‘paralyzed Incompetence’ Rabbi Raps Jewish Groups for Their Stand on Queens Project Dispute

The national Jewish organizations have displayed “paralyzed incompetence” in the Forest Hills dispute, a rabbinical leader has charged in a speech scheduled for delivery tonight. Rabbi Louis Bernstein, vice-president of the Rabbinical Council of America, charged that it is this “paralyzed incompetence” –not “lack of understanding of what the law is doing” –that has led to “their silence on affirmative action.”

“They have no contact with the local community,” Rabbi Bernstein declared. “Their constituents, the wealthy Jew who foots the bill and the professional working out of an office, have no contact with the middle- and lower-class Jew, the Jew of the synagogue, the unaffiliated.” He added: “There are more Jews in the Queens Jewish Center for an ordinary mincha than the entire American Jewish Committee in the area. The last member of the American Jewish Congress in Brownsville must have left years ago.”

The Forest Hills dispute developed when Jewish residents of that white, middle-class largely Jewish section of Queens protested vehemently a proposed 840-unit low-income housing project, alleging that the project as planned would lead to an increase in crime. Brownsville is a poverty area in Brooklyn with a predominately Black population.

RABBIS MUST BATTLE FOR JEWISH RIGHTS

“It is evident to those of us involved,” said Rabbi Bernstein, who is also spiritual leader of Young Israel of Windsor Park, in Bayside, Queens, “that a Jewish area (Forest Hills) was singled out and others must follow on the path of communal ruin and destruction.” It is also “evident,” he said, “that the national organizations do not represent their own local groups, let alone the Jewish community,” and have “failed” because they have been “unprepared” or “unwilling” to work on the local level.

“The rabbi,” the speaker proposed, “must accept a new role of battler of Jewish rights in the face of the vacuum created by the unwillingness and failure of Jewish national organizations.” He added: “With the Jew clearly on the defensive, the rabbi must and will emerge from behind his books, out of his office and out of his congregation to battle for Jewish rights.”

Rabbi Bernstein was scheduled to speak at a conference on inner-city Jewish problems sponsored by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University; he is a member of the university faculty.

CITY ADMINISTRATION ASSAILED

Rabbi Jerome Fishman, a social worker for the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (JASA) in its office in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where there is a large Hasidic community, assailed the city administration for proceeding with the Forest Hills project to score “political points” at minorities’ expense. In his prepared text for tonight’s conference, he said residents in worsening city housing projects should have been allowed to buy them and turn them into cooperatives to help reduce crime.

Noting that the aged are “the largest single Jewish group living in city housing,” Rabbi Fishman charged that “Conditions have so deteriorated as regards safety of the tenants in the city housing projects that a reevaluation is necessary, and solutions found, or existing projects will be abandoned completely as is the case in other cities.”

He also noted that “Rabbis cannot sit back and say, ‘This does not concern us.” Though there are “many who do not want a low-income housing project in proximity to their homes, the problem of decent housing still remains, and of paramount importance is the question: ‘What are we going to do to help the present tenant living in city housing who is too old or sick to battle for his safety and his rights?”

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