Eight Jewish Leaders Charge Vigilante Tone Prevailed at Emergency Conclave

Eight Jewish leaders, including Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis, issued a joint statement charging that “the vigilante tone that prevailed” at a “grass roots emergency conference” convened last Monday night by Rabbi William Berkowitz, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, “was a distortion of Jewish values.” The conference drew some 1200 participants and evoked sharp criticism from the head of another rabbinical group and a walkout of about two dozen participants who protested the refusal by Rabbi Berkowitz to permit questions from the floor.

The meeting was called to consider such problems as alleged discrimination against Jewish faculty and students in the city’s public schools and City University; erosion of the civil service merit system; the plight of the Jewish poor; and the deterioration of Jewish neighborhoods in the city. The statement by the eight critics emphasized that it was issued in their individual capacities and not in the name of the institutions with which they are associated.

The signers were Ell Wiesel, the author; Charles Silberman, an expert on ethnic groups; Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Rabbi Emanuel Rackman of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue; Rabbi Henry Siegman, executive vice-president of the Synagogue Council of America; Rabbi Balfour Brickner of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Walter Wurtzburger, professor of philosophy at Yeshiva University.

DISTORTION OF REALITY

The statement asserted that “in responding to real problems and concerns, too many of our fellow Jews, including some Jewish leaders, seem to have lost all sense of where or who they are.” Declaring they were referring specifically to the “so-called Emergency Conference,” they charged that “the substance of that meeting was a distortion of reality” and that “the vigilante tone that prevailed was a distortion of Jewish values.”

“Jewish interests can only be harmed by hysteria of this sort,” the statement declared. “The United States in 1972, for all of its problems and agonies, is not Weimar Germany. To speak as though it were is a grave disservice to American Jewry and a defamation of this country.” The statement stressed that the eight critics “know full well that these are anxious times for many Jews and we recognize that Jewish leadership has not always responded to their problems and fears with sufficient promptness or empathy.”

Nevertheless, the eight Jews declared, “where the interests of Jews appear to be in conflict with those of other racial and ethnic groups, we must cling to reason and find solutions that are fair and just to all. We pledge our full energies to such a search.”

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