‘Eternal Light Vigil’ Highlights Soviet Union’s Bias Against Jews
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‘Eternal Light Vigil’ Highlights Soviet Union’s Bias Against Jews

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Crowds estimated officially by police authorities as totaling between 7,500 and 10,000 persons staged an impressive demonstration here today over Soviet discriminations against the USSR’s 3,000,000 Jews. The event was the beginning of an "Eternal Light Vigil" organized by the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, comprised of 24 national Jewish organizations representing virtually all Jews in this country. Prominent non-Jewish speakers were among major participants.

The rally, which was culminated by the blowing of the shofar and a mass oath to continue the protests until the Kremlin alters its anti-Jewish policies, heard an encouraging statement from President Johnson, and cheered an address by Ambassador James Roosevelt, Washington’s new representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, to press the issue of anti-Semitic discriminations in the USSR before the various, relevant bodies of the world organization.

At the conclusion of the rally, a delegation representing the Vigil attempted to file at the Soviet Embassy here a petition bearing 1,000,000 signatures, seeking easement of Russia’s policy vis-a-vis the Jewish people. The Embassy staff shut the doors in the face of the delegation, which included Rabbi Seymour J. Cohen, of Chicago, chairman of the steering committee of the organizing conference and president of the Synagogue Council of America; Bayard Rustin, Negro civil rights leader; and the Rev. John Cronin, co-director of the department of social action of the National Catholic Welfare Conference.


President Johnson’s message to the rally stated:

"I greet my fellow Americans of all faiths gathered today in a vigil for Soviet Jewry. Your cause is the cause of all men who value freedom.

"History demonstrates that the treatment of minorities is a barometer by which to measure the moral health of a society. Just as the condition of the American Jew is a living symbol of American achievement and promise, so the conditions of Jewish life and other religious minorities in the Soviet Union reveal fundamental contradictions between the stated principles and the actual practices of the Soviet system.

"I once again express my hope for an end to restrictive practices which prevent Soviet Jews from the full enjoyment of their heritage. I join all men everywhere who, through vigilance, maintain freedom’s eternal light."

More than 125 communities from every part of the United States sent representatives to the rally. Groups came by chartered bus, airplane and train from every section of the U.S.A., and many arrived by automobiles pooled for the occasion.

For three hours, in 90-degree heat, participants crowded around the platform in Lafayette Park, opposite the White House. Later, when the delegation started for the Soviet Embassy, many hundreds took part in a silent march near the Embassy, observing official regulations that forbid picketing of any embassy in this capital.

The Vigil, which will remain officially in session here all this week, while an "Eternal Light" continues to shine, will be repeated in many of the principal Jewish centers around the country during the coming weeks.


Mr. Roosevelt told the rally that, in his new post at the U.N., he will be mindful that "the problem of Soviet Jewry probably belongs on the agenda of the U.N." He said that one of his main concerns as ambassador will be the protection of human rights and, in this connection cited his concern about the Jews of the Soviet Union.

He said that the Soviet Jewish problem belongs on the agenda "whether at the Human Rights Commission, at the Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, or at the kind of special world investigative commission on human rights proposed some months ago by Ambassador Goldberg." While this problem must concern the U.N., he declared, it does not belong exclusively there and "must be on the agenda of the conscience of us all."

Citing what he termed "three profound differences in the situation of the Negroes here and the Jews in the USSR," he said that American society, beginning with the President of the United States, recognizes the Negro rights problem with all its ramifications. But in the USSR, he charged, the authorities have consistently refused to recognize unequivocally that a grave problem of anti-Semitism exists there. Secondly, he said, American Negroes have a growing opportunity to take their fate into their own hands through the civil rights movement "but Soviet Jews are utterly helpless and voiceless, and any attempt on their part to combat discrimination and to advance their group rights would be immediately suspected and shattered by official action."

He pointed out that American public opinion and public institutions were moving to support Negro aspirations but, in the USSR, "a large segment of popular sentiment is itself anti-Semitic, and that segment which opposes anti-Semitism can at best speak in muffled and obscured tones. As for Soviet public institutions, the hard fact of the matter is that it is Government policy itself which is the guilty party."

Mr. Roosevelt said that a recent Pravda editorial conceding the existence of anti-Semitism showed that public protest has been effective. That fact, he said, "should only encourage us to continue, and at an intensified pace." He emphasized that "we cannot keep silent so long as justice is not done on this problem."

An address during the rally, by Mr. Rustin emerged as the most moving and dynamic of the orations delivered. His linkage of Negroes with Jewish rights drew the day’s longest and loudest applause. He informed the audience that he had been personally asked today by two other Negro rights leaders-Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and A. Philip Randolph–to voice Negro solidarity with Jewish religious and cultural freedom in Russia and throughout the world.

Mr. Rustin said the American Negroes suffered oppression for 350 years and know what it is to face the sort of pressures imposed by the Soviet Government against Jewish citizens. He said the Negro people would not tolerate Soviet anti-Jewish practices. He stressed that Jews came to the assistance of Negroes in demonstrations and actions for Negro rights throughout the nation. Therefore, he said, "that is why I am here today."

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