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Special Interview New Tasks for Agudat Israel

The world movement of Agudat Israel intends to assume a more central position in Jewish life and cultivate the response it feels exists among the grass roots population, an American leader of the Orthodox movement said here. Rabbi Menachem Lubinsky, director of government and public affairs of Agudat Israel of America, also believes the Aguda will seek to further ties with the secular Jewish community.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Lubinsky, who was here attending the Sixth World Congress of Agudat Israel which ended last night, said the conference was “more color than substance.” But, he believes the participants will return home from the conference with an enhanced sense of the growing strength of Agudat Israel. Some 30,000 persons attended the congress which began last Monday. Some 2000 delegates came from broad, including 1000 from 20 cities in the United States.

“Orthodox Jewry is strong and is on the up word trend,” Lubinsky said. “We have a responsive ear among the grass roots population. We only have to reach them.” Declaring that Aguda members now want to create bridges with the secular community, he stressed that it is imperative that the movement show secular Jews “it is possible to be both Orthodox and human at the same time.”

ADOPT A SERIES OF RESOLUTIONS

In that light, following 12 different committee meetings, the congress passed a series of resolutions designed to decrease the gap between the Orthodox and secular communities. These included: a call to cute lavish spending, especially for weddings, so that the less affluent do not feel the pressure to emulate such extravagance, support for a fund to help impoverished large families and a request that the Israel government and the community at large undertake new social welfare programs on their behalf, and a call for new philanthropic support by the Jewish community for Jewish education.

The congress also voted to fight new efforts by the Reform and Conservative movements to gain recognition in Israel; intensify programs against assimilation and intermarriage; work for legislation to amend the Law of Return which would recognize only those conversions performed according to halocha; and rejected the suggestion by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations president Rabbi Alexander Schindler that a child from a Jewish father also be recognized as Jewish even if the mother is not Jewish, since this is contrary to halocha.

In its resolution to “reach out to the Jewish masses,” the conference also announced a new “adopt a family” scheme in which Orthodox Jews would be required to introduce an uncommitted Jewish family to Orthodox Judaism. Based on a pilot program which proved successful in the United States, movement members hope it will result in stronger ties between the two groups and in the return of many secular Jews to “authentic Judaism,” Lubinsky noted.

The task, however, he conceded, will not be on easy one. For the most part, Agudat Israel is little understood by the public, a large segment of which regards its aloofness and in-fighting with little care or interest. This situation conceded Lubinsky, is in part the fault of the movement itself, in that it is often reluctant to explain its case to the press.

EXPLAINING POSITION TO SECULAR JEWS

In order to correct the misunderstandings rife among the general public, the Aguda movement pledged to intensify its efforts to explain its stand to secular, Jews. Lubinsky added that efforts will also be made to counteract the aura of aloofness which has accompanied the movement for so long.

The question, however, is whether the movement can unite itself sufficiently beyond the differing factions to coherently being its case to secular Jewry. Lubinsky, for one, is optimistic.

“Not all Orthodox are alike,” he noted “Although I expected the politicizing to undermine this conference, it failed to do so. And this is a positive sign. What people fail to understand is that the only place where the Orthodox find common ground is within the ranks of Agudat Israel.” This he contended, is what the general public must be shown.

RESOLUTIONS ON POLITICAL SITUATION

The congress also adopted a series of resolutions dealing with political issues, These expressed concern that the new open borders between Israel and Egypt would stimulate assimilation and intermarriage for Israeli Jews; urged the Soviet Union to respect the Helsinki agreement with respect to the reunification of families; and called on the USSR to release Prisoners of Conscience, particularly Yosef Mendelevich who is an Orthodox Jew.

One resolution reaffirmed “Jewish sovereignty over all of Eretz Yisrael as is outlined in the Bible,” and added: “The Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel is based on the Torah which fully delineates its borders. There is no force in the world that can deny us of this right.” The Council of Torah Sages, however, decided not to take up the question of the return of the West Bank “at this delicate juncture in the peace process.” The Council decided to take up the issue at some future time, presumably when the fate of the West Bank would be decided in the autonomy talks between Israel and Egypt.

The conclave elected Rabbi Moshe Sherer from New York as a co-chairman of the International Agudat Israel movement. Sherer is the president of Agudath Israel of America. Rabbi Yehuda Meir Abramowitz, a member of the Knesset and deputy chairman of the Knesset, was also elected co-chairman.

Meanwhile, the congress ended without Premier Menachem Begin addressing the delegates as he was expected to do. He wrote a letter to the congress warmly greeting Agudat Israel and explained that he could not come because of his heavy Cabinet schedule. However, according to some sources, Begin stayed away from the congress in a silent protest against the failure of the Aguda leaders to invite President Yitzhak Navon.

Aguda spokesmen lambasted what they claimed was the distorted coverage of their convention by the Israeli press. However, a spokesman admitted that neither Aguda nor the press here had done much to cultivate the other. For example, Aguda barred women reporters from the convention hall, although they were allowed to view the proceedings via closed circuit television. However, not all women reporters could get tickets even for this. The spokesmen also denied that the failure to invite Navon was intended as a snub. Rising before the President, they noted, would be against the principles of the Aguda movement.

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