HOUSTON (Nov. 13)
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), denounced the foreign and domestic policies of the Reagan Administration as neither principled nor pragmatic. In his address last Friday to the 3,500 delegates attending the 57th biennial assembly of the UAHC and the 34th biennial convention of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, Schindler was especially critical of the Administration’s policy in Central America.
The Reform leader charged that President Reagan’s foreign policy in one of “an obsession with force,” imposing “military solutions on crises that are political, economic and social in their essence.” Schindler said that while it is true that the Cubans and Russians “cynically exploit” the miseries of the peoples of Central America, Reagan’s response was “largely counter-productive” because the Administration has its eyes fixed on the superpower game while ignoring all the local pawns.”
He said that the Reagan Administration policies “are neither principled nor pragmatic. They sow the wind with guns and bullets and anti-Communist rhetoric and have already reaped the whirlwind of violence, death and anti-American reactions.”
Schindler called for “an end to U.S. military intervention in El Salvador and Honduras” and “an end to the covert war against Nicaragua.” He proposed, instead, that the Reagan Administration “seek a negotiated solution, proffer unqualified support” for neighboring Central American countries “and make a permanent commitment” in foreign policy “to democracy, economic reform and social justice.”
Schindler was also sharply critical of the Reagan Administration policies in the Middle East. He said Israeli officials with whom he met recently, including Premier Yitzhak Shamir, President Chaim Herzog and Knesset members, “were much concerned about the vagueness and the vacillations of American diplomacy. ” He added that “the constant and capricious shifts” in U.S. policy “perplex them.”
Commenting on the repeated changes of Reagan Administration policy in regard to Israel’s activities in Lebanon, Schindler said he feared that the “fragile” May 17 Israeli-Lebanese agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and security arrangements to follow “will be the price that Israel is asked to pay for success in the current Geneva talks” on Lebanon’s national reconciliation. He declared that the Reagan Administration “must not broker agreements one day and on the next collaborate with one of the sides to break it, ” an apparent reference to Syria.
THE NOOSE AROUND THE NECKS OF THE POOR
Focusing on the domestic policies of the Reagan Administration, Schindler noted that at the UAHC assembly in Boston in 1981, the Reform movement expressed doubts about the course the U.S. was following under Reagan. In his address in Houston, he observed that “our apprehensions were fully justified. Reaganomics has tightened this nation’s belt around the necks of the poor.” The inflationary cycle “has been broken, but only by means of a most severe recession,” Schindler added.
The Reform leader also denounced the policy of the Soviet Union toward its Jewish citizens. He termed the Soviet regime “brutal” and “primitive” and “frightened by the human spirit” demonstrated by Soviet Jews enduring persecution and abuse for seeking to emigrate. He said Reform Jews must “speak up for the rights of Russian Jews and for Ethiopian Jews, too.”
THE ROLE OF REFORM JUDAISM
Turning to the role of Reform Judaism in the area of religious activities, Schindler urged the delegates to approve a new Reform Jewish unit to study all phases of conversion to Reform Judaism.
He described the goal of the present UAHC Outreach Task Force as that of a “positive effort to come to grips with the reality of intermarriage, to contain the loss it threatens to our numerical strength, and, if at all possible, to convert that loss into a gain. He said that the goals of the Outreach program were “to make certain that the majority of interfaith marriages will result in the conversion of the non-Jewish partner to Judaism, and that the majority of the children issuing from such marriages will, in fact, be raised as Jews.”
Declaring that “even our work with non-affiliated mixed marriage couples is encouraging,” Schindler said the effort “established beyond doubt that they, too, need not be lost to us, that we can, if we but try, regain them for our people.” He added that “there is no dilution of our Jewishness when others join our ranks. Quite the contrary, our Jewishness is enhanced because of them.”
Noting that he had proposed the Outreach program to the Reform movement five years ago, Schindler said a Joint Commission on Outreach had been created by the UAHC and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) “to carry forward” the Outreach program.
But Schindler stressed that the Reform movement had done very little research on the aspects of conversion and he was therefore proposing the creation of an Institute for Reform Jewish Public Policy, jointly undertaken by the UAHC, the CCAR and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform seminary, “to undertake such a comprehensive study” of all elements of mixed marriages and conversion.
SAYS REFORM JEWS MUST SUPPORT ISRAEL
Regarding Israel, Schindler declared that American Reform Jews must do everything possible to support Israel “economically and politically and with every resource at our command.” He said he was making this statement despite the refusal of the Orthodox-dominated rabbinate in Israel to recognize Reform Judaism.
He stressed that he “had nothing against Orthodox Jews per se. What I denounce is the politicized element within modern Orthodoxy that appeals to the coercive power of (the Israeli) State rather than to the conscience of the individual.”
Noting that the discrimination by the Orthodox establishment against non-Orthodox Jews is “a mockery” and “a perversion,” Schindler said that “these narrow-minded attitudes and schemes are destructive of Orthodoxy itself.” He said Reform Jews would have to fight such conditions in Israel until “we achieve that full equality which is our entitlement as Jews.”