American Rabbi to Launch Campaign for Hebrew in the USSR

The Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox), will soon launch a campaign to allow the teaching of Hebrew in the Soviet Union, Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky, vice president of the Council, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Kowalsky, in Jerusalem for Succoth, had just spent two weeks in the USSR, where he preached in synagogues during the High Holy Days.

“They want Jewish books, they are hungry for books, ” he said. According to Kowalsky. Soviet Jews–particularly the younger generation–showed remarkable knowledge of events in Israel, but were upset about their inability to study Hebrew properly.

“All languages known to man are permitted to be taught in the USSR except Hebrew, ” Kowalsky said. He called on the Soviet authorities to rectify the situation. He said special efforts would be made in that direction in the near future. This was one of the subjects he raised here in a meeting with Interior Minister Yosef Burg. He is scheduled to meet Premier Menachem Begin later this week.

CULMINATION OF YEARS OF WORK

Kowalsky went to the Soviet Union with his wife Shulamit. It was his first visit there; culminating years of work on behalf of Soviet Jewry. “I felt that because of the High Holidays this was the most appropriate time to meet Russian Jews. ” Indeed, he found out that thousands of Jews came to the synagogues as these were the only places where they could assemble legally as Jews.

During the High Holy Days, the rabbi preached in three synagogues. On Rosh Hashanah he spoke in Moscow and the week after in Riga. On Yom Kippur, he officiated in Leningrad, the first time in 50 years that a foreign rabbi was allowed to speak in the Leningrad synagogue, Kowalsky said. In Moscow he was asked to speak by Chief Rabbi Yaacov Fishman who is presently hospitalized.

Thousands of Jews attended the services, Kowalsky said, and heard his call for universal peace and a plea for their return to their ancient faith. “Their enthusiastic response was overwhelming, ” he said. “They shed tears of joy upon hearing the words ‘We are one people’ and in union they responded ‘amen.’”

THOUSANDS OF YOUNG JEWS IN SYNAGOGUES

Kowalsky said he was surprised to observe thousands of young people who emerged in each city at the synagogues. “They surrounded the synagogues, praying, singing and dancing to proclaim to all the world to see their bond to their faith, ” he said. “It was more a meeting of Jewish national identification than a religious one. They have no way of identifying other than in this fashion.”

Kowalsky said many Soviet Jews were returning to the study and observance of Torah and ###. “People besieged me with halachic questions, ” he said.

His wife noted that despite their strong Jewish consciousness, many Jews preferred the U.S. to Israel because they felt American Jewry was doing more on their behalf. She said that many Jews, particularly among the older generation, were affected by the strong anti-Israel propaganda. The American rabbi said he was treated “courteously and correctly ” by the Soviet authorities.

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