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Plight of Jews in East Europe

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“Major cities are without rabbis and there has been no training of religious leaders for a number of years.” This was one of the observations of Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue and of Rev. Thurston N. Davis S.J. of the United States Catholic Conference in a press conference here today to further emphasize the situation facing Soviet Jews. The press conference came as a result of their recent trip to the Soviet Union and Poland.

The two clergymen who have been to Eastern Europe previously were distressed that all the emphasis has been on the emigration of the Soviet Jews rather than on the continuation of a Jewish spiritual, religious and cultural life in Russia.

Rabbi Schneier said that “even if the rate of emigration is accelerated, we must reckon that the majority of the three million Soviet Jews will remain in the country and should have the right to perpetuate their religious and cultural heritage.” Both Rabbi Schneier and Father Davis expressed hope that the American Jewish community will consider this factor as well as that of emigration.

In addition, they also made observations regarding the overt state of disrepair and neglect of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in the USSR and Poland. The centuries-old cemetery of Odessa is in danger of liquidation by authorities under a law which states that any cemetery which has not had a burial for 25 years can be liquidated. The Nozik synagogue, the only remaining one in all of Warsaw is a shambles. Windows are shattered and the area is surrounded by mud and dirt. There is great difficulty in getting a minyan during the week and sometimes on Saturday.

Rabbi Schneier and Father Davis succeeded in securing a promise from the Polish Director of Religious Affairs, Kazimierz Kakol, that within six months, the Nozik synagogue would be fixed up and designated an historical landmark. They also obtained a guarantee that 110 Soviet Jews would be allowed to go to Budapest to study in East Europe’s only remaining Rabbinical Seminary. The Soviet government refuses to allow rabbis from other countries to come to Russia, but they made the concession of allowing a few Russian Jews to study outside, the clergymen said.

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