Jewish communities in South America play little if any part in public affairs, although in some countries individual Jews occupy high political office and are active in general political affairs.