SPRING GLEN, NY (May. 21)
Five leading American Orthodox rabbis, just returned from the Soviet Union, reported here Wednesday that the Soviet authorities accepted their proposal to allow six young Russian Jews to study at rabbinical seminaries in the U.S. for the purpose of ordination.
The announcement of the apparently unprecedented reversal of Soviet policy was made to the Rabbinical Council of America’s 51st annual convention at the Homowack Lodge here by Rabbi David Hollander, of the Hebrew Alliance of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, who headed the RCA delegation that visited the USSR beginning May 6. They returned to New York Sunday night.
Hollander, an RCA past president, said the agreement was reached at a meeting in Moscow with Konstantin Kharchev, Chairman of the Council of Religious Affairs, which was attended by two representatives of the Foreign Ministry.
The other members of the RCA delegation were Rabbi Oscar Fasman, president emeritus of the Hebrew Theological College and present rabbi of Congregation Yehuda Moshe, Chicago; Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, president of the New York Board of Rabbis and chairman of the RCA’s Soviet Jewry Committee; Rabbi Bernard Poupko, of Shaare Torah Congregation in Pittsburgh, a past vice president of the RCA; and Rabbi Solomon Roodman of Congregation Anshei Sfard of Louisville, Ky.
Hollander and Poupko reported to the convention on their visit. They also met in Moscow with the U.S. Ambassador, Jack Matlock. Hollander and Rabbi Milton Polin, president of the RCA, also announced that they had accepted an invitation to meet with Soviet Embassy officials in Washington.
OTHER IDEAS DISCUSSED
Hollander said that at their meeting with Kharchev, the possibility was discussed of the Soviets opening rabbinical seminaries in Leningrad, Moscow and Tbilsi for students over 18 and allowing visiting American rabbis to teach there. The Russians did not reject the idea, Hollander said.
Poupko said the Jews they met in the USSR seemed “more relaxed” and that on the Sabbath the rabbis “ate lunch in a Russian apartment and all openly sang Hebrew songs.” Lookstein reported on his meetings with Jewish activists in the refusenik community.
The five rabbis said they “made it clear to the Soviet officials that they were in favor of the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate, but that for those Jews who remain in the USSR, it is important that they be allowed to practice their religion freely.”
They said they asked the Religions Ministry to permit the establishment of kosher facilities in the USSR. The Russians responded that there is a kosher facility in Tbilisi, Soviet Georgia, and that they will look into the possibility of Intourist, the state tourist office, to provide kosher facilities for visitors and on the Soviet airline Aeroflot.
But the Soviets rejected a request for separate Jewish cemeteries, Hollander said. He said Kharchev asked the rabbis to “call on American Jewish organizations to cease anti-Soviet agitation.”