NEW ORLEANS (Feb. 8)
Label A. Katz, former international president of B’nai B’rith, defended today his position that Jewish centers should maintain a Jewish sectarian character, against criticism from Reform rabbis in this city.
Mr. Katz raised the issue initially last month on an address here to the executive committee of B’nai B’rith Grand Lodge No. 7 in which he declared that he had been one of 140 members of the New Orleans Jewish Community Center who had protested the admission of 18 non-Jewish families to Center membership. After the protest, the Center halted admission of non-Jewish families, pending a report by a study committee, allowing the present non-Jewish members to retain membership “at their option.”
Mr. Katz called the Center’s position “a silent and subtle quota system” which violated “our Judaic heritage and our democratic legacy.” He argued that, if the Center meant to have an open membership policy, it should be one of admitting “all applications irrespective of race, color or creed, without limitation.”
In the petition, a special meeting of the general membership was asked to clarify a phrase in the JCC charter that the goal of the Center was “to develop an affirmative attitude toward Jewish life.” Mr. Katz said he and the other signers understood this phrase to mean that, to be eligible for Center membership, one must be a Jew.
JWB HEAD, REFORM RABBIS, INSIST ON ‘OPEN MEMBERSHIP’ PRINCIPLE
Mr. Katz’s stand was disputed on the national level by Sanford Solender, executive vice-president of the National Jewish Welfare Board. Mr. Solender said in New York that participation of non-Jewish members in Jewish Center programs “does not deter or adversely affect the capacity of the Center to fulfill its Jewish purpose and program” and that “open membership is the only tenable policy for a Center.”
In the newest development in the controversy, Reform rabbis here criticized Mr. Katz in sermons and statements in their synagogue bulletins. Rabbi Leo A. Bergman, Rabbi Nathaniel Share and Rabbi Jay Rosenberg challenged Mr. Katz in sermons and bulletin statements. Rabbi Bergman criticized Mr. Katz for taking the issue to the press. Rabbi Share also protested the development of the issue into a “public fight.”
Rabbi Bergman also said that he saw no harm resulting from the presence of non-Jewish members and that the Jewish content of the programming was not adversely affected by non-Jewish members. Rabbi Share said that it was true that open membership “exposes our youth to contacts with non-Jews.” However, he said, “our young people are going to live in a society in which the majority will be non-Jews.” He added that “it rests upon those who are fighting for closed membership to demonstrate that the Center’s policies and programs are less affirmatively Jewish now than they would be if membership were limited to Jews alone.”
KATZ SAYS INTERDENOMINATIONAL SOCIETY ACTIVITY IS NOT CENTER’S FUNCTION
Replying, Mr. Katz noted that bringing the situation out into the open was necessary and “useful” because most Jews in New Orleans had not been aware of the Center’s membership policy. He said he agrees with Rabbi Share that “Jew meets non-Jew, as it should be, in many areas and on many levels” but that “the supplementation and encouragement of interdenominational social activity is not the function of the Jewish Community Center.”
“We feel strongly,” Mr. Katz added, “that proper Jewish Center programming can avail itself of an unparalleled opportunity, and offer an essential service to the entire Jewish community by encouraging our Jewish youth to share a social, cultural and educational experience in a totally Jewish environment.”
“If the Reform rabbis believe that one does not have to be a Jew to achieve an affirmative identification with Jewish life,” Mr. Katz said, then the question should be raised about permitting non-Jews to participate in Reform programs for youth, and to be members of the congregations, since “much of their congregational programming and activities, other than religious services, parallels that of the Jewish Center.” He charged that the rabbis have remained “silent about the subtle and unacknowledged quota system practiced at the New Orleans Jewish Center.”
In his presentation, Mr. Katz cited a clause in the Center’s charter, as amended in 1956, stating the institution’s aim was the development of “an affirmative attitude toward Jewish life.” He said that the signers of the petition believed that this phrase “means that, to be eligible to be a member of the Jewish Community Center, one must be a Jew.”