Tens of Thousands Participate in Nation-wide Soviet Jewry Rallies
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Tens of Thousands Participate in Nation-wide Soviet Jewry Rallies

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Tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews in nearly 50 cities across the country participated this weekend in a variety of activities expressing support for Soviet Jewry. The events, which were nationally under the auspices of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and coordinated by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, focussed on the problems of freedom of emigration, harassment, the Prisoners of Conscience, and the closing of the synagogue in the Moscow suburb of Tomilino.

An estimated 15,000 New Yorkers gathered yesterday for four hours in Carl Schurtz Park in Manhattan for a city-wide Simhat Torah-Succoth “Festival of Freedom” which had as its theme “One Torah, One People.” The festival, sponsored by the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry, focussed on the renaissance of Jewish identity in the Soviet Union.

Stanley H. Lowell, chairman of the NCSJ, who was the keynote speaker at this festival and at the one in Essex County, NJ, told the gatherings that he had already sent a telegram to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in Washington demanding the reopening of the Tomilino Synagogue which was arbitrarily closed by Soviet officials last week after being in operation for 42 years. The tremendous outpouring of support, as witnessed by the nation-wide events, is proof “that we remain constant in the cause of Soviet Jews and vigilant on their behalf,” Lowell said.


The highlight of the celebration, which included the participation of public officials and civic leaders, was the presentation of a Torah Scroll for the Soviet city of Khust where the only synagogue in the city was recently destroyed by arsonists on June 22. The presentation, made to author Elie Wiesel for delivery later to Khust, followed a procession that began at Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun about a half-mile from the park. The marchers were led by Rabbi Haskell Lookstein and included the members of the congregation which donated the Torah.


At a rally in Los Angeles attended by thousands, Jerry Goodman, executive director of the NCSJ, referred to the closing of the Tomilino Synagogue and the dispersal of Jews during the High Holy Days as a shocking and depressing sign that there has been no change in the USSR’s attitude toward Jews who wish to practice their religion. “Although we hear that we may be close to an accommodation on some aspects of the problems of Soviet Jews, incidents of the past several weeks cause us grave concern,” he said.

Goodman noted that the accusation of “poisoning children” against Dr. Mikhail Stern of Vinnitsa in the Ukraine, a reputable physician of more than 30 years, is another case of the Soviet Union’s “misuse of judicial process against Jews who wish to emigrate.” he stated. The Soviet tactics of harassment and threats are bound to fail. Goodman said, “because we are here and we will not give up the struggle for Soviet Jews.”


In the greater Philadelphia area more than 10,000 Jews conducted a march along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the city Saturday night to demand that the Soviet Union cease harassing Jews who gather outside their synagogues during the Simhat Torah holiday. Speakers at the student-sponsored Simhat Torah Solidarity Rally for Soviet Jewry also called for an end to emigration restrictions.

Joseph Smukler, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Committee of 1000 for Soviet Jewry and who has toured the Soviet Union and met with Soviet Jewish activists, told the rally “We are here to mirror the Simhat Torah gatherings planned in cities across the USSR. We want the Soviet government to know we will be watching to see what happens when Soviet Jews attempt to celebrate Simhat Torah outside of their synagogues.”

The rally in Philadelphia was sponsored by the Youth Council of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the Philadelphia Union of Jewish Students, and the Hillel Foundations of Greater Philadelphia. In many communities there were programs of inter-religious participation, with clergy from many faiths speaking out for Soviet Jews. Major rallies took place in Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Washington.

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