Jewish Leaders Assemble in Emotional Farewell to Rabbi Levin of Moscow
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Jewish Leaders Assemble in Emotional Farewell to Rabbi Levin of Moscow

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Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin, of Moscow, and Cantor David Stiskin, of Leningrad, the first Soviet Jewish religious leaders to visit the United States in more than 50 years, were given an affectionate and emotional farewell here last night. One hundred and eighty Jewish leaders attended a banquet marking the end of their two-week visit. The banquet was sponsored by Rabbi Pinch Teitz, of Elizabeth, N.J., a close personal friend of Rabbi Levin. He described the gathering as the greatest assemblage of American-Jewish leaders under one roof. The array of Jewish leaders — secular and religious — was joined by a representative of the Soviet Embassy, Ikar I. Zarazhnov, who voiced the hope that Rabbi Levin’s visit would “improve certain thoughts of certain people about the Soviet Union.”

But it was the personality of the Moscow chief rabbi – gentle and scholarly, yet commanding – the poignancy of his mission and the air of historic precedent that it engendered which drew the unusual cross-section of Jewry to his farewell appearance. Seated at various tables were patriarchal Orthodox rabbis, Talmudists and Yeshiva heads, the presidents and officers of secular Jewish organizations and representatives of Reform and Conservative Judaism. At one table was Richard Korn, president of the American Council for Judaism, the anti-Zionist organization that originally sponsored Rabbi Levin’s visit. Nearby sat Jacques Torczyner, president of the Zionist Organization of America. There was also Gottfried Neuburger, who heads the Friends of Jerusalem, the American branch of the Nuturei Karta, religious zealots of Jerusalem who do not recognize the State of Israel. Mr. Neuburger’s organization took over sponsorship of Rabbi Levin’s visit a few days after the Council for Judaism discontinued its role.


There were many speakers during the evening, among them Rabbi Moses Feinstein, dean of the Yeshiva Tifereth Jerusalem and head of the Council of Sages of Agudath Israel, who made a plea for greater Soviet understanding of Russian Jewry’s desire to live a religious life. “We are not a people of revolution. We want peace,” he said. “We are happy to hear that there are religious, Torah-educated Jews in Russia and we hope that our people in Russia can keep their Judaism.” There were virtually no references to Israel during the evening and no mention of the condition of Soviet Jewry. Those omissions were in deference to Rabbi Levin’s delicate position and to the fact that a Soviet representative was among the invited guests. Rabbi Levin himself only made one public reference to Soviet Jews during his entire visit. It occurred during his appearance at the Hunter College auditorium where his assertion that there is no official anti-Semitism on the USSR brought jeers and catcalls from a section of the audience.

Commenting on the meaning of the visit, Rabbi Zev Segal, of Young Israel of Newark and the Rabbinical Council of America, said “there is no question that we are happy that he came. We hope there will be more visits between both communities. This, however, does not alleviate the serious situation of Jews in the Soviet Union.”

Rabbi Levin, who is 74, said at the farewell banquet that he appreciated the display of American friendship from his heart. He spoke fondly of his meetings here with Mayor John V. Lindsay, of New York and Arthur J. Goldberg, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations. He said he had never dreamt “what I saw with my eyes” – the variety and strength and prosperity of the American Jewish community. Rabbi Levin visited many synagogues, religious schools and institutions during his brief stay and maintained a schedule that might have wearied a much younger man.

Cantor Stiskin, a simple, quiet and direct person, rendered several selections which implied for many present the troubled existence of Jews in Russia. He told the JTA later that what interested him most in America was its richness and its scholarly and educational bent. He said he had visited many cantors and was warmly welcomed by them.

Rabbi Levin and Cantor Stiskin were scheduled to fly to Canada today for meetings with Canadian Jewish leaders today and tomorrow. They will fly to Moscow aboard a Soviet airliner on Wednesday. The most moving moment of the farewell, one that brought tears to many eyes, came at the end of the banquet. The men joined hands and danced in a circle around the hall singing “Siman Tov, Mazel Tov.” Rabbi Levin. though slow of foot because of his advanced age, joined them. The dancers came back to the table and, then they sang”V’koreiv Pzureinu” the rabbi looked as if he were holding back tears. He sat impassive, taring at the napkins. When the group sang “Ani Maamin” he began to sing, with emotion.

Before his departure today, Rabbi Levin received a gift of mezuzot and tephillin from Charles J. Tanenbaum, of Scarsdale, N.Y., president of the American Council for Judaism’s philanthropic fund. He had requested the religious objects, which are in short supply in the USSR.

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