CHICAGO (Nov. 1)
“The right and responsibility” of American Jews “to participate in Israel’s peace debate” was strongly affirmed by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, in his presidential address Saturday to 4,250 delegates attending the Reform congregational organization’s national biennial convention at the Hyatt Regency Hotel here.
Schindler also urged Israel to “reject the status quo” in the West Bank and Gaza and “to relentlessly pursue all avenues to peace that will maintain the Jewish and democratic character of the state.” He suggested in that connection that an international conference for Middle East peace would be “a lesser risk than stagnation” of the peace process.
Schindler also proposed that “a liberal version of Judaism” if introduced into the Soviet Union “could improve the prospects of Jewish survival” for those Jews who elect to remain in the USSR.
While asserting the right of Jews everywhere “to participate in the great moral debates of Israel,” Schindler stressed that “in matters touching on state security, the final decision must rest with Israel, whose people live under the gun. But I also believe we owe Israel the truth as we see it. We do not serve her cause when we censor or sanitize or stifle our views,” he said.
On the issue of achieving peace with Jordan, the Reform Jewish leader said, “I believe that the quest for an international umbrella as defined, as limited by agreements between Foreign Minister (Shimon) Peres and King Hussein, courts a lesser risk than stagnation.”
Under that agreement, the Palestine Liberation Organization is excluded from the Jordanian delegation, and all prospective participants must first agree to recognize Israel. They would be barred from intervening in direct Jordan-Israel talks, or from imposing a settlement without the consent of all parties. “These terms cannot compel Israel to accept unsafe conditions,” Schindler said.
He warned that “the prolongation of the status quo in Judaea, Samaria and Gaza exposes Israel to infinitely greater risk than does any international umbrella for direct negotiations.
“The status quo,” he said, “again sows the seeds of endless conflict. It corrodes the Jewish and democratic character of the state” and “is a demographic time bomb ticking away at Israel’s vital center,” because “sooner or later there will be an Arab majority in Israel, turning the Jewish state into a binational state.”
If Israel tries to avert this “by either repressing the Arabs or driving them out, the Jewish and democratic nature of the state will be disfigured and the Zionist dream will be betrayed,” Schindler warned.
With respect to Soviet Jewry, Schindler said that “more significant” than the recent rise in Jewish emigration “are the severe restraints on Jewish identity in the USSR, the sharp pressures of assimilation on the vast majority of Jews who will opt to remain in the Soviet Union, no matter how liberal the Kremlin’s policy might become.”
He added, “I profoundly believe that a liberal version of Judaism could improve the prospects for Jewish survival in the USSR, just as Reform has played a preservation role in North America and throughout the world.”
Schindler called for a program to translate Reform Jewish school texts, prayer books and other materials into Russian and “establishing and providing services for Jews in the USSR while we continue to press for emigration and religious rights.”
The UAHC convention, its 59th General Assembly, opened Friday and will end Tuesday. Representatives of almost all of the UAHC’s 810 member synagogues in the United States and Canada who are attending will elect a new chairman of the board of trustees and set policy on matters relating to Israel, Middle East peace, the AIDS epidemic and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
In addition to Schindler’s address, which was given in the form of a Sabbath sermon, speakers at the convention include former Soviet Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky; the ambassadors to Washington of Israel and Egypt; Thomas Dine, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Arthur Hartman; Dr. C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general of the United States; and Sheena Duncan, past president of Black Sash, the white women’s anti-apartheid organization in South Africa.
The National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, the women’s branch of Reform Judaism, is marking the beginning of its 75th year with its own biennial convention, parallel with the UAHC gathering. About 1,000 delegates are attending.
The convention will also mark the 25th anniversary of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington.