Learning among American Jews has declined and ignorance is on the increase. “Am Haratzuth,” ignorance of things Jewish, is rampant in the United States. “Men vert prost, men vert fargrebt” (One loses all sense of refinement and becomes vulgar and boorish here).
This was the statement made by Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneursohn, the famous “Lubawitscher Rebbe,” to the Detroit correspondent of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on his arrival in this city, where he was greeted by thousands of people.
Asked to give an impression of his experiences in this country, the Lubawitscher Rebbe said it is difficult for him, who is accustomed to spending his time in learning and writing, to adapt himself to the manner in which America, and therefore also American Jews, plan campaigns and conduct their public business. He compared it to a book. Most books, he said, have very brief prefaces, and the book proper is the matter of importance. In this country, he said, the matter is speedily dispensed with, but the preparations leading up to the matter are lengthy, as in campaigns, which are preceded by much noise and advertising and publicity. To this, the Rebbe said, he finds difficulty in adapting himself.
The interviewer then pointed to the claim that there are more than 200 synagogues of Lubawitscher Chassidim in this country, and asked in what state of devotion to their creed the Rebbe found them. The Rebbe answered that to him Judaism stands high above dogma. “Nusach,” he said, the “form” of service is not so important so long as Orthodox Jews stand united in their Jewishness and their traditions. Much more important than dogma, he emphasized, is unity among Jews.
Asked whether he does not believe that assimilation is on the increase, the Rebbe denied it emphatically. Things spiritual, he said, cannot be judged by numbers. In time of war, he said, numbers count; in matters physical, numerical strength is a factor. But not in the spirit. Even if only a hundred retain their devotion against a thousand who do not, the hundred will triumph because theirs is a spiritual, and therefore a superior strength.
The Rebbe expressed the hope that some day the Jewish youth of America will revolt against the prevalent condition of ignorance of things Jewish and will some day turn to their elders and say: “From now on we shall go to the right in the interest of the Jewish people.” When this day would arrive, the Rebbe said, he could not foresee, but he pleaded with Jewish leaders to devote themselves to the cause of the Jewish youth activities, in order that that day may come soon. He especially pleaded with the press, which he considers the most important instrument for good in Jewish life.
Rabbi Samarius Gourary, son-in-law of the Lubawitscher Rebbe, and one of his retinue, said that the call which has come to the Rebbe from a committee formed in Chicago to remain in this country has been temporarily rejected, but that the Rebbe has promised to consider it, with the understanding that if he was to remain here it would be on condition that a large Yeshivah be organized and maintained in this country.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.