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Memorial Service Held for Jews Killed in Vietnam, Shofarim Sounded by Radicals

November 17, 1969
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A memorial service for the Jewish servicemen killed in Vietnam and an antiwar demonstration involving about 100 self-styled Jewish “radicals” was held Sunday in front of the White House. The demonstration was held as President Nixon attended worship services.

Shofarim (rams horns) were sounded as a call for action. The National Jewish Organizing project, a radical group, sponsored the ceremonial demonstration as a uniquely Jewish phase of the weekend anti-war demonstrations here. Mostly young people were involved in the display of “solidarity with oppressed people everywhere. . .for an immediate reversal of the Administration’s war policy.” The shofar was blown by demonstrators wearing tallithim “to protest the idolatry of America. The worship of the golden calf of the dollar and the war machine.” Jews were called upon to join the radicals in a Jewish fast day to coincide with the next action of the Vietnam Moratorium movement.

The prayer for the dead, El Mole Rachmim, was recited with reference to the Vietnam war. Symbolizing the struggle against “idols,” a papier mache “golden calf” bearing the dollar sign was destroyed in the course of the demonstration as police looked on. The demonstrators marched behind a large banner of the Jewish Peace Movement. The banner displayed a clenched blue fist against a yellow Star of David on a background of black.

Burton Weiss of the Jewish Peace Fellowship delivered a sermon quoting from the Midrash and Scripture. The demonstrators, including some non-Jews who joined in, stood with bowed heads as the Kaddish was recited for the war dead.

Many passers-by and persons in cars shouted encouragement to the Jewish demonstrators some gave the “V” sign which has become the symbol of the peace movement.

A number of the demonstrators chanted “right on” and “power to the people,”slogans of the black panthers and elements of the Students for Democratic Society.

The board of the National Jewish Organization Project includes Mike Tabor and Arthur Waskow, of Washington; Burton Weiss, Bob Greenblatt, and Fran Schreiberg, New York,; Dan Siegel, Philadelphia; Richard Rubenstein, Chicago; and Selma Waldman, Mercer, Wash. In an organization statement, the group voiced a commitment here this weekend to mobilize the Jewish community “to attack injustices of American political and economic life.” They will “seek allies among those in other traditions– Christian, Moslem, Humanist, Marxist, Existentialist, Anarchist. . .”

Thousands of Jews joined in the massive anti-war demonstrations-Saturday and Jewish institutions and families opened their doors to the demonstrators. The religious action center of reform Judaism became a first aid station Friday night when police fired tear gas at radical youths attempting to demonstrate against the nearby Embassy of South Vietnam. An estimated 200 gas victims, Jewish and non-Jewish, were given medical assistance. The center, maintained by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, served also as a housing office.

Sleeping facilities were provided at the National B’nai B’rith headquarters building, the offices of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, and many synagogues. Families from the suburbs provided beds and food for many hundreds and even transported some to and from downtown Washington.

Jewish participants displayed religious fervor in their opposition to the Vietnam policies of President Nixon. Students of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University, and other Jewish Institutions came in large numbers. Prayer services were held in the National B’nai B’rith headquarters and other Jewish Institutions downtown. Some youths of Orthodox persuasion wore Yarmullkasin the line of the march against Death on Saturday. Others carried signs lettered in Hebrew and English.

Hillel groups from such Universities as Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and many others were evident. Rabbi Oscar Groner, assistant national director of Hillel, performed an outstanding role in obtaining accommodations for Jewish college youths. He was assisted by other Jewish professionals but much of the work of organizing the community was done by young people themselves.

Peace services were held at virtually all Washington synagogues Friday night. Many more Jews arrived here than expected. A group of self-styled Jewish radicals, representing many cities and various radical organizations, assembled an estimated 1,000 persons at a Methodist church. The National Jewish Organizing Project held teach-ins on the Middle East, draft resistance, Jewish education, the Jewish community and racism, and similar topics, Abbie Hoffman, leader of the “Yippie” group, was scheduled to speak but failed to appear.

Contingents of Jews for Urban Justice and other components of the Jewish Organizing Project marched in the general demonstration as Jewish units. The radicals formed only a small segment of the Jewish participation in the mobilization this weekend. In addition to the thousands of Hillel members and those from religious youth organizations in evidence were untold numbers of Jewish adults, rabbis, and active members of many religious and communal organizations.

It was the largest scale Jewish participation in any mass demonstration here in history. The number of Jews exceeded the Jewish participation in the great 1963 civil rights march here.

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