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Jews Resign from Anti-poverty Group; Charge Bias Against Hassidim

February 8, 1967
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Twelve Jewish members of the Williamsburg Committee Against Poverty have resigned in protest against alleged discrimination by the committee against needy Jews in the area, the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg reported today. The Jewish group included four rabbis. Williamsburg is a Brooklyn community with a large concentration of Negroes, Puerto Ricans, and the largest community of Hassidic Jews in the United States.

The principal function of the committee is to set up a permanent corporation to direct anti-poverty activities in the area under a directive from Mitchell Svirdoff, administrator of New York City’s Human Resources Department. In tendering their resignation, the 12 Jewish members indicated they were refusing also to accept responsibility for creation of the permanent organization. Their letter was sent to the Rev. H. Carl McCall, chairman of the New York City Council Against Poverty.

The Jewish signers charged that other ethnic groups represented on the committee had refused to recognize that there were “acute pockets of poverty” among the Hassidic Jews, who were entitled to consideration of their needs in the anti-poverty program.

One particular action by other members of the committee, to which the resigning Jewish members objected, was an insistence on removal from membership in the proposed permanent corporation of all non-residents. Such a rule would eliminate Sol Levy, executive director of the YM and YWHA of Williamsburg and chairman of the committee, as well as other professionals now directing social agencies in the Williamsburg community. Such an action, the Jewish leaders declared, “destroys the essential recommendation of the Svirdoff Report which seeks to integrate existing services and agencies within the community with poverty programs.”


The signers also asserted, in their letter, that there were “subtle overtones of hostility” toward them as Jews “when picketing took place outside the YM and YWHA of Williamsburg, during the last meeting of the Community Committee.” They declared that the picketing had no other purpose “than to protest the professionals on the committee. In view of the fact that, out of the total membership of 54 on the committee, only four non-resident professionals were involved, the picketing could be interpreted in no other way than as a move against the Jewish community” in Williamsburg.

The signers said that, while there were no statistics available, it was the belief of the signers “and the sociological experts who have examined the Williamsburg community, that there are in fact innumerable instances of poverty among Jews in the community.” They also stressed that the usual indices used to measure poverty — such as juvenile delinquency, delivery at wards in municipal hospitals, venereal disease and welfare roll membership — “are not adequate instruments for measuring poverty among Jews.”

The signers said that the refusal of the committee to consider aid to the Hassidic Jews in need “was an affront to the total Jewish community” and that, if necessary, they would take their case to Sargent Shriver, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in Washington. They added they had delayed action on their protest for some time, out of concern that such action might lead to similar resignations in other parts of the city — but that the situation had become “unbearable.”

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