NEW YORK (Oct. 13)
Over 3,000 young American Jews gathered on the Central Park Mall at noon today to begin Simhat Torah celebrations several hours in advance of the holiday which begins officially at sundown. The gathering, and similar ones in 27 other cities of the United States and Canada, is a demonstration of solidarity with the Jews of Soviet Russia, who are denied free religious and cultural expression. They were organized by the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry. The early Simhat Torah celebrations also launched a nationwide drive for one million signatures on a petition to U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations to urge the Soviet Union “to fulfill the promise of individual dignity and liberty inherent in its own Constitution and by its signature on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The New York and Washington rallies heard statements from Presidential candidates Hubert H. Humphrey and Richard M. Nixon. Both rallies were taped by the Voice of America for broadcasting to Moscow. In addition, Kol Israel, the Israel state radio, taped the New York rally and will broadcast parts of it to Russia from Israel. According to an informed source, more than a dozen American Jewish youths, many from religious groups, have flown to Moscow to be with Russian Jews at the Simhat Torah celebration there, and will tell them of the solidarity displays in the West.
According to Rabbi Jacob Goldberg, chairman of the Central Park demonstration, Simhat Torah is the one day of the year when Soviet Jews are permitted to dance outside of their few remaining synagogues to symbolize their attachment to Judaism. He said it was hoped that news of the demonstrations in the U.S. and Canada would reach the Russian Jews by the time the holiday begins “to let them know we understand what they are doing and why they are doing it and are with them in the spirit of Simhat Torah.” The petition addressed to Mr. Thant points out that Premier Alexei Kosygin’s 1966 promise to let Soviet Jews be reunited with their families abroad has not been carried out; that Jews in Russia are not permitted to publish devotional literature or manufacture religious articles; that their cultural, educational and communal institutions have been shut down; and that Jews seeking a higher education in the Soviet Union are restricted by a rigid quota system.