MONTREAL (Jul. 4)
During his Montreal visit, which ended yesterday, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin of Moscow said that there are 102 synagogues and minyanim (groups of at least 10 men who gather to pray) registered with the Soviet authorities. He was asked about them at a meeting with the leadership of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Also asked about the number of rabbis in the Soviet Union, he said he had no way of knowing since there is no central Jewish rabbinical body, according to Rabbi Isaac L. Hechtman, executive director of the Montreal Jewish Community Council (Vaad Hair).
Rabbi Levin and Cantor David Stiskin of Leningrad were the guests of Montreal Jewry for 47 hours following their nearly two-week trip to New York. They left Montreal on Wednesday on a Soviet Aeroflot airliner for the 10-hour trip back to Moscow.
Rabbi Hechtman, who provided JTA with details of the Levin-Stiskin Montreal visit, related that Rabbi Levin was also asked why there is no central Jewish religious body in the Soviet Union comparable to such bodies permitted other religions. Rabbi Hechtman said that Rabbi Levin replied that Soviet authorities have told him that since Russia is officially an atheistic country and the Jewish community there had no central body even before the Russian Revolution, the Government cannot be expected to allow one now.
A public meeting held Tuesday at the Beth Zion Synagogue, second largest in Montreal, was jammed, Rabbi Hechtman said. There were 1,500 inside and another 1,200 outside, by police estimate, that could not get in. Rabbi Levin drew the biggest applause there, Rabbi Hechtman said, when he said, “May God help us to hear good tidings from you, and you from us.” He told the audience that he could not speak in the name of the Jewish community of Soviet Russia, but only on behalf of the worshippers of his own synagogue, the Choral Synagogue, in Moscow, Rabbi Hechtman related. Rabbi Levin was said to have expressed hope that all the religious leaders of both the United States and the USSR would endeavor to seek to influence the Governments of both nations to promote peace. When there is peace, he reportedly said, the Jews benefit from it.
Rabbi Hechtman revealed that Cantor Stiskin told him that he does not make his living as a hazzan in Leningrad but rather as an engineer in a Government factory there.
Rabbi Levin said that he had a rather limited idea of Jewish life in the United States gathered from Jewish visitors to his synagogue – and that many came with cameras which they used during services, and drove up in limousines. He said he was amazed to see the vitality of Jewish life in the U.S. and that he had known only what it was like 50 years ago, Rabbi Hechtman said. Rabbi Levin reportedly said he felt encouraged to hope that Russian Jewish youth would help to make Russian Jewish life equally vital in coming years.
Rabbi Hechtman, who also heads the Vaad Harabonim, the Montreal Council of Orthodox Rabbis, said that Rabbi Levin and Cantor Stiskin were given a reception at the home of Rabbi Pinhas Hirszprung. whom he described as Montreal’s Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Levin visited the Maimonides Home and Hospital for the Aged and a number of educational institutions in Montreal. Rabbi Stiskin sang at several places.