Special Interview Challenges Facing American Jews

As Bennett Yanowitz assumes the post of chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), he sees the American Jewish community facing serious challenges related to recent changes in the world situation.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Yanowitz, who was today elected chairman at NJCRAC’s annual plenary session here, succeeding Theodore Mann, said that the major issue for the 1980s may be caused by the energy shortage in the U.S.

“Such a shortage may effect dramatic changes in the U.S., especially if surpluses are not shared to elevate the economically disadvantaged,” he said. “If there is less oil per capita, who will bear the burden?” he asked. With “less pie to divide up,” he predicted greater social stress than in the recent past.

Asked if he felt this could lead to a resurgence of anti-Semitism in America, Yanowitz said, “Through the years I have been an optimist on anti-Semitism. I do not view it as a real threat.” He said he does anticipate possible “heightened tensions” but does not foresee a wave of overt anti-Semitism.

Yanowitz stressed that disassociating Israel from the energy crisis will be a major task for the American Jewish community. “We must consider the energy problem as a national issue in which we have a broad interest,” he said.

He said that NJCRAC’s Israel Task Force has asked the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) for the sum of $2 million for the specific purpose of an interpretive project on Israel. Yanowitz noted that this is more than the entire current budget of NJCRAC. He acknowledged in that connection that the CJF is pressured by other needs. But he said he hoped they would see this project as “the priority we think it is.”

Another vital task for the American Jewish community, Yanowitz said, will be to emphasize that Israel and America have broad common interests. “Americans don’t see this picture and it needs to be stressed. We must emphasize each country’s respective national interest as well as their common interests.” he said.

ISSUES OF CONCERN

Yanowitz said that “Soviet Jewry also continues in the forefront of NJCRAC’s agenda.” Thus far, there is no indication that events on the world scene are affecting Soviet Jewish emigration. However, events in motion inside Russia before this (the Afghanistan crisis) may affect it,” he said.

A related problem, Yanowitz observed, is the attitude of American Jews toward “dropouts”–Soviet Jewish emigres who choose to go to countries other than Israel. He noted that NJCRAC has not involved itself with this issue but may do so in the future.

Other issues of Jewish concern, he said, included a “strong push” to bring alleged Nazi war criminals to trial and Black-Jewish relations. With respect to the latter, he said he did not foresee the revival of a coalition. He anticipated instead, an ongoing discussion on specific common interests with the two groups helping each other.

Yanowitz, an attorney from Cleveland, has been a vice chairman and treasurer of NJCRAC. He is a member of the National Governing Council of the American Jewish Congress and a past chairman of that organization’s northern Ohio council. Locally, he is active in the Jewish Federation in Cleveland, in the Community Relations Council, the Akiva Day School and the Orthodox old-aged home. Albert Chemin was reelected as executive vice chairman of NJCRAC.

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