NEW YORK (May. 7)
The rabbi of Moscow’s main synagogue, Adolph Shayevich, asserted here that yesterday’s huge demonstration in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the United Nations was an “anti-Soviet demonstration” and its focus was not the concern of Soviet Jewry.
Shayevich, of the Choral Synagogue in Moscow in what was probably his first direct confrontation with reporters since arriving in New York last week, also acknowledged that while there are some problems facing Soviet Jewry, one of those problems is not the refusal of the government to allow Jews to emigrate.
The Moscow rabbi, on his first visit to the United States since 1976 when he accompanied a group of clergymen as a student, said the rally yesterday, where more than 150,000 persons called on the Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate, would have no effect on current Soviet policy.
Shayevich is among a group of 20 visiting clergymen from the Soviet Union who participated at a luncheon with American religious leaders sponsored by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, a group headed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.
The Appeal of Conscience Foundation, founded in 1965, is an interfaith coalition of religious and business leaders working on behalf of religious freedom around the world. The Foundation consists of leaders representing the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Greek and Armenian Orthodox communities and has organized exchange visits with Soviet clergymen and sent delegations to numerous countries.
Shayevich, who spoke in Hebrew to reporters for only several minutes, described as “not true” the reports of persecution and harassment inflicted on Soviet Jews. He was asked specifically about Jews not being allowed to leave the Soviet Union and he said this was also untrue. The 48-year-old rabbi, a native of Birobidzhan, was trained at the rabbinical assembly in Budapest — there is no Jewish seminary in the USSR — and ordained in 1980 under a 1974 agreement reached by Schneier with Soviet government authorities to alleviate the shortage of rabbis serving the Jewish community.
Last year he succeeded the late Rabbi Yakov Fishman as spiritual leader of the Choral Synagogue on Moscow’s Arkhipova Street. This is the larger of the two synagogues left in Moscow and is reportedly the center of religious life in the Soviet capital. Fishman visited the U.S. in 1976 as a guest of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.
Shayevich’s visit, along with the delegation of other Soviet clergymen, is being sponsored by the National Council of Churches. The Moscow rabbi led Sabbath services in the Park East Synagogue last Saturday in Hebrew, which was translated into English. He will spend two weeks in the United States, with a scheduled visit to Los Angeles.
Reporters today attempted to obtain access to Shayevich but he appeared uncomfortable with their questions and hesitated at first. Before departing, he was asked about the plight of Jews who have been imprisoned for teaching or practicing Hebrew. He simply shrugged and said: “No.”
Shayevich acknowledged that one of the problems facing the Soviet Jewish community in Moscow was that there were not too many young Jews attending synagogue services, nor were there many Bar Mitzvahs or Jewish marriages.
He maintained that it was not the government’s fault that Jews do not attend synagogue but that people don’t wish to go to worship. He said he does not hear complaints from people in the synagogue that they are barred from attending services or that they were forced to work on the Sabbath “or anything like that.”
PREPARED RELEASE DIFFERS FROM PUBLIC REMARKS
In a prepared press release distributed by the Foundation, but which was not referred to by Shayevich when he spoke at the luncheon, the rabbi asserted that attendance at his synagogue was on the rise, reflecting what he called a renewed interest among both young and older people in their Jewish faith. The release said that during the Passover holiday last month, more than 3,000 worshippers jammed the synagogue while 5,000 were gathered outside.
The release added that an increasing demand for religious articles such as prayer shawls and phylacteries was being met by importing them from Hungary. It also noted that annually over the past several years approximately 130 tons of matzoh had been baked and distributed to Jews in the Moscow area. The luncheon was held at the Union League Club.
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