NEW YORK (Aug. 19)
An American rabbi, reporting on a 14-day visit to four major Soviet cities, said today his findings indicated there was no question but that pressures from American Jews on the Soviet Government to ease its restrictions on Jewish practices were effective and should be continued unceasingly.
Rabbi Isaac M. Trainin, director of the commission on synagogue relations of the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, who made the visit in a private capacity, noted, in citing the usefulness of American Jewish pressures, that the Soviet Government had permitted the publication of an edition of the Jewish prayer book and that matzoh baking facilities had been made available. He described the matzoh bakery he saw in Kiev as tiny. He cited a conversation with a Jew he met in one of the synagogues who told the rabbi he had four children and that none had any interest in Jewish religious practices. He also told Rabbi Trainin that he went regularly to services and that ten years ago he would not have done so, but that now he was not afraid.
Rabbi Trainin said he spent much of his time visiting synagogues in Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad and Riga. He confirmed earlier reports that young Russian Jews largely ignored such services. He estimated the average age of worshippers in Moscow’s Central Synagogue as about 75. He said the average was a little lower among worshippers he saw in Leningrad and Kiev synagogues. Young Russian Jews he met, he reported, were uniformly and often strongly anti-Israel and indicated they could not care less about Jewishness. He disclosed that when he asked about the absence of young Jews from synagogues he was told there were two reasons: many do not care and those who do care fear economic reprisals, since the Government controls virtually all employment.
SAYS JEWS AND NON-JEWS BOTH FEAR BEING SEEN TALKING TO FOREIGNERS
Discussing widely-reported assertions by other visitors that Russian Jews lived in an atmosphere of fear, particularly in regard to talking to foreign Jewish visitors, Rabbi Trainin said it was his impression that the average Russian Jew in the synagogue and on the street shared with Russians generally fears of being seen talking to foreign visitors.
He said he had completed his visit with a feeling that there was discrimination against Jews in government and industry but that he felt there was no official Government anti-Semitism as distinct from the official policy of opposition to all religions. He agreed, however, that while other Soviet minorities had opportunities for cultural expression if religious expression was denied to them or made difficult, Jews were denied those other cultural avenues as well.
Rabbi Trainin said his question at the Leningrad synagogue as to whether there was ever a Bar Mitzvah there was greeted with sorrow. One worshipper told him there were neither Bar Mitzvahs nor circumcisions. He said “we do get kosher meat, but for how long?” as he pointed to the only ritual slaughterer, who is 80 years old. Cultural genocide of the Jews is well underway, Rabbi Trainin concluded. A worshipper in one of the synagogues, who was 81 years old, told him: “You see this synagogue. The Government won’t close it. In ten years, it will close by itself.”