NEW YORK (Apr. 19)
A three-man delegation of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation has concluded after a 12-day visit to the Soviet Union that despite “minor concessions” by the government, “There has been no change for the better in the situation of the Soviet Jews as far as their religious opportunities and cultural activities are concerned.” They quoted Peter Makarstev of the Ministry of Cults of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. as telling them that while Jews officially have the right to emigrate to Israel nevertheless “These people are our people, and we have a responsibility to try to dissuade them from making a great mistake.” The delegation, which reported its findings at a press conference here today, consisted of Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue, New York, president of the foundation; the Rev. Charles M. Whelan, S.J., professor of constitutional law at Fordham University and editor of the Jesuit weekly “America”; and former Congressman Francis E. Dorn of Brooklyn, secretary-treasurer of the foundation and a Catholic.
The three told of “concessions” by Mr. Makartsev that included allowing the foundation to provide Soviet Jews with religious artifacts; permitting the “sprucing up” of the Moscow synagogue; allowing a Muscovite Jewish student to attend the Budapest Jewish Seminary, and facilitating the production of matzoh. But Rabbi Schneier recalled that on the first of the foundation’s four recent Soviet visits, in 1966, the situation was “very gloomy from a religious and cultural survival point of view,” which “continues to be the story today.” Fr. Whelan, who commented that no group could continue to exist without the right to religious freedom, was nonetheless optimistic about the future of Soviet Jewry–”The Jewish community will find a way to survive.” But he called the existing situation “extremely serious,” especially regarding the prohibition on rabbinical training.
THE SOVIET ANTI-ZIONIST CAMPAIGN HAS LED TO NEW AWARENESS OF JEWISH IDENTITY
Soviet Jews are “tense and badly worried” and “living under constant fear,” the delegation concluded, that the Government’s anti-Zionist campaign may lead to a “breakout of active and perhaps violent anti-Semitism,” despite the Kremlin’s “best intentions.” Rabbi Schneier said the delegation particularly emphasized to Mr. Makartsev the pleas to the UN of 18 Georgian families seeking emigration to Israel, and pointed out to him “the necessity to implement” the Kosygin “promise.” One hopeful sign, the delegation remarked, was that the anti-Zionist campaign had ironically resulted in a new “awareness” and “search for identity” on the part of Soviet Jewish and non-Jewish youth. But with the lack of rabbinical training facilities, the rabbi observed, “it is not hard to foresee the time when the Jews of the Soviet Union will have no spiritual leaders at all.” The Foundation relies on contacts with religious and political leaders to ease restrictive policies, rather than on sponsoring public protests. Its chairman is Kenneth B. Keating, United States Ambassador to India and former U.S. Senator from New York. The board of trustees includes ex-Postmaster General James A. Farley, Protocol Chief Angier Biddle Duke, and former Congressman Orrin G. Judd.