Delegates to Riga Conference Report Gains for Soviet Jews

Soviet and American delegates to a historic Jewish cultural conference in Riga this past Sunday and Monday report concrete gains that include establishment of a committee to coordinate a Jewish federation in the Soviet Union.

Some 200 representatives from 40 Jewish organizations throughout the Soviet Union gathered in the Latvian capital in a meeting of Jewish religious and cultural activists.

The Soviet Jews were joined by prominent Jews from other countries, including the United States, Canada and France.

Soviet Jewry’s leading cultural activist, Michael Chlenov, was elected president of the newly formed coordinating committee, a first step to forming a federation of Jewish organizations in the Soviet Union.

Delegates came to the conference from all sectors of Jewish life. Among the requests made were freedom for Jews to emigrate, the right to a Jewish cultural life in the Soviet Union, the right of free association and the right to maintain links with international Jewish associations.

The delegates, both Soviet and foreign, were warmly received by the secretary of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party. The Lithuanian Communists facilitated the opening in March of a Jewish cultural center in Vilnius.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vladislovas Mikuciauskas, a former mayor of Vilnius, accepted the idea of twinning his city with Jerusalem. His city was once called "Jerusalem of Lithuania."

Among foreign delegates attending the conference were Kalman Sultanik of New York, representing the World Jewish Congress and World Federation of Polish Jews; Serge Cwajgenbaum of Paris, another WJC delegate; representatives of B’nai B’rith International; Irwin Cotler of Montreal, an attorney who has represented refuseniks in the Soviet Union, and the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.

YIVO director Samuel Norich and David Waksberg of the Bay Area Council For Soviet Jewry were denied visas. No reasons were given.

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