Simhat Torah ‘festival of Freedom’ to Mark Vigilence for Soviet Jews

Against the backdrop of continuing negotiations between U.S. and Soviet officials on the issue of Jewish emigration, the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry today pledged “constant vigilance,” so that Soviet Jews “will not become victims of another Soviet hoax.” The sale of wheat to the Soviets and other “political deals” that benefited the USSR “underscore the need for watchfulness in any arrangement with the Kremlin on emigration of Jews,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Greater New York Conference.

The Soviets “make deals when they suit their own purposes, not out of any humanitarian instincts. We cannot and must not play the numbers game with the USSR. The barriers to free emigration by all those who wish to leave the Soviet Union must come down–once and for all time,” Hoenlein said.

He noted that the negotiations give special timeliness to the Simhat Torah “Festival of Freedom” to be sponsored by the Greater New York Conference on Oct. 6, 12:30 p.m., in Carl Schurs Park in Manhattan. Prominent public officials, civic and religious leaders are scheduled to participate.

The event, to have as its theme “One Torah, One People,” will serve “to reaffirm support here for Jews in the Soviet Union who are striving to gain their freedom, and be an expression of our commitment to the survival of Israel,” according to Kings County District Attorney Eugene Gold, Conference chairman.

DESTRUCTION OF SYNAGOGUE RECALLED

Theodore Bikel will be the master of ceremonies for the festival, which will be highlighted by the presentation of a Torah Scroll to Elie Wiesel for the Soviet city of Khust, where this spring the only synagogue in the region was destroyed by arsonists. The presentation will follow a procession beginning 12 noon at Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun on East 85th Street. The marchers, including members of the congregation and several youth groups, will proceed to Lexington Avenue, south to East 84th Street and then east to Carl Schurz Park.

Gold noted that on June 22, most of the Khust Synagogue went up in flames and the Holy Ark and seven Torah scrolls were badly burned. Soviet authorities closed down the synagogue, confiscated the keys and refused to provide an alternate place of worship. Soviet police accused the Jews themselves of setting fire to the synagogue. Members of the synagogue, however, suspect workers at a neighboring factory who had often urged that the synagogue be converted into a sports club. The synagogue was reopened after Jewish volunteers worked around the clock to make basic repairs. However, the synagogue is still without its Torah scrolls.

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