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W.j.c. Plenary Session Opens; Goldmann Calls to Fight Assimilation

August 1, 1966
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The major task facing the Jewish people in the world outside Israel is the need to fight against being swamped through assimilation with the majorities among whom they live in the Diaspora, Dr. Nahum Goldmann warned here tonight. He spoke at the opening session of the 10-day plenary meeting of the World Jewish Congress, of which he is president.

The global assembly is being attended by 450 delegates and observers from all over the world, including one delegate from Rumania and two observers from Hungary. A message of greetings was received today from the Union of Jewish Communities in Czechoslovakia, but none from the Jewish communities in Poland.

Prior to Dr. Goldmann’s address, the session was greeted formally by Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Willy de Clereq and Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Mr. de Clercq, in addition to voicing the Belgian Government’s formal welcome to the WJC delegates, expressed Belgium’s warmest regards for Israel. Mr. Eban, in his remarks, stressed Israel’s determination to continue to defend itself against Arab hostility while, at the same time, seeking peaceful negotiations with the Arab states.

Dr. Goldmann, in his address, voiced strong criticism of the Jewish organizational “establishment” and of Jewish religious leaders, especially in the United States, for overzealousness in promoting so-called dialogues with religious leaders of Christian churches. He also criticized Orthodox Jewry’s “isolationism” leading to a loss of “daring and creative courage” in helping the Jewish people face “new conditions of life, both in Israel and the Diaspora.”

Comparing the violent Nazi anti-Semitism that faced the Jews, when the World Jewish Congress was established just 30 years ago, with the current “menace from within–the danger of assimilation and disintegration,” the WJC leader called for a shift in the scale of priorities so that the Jewish people could most effectively “fight for the right to be different.”

Dr. Goldmann said the process of assimilation today not only concerned the individual but “the collective form of our life, our character as a specific collective entity.” This applied to all aspects of Jewish life.


“In many countries,” Dr. Goldmann continued, “especially in the most important Jewish community in the world, the United States, there is a tendency among some religious leaders and their followers to equate the Jewish religion with others, to make out of the Jewish religion another modern church and to forget that the Jewish people was never only a religious group” but a “combination of peoplehood, religion, and the bearer of a total civilization.”

While welcoming discussion between Jewish and other religious leaders on moral obligations–safeguarding peace, the fight against poverty and the protection of rights and liberties–Dr. Goldmann said “the exaggerated zeal of many religious leaders for so-called religious dialogues with religious leaders of other churches” on “purely religious ideologies and religions” could lead “to a weakening and gradual elimination of the specific traits of what one calls the Jewish religion.”

If assimilation was not stopped “from the inside” it could lead in a relatively short period to the loss of large parts of the young Jewish generation, the WJC leader stressed, “We have to develop new priorities in our life,” he said. “Our future does not depend any longer on the fight against anti-Semitism, on defense, on relief and philanthropy, on organizational competition. It depends on looking for new values and sources of inspiration.”

Dr. Goldmann declared that the priority given “yesterday to the fight against anti-Semitism must be accorded today to Jewish education. The effort invested in the past in relief must concentrate in the future on cultural creativeness.”

Reporting the situation of the 3,000,000 Jews in the Soviet Union, Dr. Goldmann said “despite anti-Semitic tendencies here and there in Russia as in many other parts of the world, the individual Jewish citizen is not persecuted, is not denied his political rights or his economic existence, or his possibilities of participating in the scientific, cultural and artistic life of his country, although in certain spheres some discrimination exists.” The problem was the denial to the Jewish minority of “facilities to live their lives as a Jewish collective group with a grave danger that we may lose this second largest community in the course of one or two generations,” he stated.

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