Rabbis Arrested at Peaceful Demonstration for Soviet Jewry
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Rabbis Arrested at Peaceful Demonstration for Soviet Jewry

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Representatives of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbinical bodies were among 21 rabbis and lay leaders from across the country arrested Thursday in a peaceful demonstration for Soviet Jewry. The protest, which is the most recent in a nearly year-old series of arrest rallies outside the Soviet Embassy here, appeared to mark a new phase in the nationwide Soviet Jewry movement following the release last month of the celebrated Jewish Prisoner of Conscience Anatoly Shcharansky.

For the first time since the civil disobedience strategy was adopted here last May, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the main “establishment” Soviet Jewry organization with membership agencies throughout the country, effectively endorsed the arrests by supporting the rabbinical groups. All three rabbinical associations, as well as three other lay groups represented among those arrested Thursday are member agencies of the National Conference.

The previous protests here have been sponsored by the Washington Board of Rabbis, in coordination with the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, the other main umbrella Soviet Jewry organization. Over 130 have been arrested in Washington since last May by violating a District of Columbia code that prohibits demonstrations directly in front of the Embassy building. Together with demonstrators in San Francisco and New York, over 1,000 people have been arrested to date, some 500 of them rabbis.


The National Conference had long withheld endorsement of the arrests, maintaining that breaking the law was neither necessary nor justified, especially when the U.S. Administration is already sympathetic to the Soviet Jewish plight.

But disappointment over Moscow’s failure to follow through on signals that it would ease its emigration restrictions, and its continued harassment of Jewish activists, led many of the member agencies to call for an “acceleration” of the campaign, William Kaiserling, Washington director of the National Conference, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

At a press conference held by the demonstrators before Thursday’s protest, Keyserling also announced the initiation by his organization of an “aggressive public education effort” to ensure that Jewish emigration and human rights are on the agenda of any future talks between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He said the “pre-Summit II” campaign will be chaired by Elie Wiesel and will host recent Soviet emigres to Israel–Ilya Essas here next week, to be followed by Shcharansky in May if his health permits. On a very tentative agenda being worked out for Shcharansky by a group of representatives from various Soviet Jewry organizations is the annual “Solidarity Sunday” rally for Soviet Jewry, to take place this year on May II.

Those arrested Thursday included Rabbi Alexander Shapiro, president of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement; Rabbi Jack Stern, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical association of the Reform movement; and Rabbi Joshua Shapiro, vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, representing Orthodox Judaism.

Representatives of the lay groups associated with all three movements also participated. Some 20 others, including Reconstructionist Rabbi Ira Schiffer, took part from across the street but were not arrested. The demonstrators were led away by police one by one as those not yet arrested remained blowing shofars and then dancing as they chanted Hebrew songs. Like those arrested before, the group of 21 was expected to be released pending trial.

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