NEW YORK (Feb. 21)
Ten Jews were arrested outside the synagogue in Kiev, the Ukraine, last Saturday after Sabbath services, it was reported today by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. As of last night they had not been released, according to the Conference which did not report a reason for the arrests. Five of the Jews were identified to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency–four from Riga, Latvia, surnamed Feldman, Remnik, Kogan and Boorstein, and one from Moscow.
(Officials of the Chicago Chapter of the American Jewish Committee told the JTA that 20 Jews in Kiev, congregating outside the synagogue waiting for services to start last Friday night, were attacked by hooligans who shouted “There should be another Babi Yar.” All the Jews were reportedly arrested. Nineteen were released shortly; it was not known why the 20th was being held.) The incident was recounted over the telephone by two Jewish activists in Moscow, Leila Kornfeld and Boris Kogan.
(Kogan also reported that 50 Moscow Jews, mostly lawyers, met with Soviet Interior Minister Nikolai Schelokov last Thursday to ask for emigration permits, but were turned down because they are specialists. In New York, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry said more than 130 Jews from Moscow and Wilna–scientists, doctors, academicians and lawyers–received a similar rebuff Friday from Tichon Mikhailovich Shukayev of the Interior Ministry, assistant chief of administrative management of police, who supervises the ovirs.)
The Conference also reported that the resistance of Jewish political prisoners against repressions has “stiffened.” Five prisoners in Camp 17A of the Potma complex in Soviet Mordovia launched a hunger strike Feb. 7 because “earlier complaints have gone unheeded,” the Conference said. The five were joined in a “solidarity strike” Feb. 17 by five prisoners in Camp 7.
A group of Jewish settlers from the US plans to revive the ancient Jewish community at Shafer Amr in the Galilee. Now a Druze village, it was in Biblical times the seat of the Sanhedrin. The last Jews left the village in 1917, moving to Haifa.
Both opponents and supporters of the 840-unit low-income project in Forest Hills, Queens, have displayed a remarkable capacity for talking about Jewish needs in the abstract but copping out on Jewish concerns in the concrete. The Forest Hills affair illustrates a deep split in the Jewish psyche. Opponents of the project express concern for Jews but at the expense of other people. Supporters proclaim concern for other people while relegating Jews to a secondary and incidental place in their schema of humanism and universalism.
Opponents concerned with retaining the Jewish character of the neighborhood contend that the influx of poor from the city’s poverty areas will change the predominately Jewish nature of the community. They believe that they are struggling as and for Jews by campaigning to keep others out of their community. Supporters deny that the Jewish character of the area is threatened by some 2,000 newcomers and state that, in any event, the Jewish concern should be for social justice for all. They see themselves struggling for and as Jews by demonstrating to the non-Jews that the traditional Jewish commitment to justice does not give automatic priority to Jewish concern.
Each side is hung up in an identity crisis, or more pointedly, a commitment crisis. Neither side seems able to integrate commitment to Jewish needs and concerns with commitment to social justice. The two elements have become separated from each other and dissolved into abstractions. Supporters are committed to Social Justice. Opponents are committed to a Jewish Neighborhood. (For the purpose of this article opponents of the project who have eliminated the Jewish issue even as a minimal one and have transformed the controversy into a middle-America issue are not considered.)
Meanwhile, there are some 10,000 Black Jews in the city, many of whom are triply oppressed and exploited: they are ostracized by Blacks because they are Jews, they are ignored by Jews because they are Black, and they are forced to live in intolerable conditions because they are Black, Jews and poor. For years they have struggled, in vain, to move out of the slums of The Bronx and Brooklyn where most of them reside and into Jewish neighborhoods to live as Jews.
NO VOICE FOR BLACK JEWS
But not a voice, not a whisper, not a hint has been raised by either the opponents or supporters of the project to the effect that one of the objectives of the project should be to alleviate the miserable conditions of these Black Jews and, indeed, poor white Jews. The supporters of the project are so involved with concern for social experiments such as scatter site housing and for the needs of the oppressed and poor Blacks that they haven’t the time to speak out for the rights of Black Jews. The opponents have been so hung up with keeping Forest Hills exclusively Jewish that they haven’t once reflected on the fact that Black Jews are Jews.
Is this concern too narrow or partisan? Is this demand too limited and not sufficiently in tune with the larger social issues concerning poor whites and Blacks? Is this an effrontery to middle class white Jews for whom Black Jews reside only in the interstices of society and Jewish concern?
If the opponents actually want to retain the Jewish character of the area why have they kept silent on the issue of the Jewish poor? If the supporters are advocates of social justice for Blacks and the poor, why have they maintained silence on the Black Jews? The opponents, it seems, do not want any poor in Forest Hills – white, Black, Jewish whites or Black Jews. The supporters, it seems, do not care about Black Jews, just Blacks.
The real culprits are not the opponents who say, in effect, that an empty lot is preferable to fulfilled needs. Despite disclaimers, and semantics aside, that is what their stand amounts to. They have, to be sure, claimed that the city administration has offered phony compromises to ease the tensions in the community. Right They say the community should have been consulted. Right They say that a vibrant community is being destroyed by bureaucratic double talk. Right.
LIP SERVICE REPLACES ACTION
But the fact of the matter is that they have not offered any just and realistic alternatives, certainly not alternatives that involve poor Jews-white or Black. They have squandered precious time and energy being against rather than being for.
The universalist, humanist and socially conscious Jews are the real culprits. They are the ones who speak glibly about the rights of the poor, about the needs of the Jews, about Jewish traditions of social justice. But nowhere have they said publicly that these rights include, let alone focus on, poor Jews – Black and white.
These Jews fight so fervently and speak out so eloquently for the rights of all oppressed peoples but slur over or remain mute on the needs and rights of the Jewish poor, or pay lip service to these needs in press releases and press conferences but not in action, not on picket lines, not in confrontation with the city administration. Like the philosophical idealists who reject apples, oranges and pears because they aren’t Fruit, the universalist Jew can’t see Jewish needs for Social Issues.
JUSTICE BEGINS AT HOME
The real question is why not? Why shouldn’t Jews fight for the rights as Jews? Why is it impermissible, shameful or heretical for Jews to fight for Jews who are oppressed and disfranchised? Why must the universalist, humanist Jew fight for the rights of everyone else and only incidentally for Jews? For all other peoples fighting for social justice in an urban society the primal scream is to end oppression for the given group. For the universalist Jew, however, it becomes the primal kvetch of pleading and reassuring non-Jews that Jews really mean no harm when they assert themselves as Jews.
Every social group has realized that the progressive struggle for social justice, for self-determination, for community control begins at home and among those segments of society that are economically oppressed and politically disfranchised. The Blacks fight for Black liberation. The Catholics in Northern Ireland fight for Catholics. The French in Quebec fight for the French and the Basques in Spain for the Basques.
There is a passage in Ecclesiastes which states that there is a season for everything under the sun. Now that State Supreme Court Justice Irving H. Saypol has ordered a halt to the construction of the project this could be a season in Forest Hills for Jews to stand up and be counted in the cause of the Jewish poor.
To commemorate its 60th anniversary, Hadassah is sponsoring an exhibition at the Jewish Museum, N.Y. from Feb. 29 through March 26.