Home at Last in the Promised Land This Year’s Passover Theme is the Exodus of Soviet Jews

The new exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union and the demand of those Jews who remain in the USSR to live as Jews and to develop and invigorate their own life styles, culture and religion was the main focus of attention in Passover messages released today by national Jewish leaders and organizations.

Paul Zuckerman, general chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, described the new exodus as “tenuous” but “a proud and precious one.” During the coming year, he noted, thousands will come home to the Promised Land. “They come to be free; free to live as Jews without fear or oppression. Many have risked their jobs, their personal freedom, even their physical safety. But, at long last, they are coming home.” Jews from the Soviet Union, Israel and the United States, “no matter how great the distance that separates us, we are as one,” Zuckerman stated.

MATCH THE COURAGE AND FAITH

Sam Rothberg, general chairman of the Israel Bond Organization referred to Soviet Jews when he said in his holiday message: “Today the Jewish people are actually living through a Passover of the present. The opening of the gates of the Soviet Union, barred for so many years to Jews seeking to leave for Israel, provides an obvious parallel with the exodus of two thousand years ago.” He added, however, that unless they are able to find “a solid economic base” in Israel, “their hard won freedom to emigrate will turn into a hollow victory.”

Max M. Fisher, president of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, observed that today’s crucial events update the story of Exodus and Deliverance. “At Passover we recall the long march millennia ago by a people who could be satisfied by nothing less than liberty. The act of recall at this season reaffirms our generation’s insistence on Jewish continuity and a society fulfilling the promise of freedom for all men.” Fisher said.

“At issue,” be continued, “is our willingness to be counted. To match the courage and faith of those who stand in the front line of attack and need. Some 3500 years after the first Passover, the struggle for human basics–freedom, security, life itself–remains the occupation and overriding concern of our people.”

JEWS IN ARAB LANDS A MAJOR CONCERN

Edward Ginsberg, chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee, noted that the JDC and its sister organizations financed by the UJA “will continue to aid these and other needy Jews in Israel, in North Africa, Europe and other countries. We will provide for their health and welfare needs, their vocational and educational needs and above all we will continue to help them live as Jews.”

Philip E. Hoffman, president of the American Jewish Committee, pledged in his Passover message that “We cannot and will not forget” the 40 Jewish prisoners who languish in severe regime labor camps in the Soviet Union. These people are in jail for committing no crime but were there merely for “expressing the age-old longing of the Jew, expressed in the Haggadah, ‘Next Year in Jerusalem,’” Hoffman said.

Herman L. Weisman, president of the Zionist Organization of America, observed that “In this Passover season, it is timely and appropriate to evince Jewish consciousness of a new exodus, spiritual and actual. The setting is different: commissars have supplanted Pharaohs; slavery is of the spirit, not always of the body. But the desire for freedom of total Jewish identity, unthreatened and unrestricted in a Jewish State, burns as brightly as in Moses’ time.”

Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the American Zionist Federation, observed that “Passover, the festival of freedom, reminds us that the concerted effort of all in the free world is still required to keep that world free and to help free those who are enslaved physically and spiritually.” Noting that this Passover in Israel will find some 15,000 new immigrants from the Soviet Union enjoying their new freedom, Rabbi Miller said: “In the forefront of our major concern for freedom is the fate of Soviet Jewry asking for the right to return to their homeland, as well as the plight of Jews in Arab lands. Zionists will both lead and join in their just struggle so that next year all will be free.”

FROM A WHISPER TO A CLAMOR

Rabbi Bernard L. Berzon, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, expressed appreciation that thousands of Soviet Jews were permitted to emigrate but called upon the Soviet authorities “to make it clear to their Jewish citizens that they are free to acknowledge their religious heritage to pursue their cultural and religious traditions without fear and to develop as free human beings.” Rabbi Berzon added that those who wish to emigrate “must be granted that right, but the emigration of the few cannot condone the repression of the majority. Freedom implies the right to make a choice: a choice of residence, a choice of belief, a choice of life style.”

Harold Friedman, president of the United Hias Service, said that “At Passover our hearts and minds turn to our brethren in distant lands who still live in conditions of fear and degradation. We are encouraged by current signs of fresh hope and promise. A substantial emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is occurring. What began as a whisper has developed into a world wide clamor to let these people go–go anywhere in the world where they can live as free Jews.”

Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, called on rabbis and Jewish leaders to urge their people to use “Shmurah Matzos” on the Passover holiday.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said. “The preparation of matzoh for the fulfillment of the sacred mitzvah is regulated by a variety of laws of which the average layman is unaware. The custom of the rabbi’s sending Shmurah Matzos to members of his community insured their being able to fulfill the detailed requirements of the law. Though this custom has been discontinued in many areas, I would like to see it restored.”

LIBERTY CANNOT BE DESTROYED

Rabbi William Berkowitz, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, noted that “the most exciting manifestation of courage in the face of authoritarianism is that manifested by the Jews of the Soviet Union….The story of Soviet Jewry stands as an eternal reminder that liberty, though suppressed, cannot be destroyed.” Rabbi Berkowitz also stated that the demand, “Let My People Go,” is also a top priority demand in Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries “where Jews are not accorded elementary human rights.” In the United States, he added, “the message of freedom linked with responsibility must be directed to vocal segments of our young people.”

Mrs. Earl Marvin, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, called on its members to pray for peace at this Passover season. “Let us as Jewish women join in prayer for a spirit of compassion and understanding among humanity today to wipe out all divisiveness, hostility and violence inimical to our Judaic heritage and destructive to our world peace,” she said.

Rabbi Bernard Poupko, national president of the Religious Zionists of America, also referred to Soviet Jews in his Passover message. “We Jews are not strangers to miracles which are woven into the fabric of our history and our destiny,” he said. “Yet there are very few miracles in Jewish history which compare to the miracle of the religious and national re-awakening of Soviet Jewry, their courageous and total identification with the State of Israel and the people of Israel, and, of course, their arrival in impressive numbers in our ancient homeland.”

JUST PEACE THROUGHOUT WORLD

Rabbi Judah Nadich, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, expressed hope that President Nixon’s visit to Russia in May would advance the cause of peace, particularly in the Middle East and would lead to “the expansion of the right to emigrate for those Russian Jews who choose to do so and the affirmation of the religious and cultural autonomy of those who choose to remain.” Rabbi Nadich said, “The Passover festival, with its recurrent theme of hope and freedom for all men, shall see Jews of the entire world praying that the Russian-American meetings shall usher in generations of peace.”

Mrs. David M. Levitt, president of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, noted that the Passover holiday is “dedicated to freedom and dignity for all men,” and said “We pray for a just peace in the Middle East and Southeast Asia; the granting of religious and cultural freedom to our fellow Jews in the Soviet Union, including the right of emigration and return; and a rebirth of freedom everywhere.”

Mrs. Henry Rapaport, president of the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue, said that the Passover message of freedom implies more than freedom from physical bondage. It is the dimension of freedom of choice “which gives man direction over his life and veto power over his own desires which distinguishes man from the animal and makes morality possible. This freedom lies in our willingness to make the hard decisions in accepting self discipline as a way of life,” she said.

ASSIMILATION, APATHY MAIN ENEMIES

Rabbi Joseph Karasick, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, warned that the “vision of human freedom rooted in the American concept of life must not be set aside in seeking peaceful co-existence with nations governed by totalitarian regimes.” He cited the experience of Jews in the Soviet Union as demonstrating how “over fifty years of totalitarian terror could not succeed in extirpating the will to freedom from the hearts of men.” Rabbi Karasick also called upon American Jews to further strengthen ties with Israel and particularly its religious development.

Rabbi David Polish, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, declared that the contemporary fight in America is against assimilation and apathy “which has seized the mainstream of American Jewry.” He noted that while fund-raising for Israel and its needs must remain a prime concern, “we must reunite laymen and rabbis together to assume the building of a new cadre of American Jews, Jewishly committed and educated.”

Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, called for a new coalition between Jews and Blacks to reduce tensions and jointly achieve improved conditions for both in American society. He stated that “cooperation between Jews and Blacks on a national and community level can achieve better housing, jobs and education.”

Meyer Pesin, president of the Jewish National Fund of America, recalled the role of the JNF, the Keren Kayemeth Lelsrael. which in the first years of the organized Zionist movement provided the tool to redeem the land in Israel. “Our beloved Fund is performing much the same tasks as it did 70 years ago, but on a much vaster and grander scale,” he stated. “The Jewish National Fund has earned and needs the continued and increased support of world Jewry…in the restoration of Israel to its challenging place in the world today.”

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