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Middle Course Urged Hertzberg; What is Good for Society is Not Always Good for Jews

May 15, 1972
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, newly elected president of the American Jewish Congress, declared in his inaugural address that American Jews must find a “middle course” that will include concern both for the universal values of human rights and the particular needs of Jewish survival.

Addressing 500 delegates attending the AJ Congress’ national biennial convention, Rabbi Hertz-berg said, “We Jews have learned to our sorrow that what is good for society is not always good for Jews. We can no longer assure that working to improve the community at large will enhance the lot of the Jews. At the same time, however, we dare not over react by succumbing to the obnoxious tendency to turn our backs to the world and involve ourselves only with immediate Jewish interests.”

Rabbi Hertzberg urged a policy based on the philosophy of the Jewish rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But If I am only for myself, then what am I? And If not now, when?” He voiced concern over the “divisiveness” that he said characterized American Jewish life.

“We are united in our devotion to Israel and to the Jews of the USSR,” he said, “but we differ sharply among ourselves in the meaning, the content and the direction of Jewish survival.” He said he hoped the AJCongress would “rededicate itself to opening channels of communication both to other religious and ethnic groups in American society and with opposing viewpoints within the Jewish community. In our nation as a whole as in our Jewish community it is a time to heal and to bind, a time to lower tensions and defuse anger,” Rabbi Hertzberg said.


In his valedictory address last night, the retiring AJCongress president, Rabbi Arthur J. Lely-veld who served for six years, paid tribute to “Americans who have spoken out fearlessly In Israel’s behalf.” He mentioned specifically, Rep. Louis S. Stokes (D. Ohio) of Cleveland, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus which has expressed itself strongly in favor of Israel. Rabbi Lelyveld described Rep. Stokes as an “example of those who are motivated only by integrity and moral values and certainly not by any search for political advantage or personal gain.”

Rabbi Lelyveld stressed Israel’s need for dependable and enduring friends. He said these could be found only among the Jews of the diaspora “and those who will be our friends and allies.” He warned that “ultimately, such friends will not be the fair-weather, self-seeking political companions motivated primarily by their own special interest but those who care to affirm the justice of Israel’s cause under the universal standards of humanitarianism and equality.”

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