Rabbi Berkowitz Urges Amendment of Eoa to Help Jewish Poor, Criticizes Cuny’s Open Admissions Plan

Rabbi William Berkowitz, the newly elected president of the New York Board of Rabbis, offered a wide range of proposals last night aimed at getting the Jewish poor in New York City their fair share of anti-poverty assistance and countering what he described as threats to the merit system at City University and in the civil service.

Rabbi Berkowitz, who is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Jeshurun, one of the largest Conservative congregations in New York, detailed his proposals in his acceptance speech at the Board’s 91st annual meeting.

In the course of his address, he assailed the Lindsay administration for having made “grave errors” in its decision to build a large-scale low-income housing project in the Forest Hills section of Queens and called for “an immediate cessation of all activity on the project” pending consultations with “a total representative body of the community.” He also had sharp words for “Jewish politicians who trade on their Jewishness for political gain” but fail to “realize their responsibility to the Jewish community.”

A Lindsay spokesman said the Mayor was “saddened” by Rabbi Berkowitz’s “uninformed attack against the city administration, which undermines our unceasing efforts to assist the Jewish community.” On Forest Hills, the Mayor released a statement before Rabbi Berkowitz spoke, asserting: “There are no plans for any changes…or for any halt to construction at the site.”

To end the neglect of the Jewish poor, he proposed that the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 be amended to provide for the redrawing of the designated poverty areas to include areas inhabited by the Jewish poor and that more city-wide programs must be funded by the Council Against Poverty. Another demand was that elections to the neighborhood anti-poverty corporations must take place on a day other than Saturday. Rabbi Berkowitz also called for the creation of a new city-wide Jewish group to deal exclusively with the problems of the Jewish poor.

Rabbi Berkowitz referred in his address to two policies at City University–Open Admissions and the Affirmative Action Plan–which are designed to maintain “ethnic balance” in the CUNY student body and its hiring practices. He said he had no quarrel with Open Admissions as long as it is “within the tradition of rights and privileges that are designed to give equal educational opportunities to all.” Asserting that “merit should be the sole criterion for expertise in education as it should in all areas of civil service,” he called on HEW to immediately ask CUNY to eliminate from questionnaires those questions concerned with race, religion, ethnic origin and income.

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