NEW YORK (Jun. 19)
The first visit of Moscow Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin to the United States today evoked expressions of regret from Jewish organizations that he was apparently being used by Soviet authorities to gloss over mistreatment of Soviet Jewry and fresh demands for action to alleviate their plight. Rabbi Levin, here since Monday, accompanied by Cantor David Stiskin of Leningrad, is touring the United States as a guest of the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism.
The American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry said in a statement that “we are saddened” that Rabbi Levin “has been obliged to place a fine gloss over the real and tragic plight of Soviet Jewry. We understand the difficulties under which he is speaking and appreciate the sad role he must play.” The statement added that it was the wish of the Conference that Rabbi Levin “could report to us that official Soviet policy no longer stands in the way of the creation of religious, educational, communal and cultural institutions vital to the continuity of Jewish life” In the Soviet Union, and that he could also report that Soviet Jews “were actually permitted to enjoy the same communal rights accorded other religious and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union.” However, the statement added, “we know that he cannot, apart from citing a few isolated tokens of Jewish life that only emphasize the denial and the need.”
Similar reactions were expressed at the 79th annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, meeting in Boston. Rabbi Jacob Weinstein of Chicago, past president of the association of Reform rabbis, told the convention that while he felt compassion for Rabbi Levin, he believed that the rabbi was being “forced to serve a nefarious role by the Soviet Government, whose attitudes toward Jewry and Judaism become less and less different than that of the Czarist regimes.” He recalled that in the summer of 1966, he led a delegation of 22 Reform rabbis on a visit to the Soviet Union and that, in Moscow, one of Rabbi Levin’s congregants had told the delegation that Rabbi Levin “speaks with lips of danger and, therefore, one should make the proper deductions from his comments.”
BELIEVES RABBI KNOWS HE SERVES PROPAGANDA OBJECTIVES
Rabbi Weinstein rejected arguments that Rabbi Levin was not aware that his visit to the United States was serving Soviet propaganda objectives, particularly since sponsorship was provided by the Council for Judaism, which Rabbi Weinstein called “a prickly minority organization” which had “long attempted to draw an invidious distinction between Judaism and Zionism.” He added that the Soviet rulers now were using the same argument “to justify” their “ominous pro-Arab role in the Middle East” and to “oppress its Jewish citizens under the guise of fighting Zionist imperialism.
Council for Judaism officials maintain they had no political motive for sponsoring the visit and that the Council was merely serving as “advisory and protocol host.” The anti-Zionist agency is paying the Soviet Jewish delegation’s bills here. A Council spokesman, who spent yesterday with Rabbi Levin, said that the Moscow religious leader maintained, in response to a question during an interview taped for television, that Soviet Jews suffered no special restrictions in the Soviet Union and that such limitations as are imposed are similarly felt by other religious groups.
Most of the visitors to the Essex House suite here of the rabbi and the cantor showed uneasiness in asking questions about the status of Jews in Russia but New York press and television reporters were less inhibited in asking him whether there really was anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. He regularly replies that he is “surprised” that “this is the principal question.” adding that “there is no expression or feeling of anti-Semitism in Russia” and that the charge “is just one of the weapons in the cold war.” Asked whether he hoped or intended to visit Israel, Rabbi Levin showed distress and waved the question aside. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he hoped to learn “everything” about the life of American Jews which he called the basis for his visit.