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Reform Leader Blames American Jews for Assimilation of Soviet Emigres

November 6, 1989
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A leader of Reform Jewry has laid much of the blame for Soviet Jewry’s large-scale lack of involvement with Judaism in this country at the feet of American Jewry.

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said many Soviet emigre families are dropping out of Jewish life because American Jews have “failed to reach out” to the new arrivals.

Schindler, speaking Saturday at UAHC’s 60th biennial convention here, told some 3,500 Reform leaders that Jewish congregations, including Reform synagogues, have been “most neglectful” in failing to encourage contact between Soviet Jewish emigres and the American Jewish community.

In his sharply worded critique, Schindler particularly emphasized what he called the “embarrassingly inadequate” response of American Jews to the United Jewish Appeal’s Passage to Freedom campaign, the $75 million special fund established to support absorption programs for Soviet Jews both in America and Israel.

He specifically called on “each of our 822 Reform congregations to engage in a vigorous outreach program to bring Soviet Jewish families into our synagogues and homes.”

During a convention workshop, Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, applauded help offered by UAHC congregations, citing two examples of effective outreach by member synagogues that could be replicated by other congregations across the country.

Cardin spoke of a program at Shearith Israel in San Francisco, a historic synagogue that survived both the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989. The congregation has integrated more than 100 Soviet Jewish emigres, who now attend services regularly, it was reported.


Shearith Israel, in cooperation with Jewish community organizations, has set up a “havurah” (fellowship) for Soviet Jews that serves as a support group where the new arrivals can discuss and solve the problems of daily living, as well as learn about Jewish things.

Cardin also spoke about Congregation Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh, which has helped organized Jewish communal agencies and other congregations in the region into a network that matches American Jewish families, as “mentors,” with Soviet emigre families, to help the new Americans adjust to their new home.

Among the others addressing the five-day conference, which opened Thursday evening, was a founder of the World Jewish Congress who has been intimately involved with negotiations to relocate the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz.

Gerhart Riegner, co-chairman of the governing board of the WJC, said Catholic-Jewish tensions over the convent seem to have dissipated, “because we openly faced the representatives of the church and clearly explained the grievances.

Riegner, who spoke at the opening session of the UAHC conference, believes that “quick progress will now be made in fulfilling the agreements” signed by Catholic and Jewish leaders to remove the convent and build an interfaith center away from the grounds of the former death camp.

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