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The synagogue is not a subversive agency. It is an agency which is known by three names, House of Study, House of Prayer, and House of Worship. In those three functions it serves as the only focal point for Jewish life.
FORCING JEWS UNDERGROUND If synagogues are forced to close, then Jewish life is forced to go underground. Anything that is underground does not serve the purpose of the Government. We just would prefer to have the synagogue very much above ground in Russia and I think Russia itself would certainly be able to observe its functioning much better were it above ground.
In the final analysis we have a phrase in the Talmud which suggests “If I am not for myself, what am I; but if I am only for myself, what good am I; and if not now, when?” This is an ethical proposition which we as Americans and as Jews hold very dear.
Just as we love America, we are not only for America, since, as true Americans we must be for the growth of all people. As Jews and, perhaps, even more particularly as Americans, we dare not say let someone else do it tomorrow; rather, let us do it today. I say let us through the Congress of this United States do it today, not as an ugly American policeman who is looking down his nose at the Russians and saying, "Do it because we carry a big stick”; rather do it because the beautiful American humanitarian asks no special privilege for Jews or for any minority, but simply because we urge the implementation of what is written on the Liberty Bell and is taken from the Bible, “Proclaim liberty throughout the earth with actual liberty and bona fide justice," because it is good and not just for Americans, but for Russians and, indeed, for mankind.
(The prepared statement of Rabbi Elovitz follows:)
STATEMENT OF RABBI MARK H. ELOVITZ: DENIAL OF RIGHTS TO SOVIET JEWS
Gentlemen, may I at the outset note my deep personal appreciation on Congressmen Benjamin Rosenthal and John Buchanan for extending me the opportunity to voice before your distinguished Committee the significant concerns of the Jews. of Birmingham on the question of the denial of rights to Soviet Jews.
My initial gut response to the opportunity to testify was simply to offer a plaintive plea and to simply cry out, "can't you make them let my people go?" That would be simplistic; besides, I'm supposed to testify, not plead. But then upon reconsideration about the nature of my testimony, it would be naive for me to assume that each of you, as concerned members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had not done your homework on this issue. Obviously, you should be significantly more privy to the facts surrounding the all-too-obvious denial of rights to Soviet Jews than I. Permit me, rather, to attempt to focus these facts within a particular perspective and agaisnt the broader spectrum of AmericanJewish and American civil life.
TEENAGERS IN BIRMINGHAM One rather expects tbat Jews in New York with all the vibrancy of Jewish life in that city and their proximity to the United Nations, the mass media and the Soviet consulate would be cognizant of the blatant denials of rights to Soviet Jews. On the other hand, it would seem equally interesting to question if Jews deep in the heart of Dixie are as sensitive to these tribulations being experienced by Soviet Jews? It might even be significantly more pertinent to question if young teenage Jews of Birmingham are at all attuned to this issue. Pointedly, our local Jewish teenagers are not unlike the average American teenager. They are antiViet Nam war, anti-pollution, anti-adults over thirty, anti-establishment, and more often than not very little concerned about the massive problems of international relations. Yet all these concerns, exclusive of a paramount devotion to the wellbeing of Israel, it is precisely the question of Soviet Jewry which most alarms and excites the sensitive imaginations and empathy of Birmingham's Jewish youth. Why? What is it about the denial of rights to Jews in a foreign country that so animates these youthful teenagers' minds? The answer to this perhaps provides some insight into the broader problems of understanding and action within the United States which may serve to develop solutions towards the alleviation of hardships suffered by Soviet Jews.
Youth is rebellious, but its rebellion is upon critical inspection, essentially positive in quest of the core humanitarian principles of our American way of life which we all know as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Note, therefore, that Russia is an establishment, an oppressive, dictatorial, suppressive, stultifying anti-humanitarian establishment. It is a government which has selfproclaimed its constitution to be the most democratic constitution in the world. That constitution unequivocally proclaims and guarantees to each Nationality and all religions the right to publish, in its own language, books, newspapers and periodicals. It guarantees the right to conduct religious schools, theatres and cultural associations. Yet it is precisely these rights which are denied to Soviet Jews. Noting this, it is well to recognize that teenagers may be rebellious, but they-more often than adults—have the unique capacity to see through sham, hypocrisy and unholy facade. They hear protestations of freedom, but they witness the slavery manifested by the treacherous glass-covered Berlin Wall. They hear Soviet propaganda boast of cultural enlightment, but they are contemporary witnesses to the cultural deprivation which enslaves the minds of the Soviet Jews who have not been permitted to publish one single Hebrew Bible since 1917. American youth hear that Jewish Houses of Worship are permitted to stay open in Moscow and Leningrad and selected other locations, but our young people perceive that they are merely another Soviet ruse to demonstrate freedom of worship. Youths see beyond buildings and behind propaganda. They know that a handful of synagogues do not suffice the needs of three million Soviet Jews. They may not be aware of the specific statistics, e.g. that for the past fifty years the Russians have permitted the publication of little more than three thousand Jewish prayer books, but they are more than cognizant of the fact that ten years ago there were close to some five hundred synagogues in Soviet Russia and that as of 1971 there number only a pitiful handful. They are wise enough to discern that synagogues do not simply disappear; rather houses of worship are condemned and demolished by official fiat.
I am reminded of the tongue-in-cheek anecdote of the Communist university professor who, in the course of a final examination, asked his student: "What is God?" The student pa rroted a Pavlovian response, “God does not exist. He is a prejudice fostered by the capitalist Jews to exploit the proletariat". The professor smiled and responded, “Excellent, you pass.” The student sighed, "Thank God!"
All of our youth may not be as religious as we desire, but they recognize that Russian atheism is incompatible with the ideals of democratic and religious freedom espoused by America and its Biblical heritage. Back in 1963 former Ambassador Harriman challenged Russia's “elaborate denials" of anti-Jewish discrimination. It was then reported that Premier Khrushchev responded that he is "an athiest in an athiest government". This is 1971. Russia is the same, only the names have changed. America too is the same, only the names have changed. The marked difference is that we are a nation “under God” while the Russians are a nation "without godliness". While our nation may not be without serious prohlems, our strength resides in our pluralistic diversity. Our youthful sub-culture is more than cognizant of this fact, just as they are equally aware of the monolithic strait-jacketed Soviet approach to life. As such, youthful Jews not only specifically empathize as Jews with the plight of their co-religionists in Russia, but they are equally alarmed within the broader context of the American ideals already cited.
Our local Jewish teenagers have four Rabbis for the 3500 Jews of Birmingham; yet there are hardly more than several times that for the three million Jews of Russia. Our Birmingham teenagers have more text books than they have time to read: the Russian Jews do not even have a Hebrew or Yiddish publishing house. Our Birmingham Jews have a new, young, recently ordained Assistant Rabbi; the Jews of Russia have only one Seminary with less than a handful of students, none of them youthful. Our youths of Birmingham have too many Jewish organizations; the Jews of Russia are not permitted to organize. In Birmingham we have a mohel qualified to perform the rite of circumcision; this same act, which formally initiates a Jewish child into Judaism, has been so denigrated by Soviet propaganda and legal obstructions that this important "right" and "rite" have all but disappeared from Russian Jewish life. The Jews of Birmingham have three cemeteries in which to bury our dead with respect; the Jews of Russia have seen a continual closing of Jewish cemeteries and a failure by the Russian government to grant licenses for new Jewish cemeteries. The Soviet press apparently holds that the final act of laying to rest of Jews is a part of the so-called Zionist plot to overthrow the people's revolution. Our youth hears all this and questions what manner of government denies dignity even in death.
But this is not all. Each year a score of our teenagers freely visit Israel to study, to grow and to develop; yet each year the Jews of Russia are forbidden to send anyone beyond the communist nations for study and growth. At the very least, the adults and youths of Birmingham are aware of these contrasting facts of Jewish life between what is absent in Russia and with what we are blessed in Birmingham. Understanding all this, what surprises me is that anybody should be surprised by the platant anti-semitism of the communists. Communism seeks to remake people into one mold of flat, faceless, religionless conformity. Yet for the past 3500 years Jews have refused to conform. We have refused to give up our individuality and independence
mespecially in the face of persecution. The Soviet Jewish community is a victim of such discrimination and persecution. It may become impoverished economically and spiritually; it may grow ignorant of its cultural and religious heritage. Yet it cannot really “assimilate", because complete assimilation is possible only under conditions of tolerance. This situation, in which the Jews are neither allowed to be Jews nor to assimilate, produces pain and despair, but it also brings about, at a natural reaction, a feeling of revulsion toward the hostile Russian world and a reversion to values that may be dormant. It kindles a renewed interest in the Jewish heritage and, very often, vehement feelings and expressions of ethic identity. Interestingly enough, if the Russians utilized any perspective in their approach to their Jewish citizens. they would grant them full rights; in the process, Russia would preclude a number of significantly aggravating situations for themselves, e.g.
ADVANTAGES TO SOVIETS (a) If Russian Jews had freedom to emigrate—there would be no RussianJewish sit-ins protesting the inability to get exit visas * * *
(b) If the Russians granted the Jews the liberty to function as Jewsthere would be no hue and cry about their plight by enraged Canadian and French citizens such as accompanied the recent trips of Russian leaders to those countries.
(c) If the Russian Jews had the right to the pursuit of happiness via their own religious identification, the Soviets would not be distressed by the harassment of their personnel on this issue in various cities of the free world.
(d) If the Russian Jews were given the same rights and freedoms as other minorities in the U.S.S.R., the resolution before this House Committee would not be an issue to ultimately confront the Russian Foreign Affairs departments.
In short, the Russian policy toward the Jews is eminently myopic. It erroneously assumes that persecution and denial are effective means to expunge belief. In point of fact, the exact opposite is true of the Jewish experience, e.g. In 1881 Czar Alexander III, activated by his tutor- Pobiedonastzev, developed a programme in which a third of the Jews would be converted, a third would be allowed to emigrate and a third would be exterminated. It is now ninety years later and Russia still hasn't been able to cope with its so-called Jewish problem. Again, the names of the Russian leaders and the tactics employed have changed, their target is identical.
Having focused upon these comparisions and considerations, may I therefore propose for your contemplation a number of suggestions which may be implemented by our government in the cause of breathing life into the spiritual and cultural strangulation of Soviet Jewry:
1. May I propose the establishment of a Russo-Jewish-American-Jewish cultural exchange program. Under such a program our government would be prepared through cooperation with the four major Seminaries and the major organizations of American Jewish life, to send Rabbis, teachers, Mohelim and religious articles and books to the Soviet Union. In return it is suggested that the Soviet Union send numbers of its Jews to America for training here as Rabbis, teachers, Mohelim, etc. Such a program when outlined in its complete details would provide a measure of spiritual life to Soviet Judaism and gain a potential for a cadre of trained leaders for them. It may be argued that an occasional student is permitted to leave Russia proper to study in a Russian satellite country, but what we are interested in is not a Hebraically-trained KGB product but a Jewishly oriented professional. A fully developed cultural erchange program could be the beginning of a rebirth for Russian Jews.
2. I propose that a resolution be presented to the Russian government challenging them to demonstrate the actual rather than theoretical democracy of its constitution by allowing the following:
ALLOW SYNAGOGUES, EMIGRATION (a) Free and unbarrassed functioning of synagogues.
(0) Permission for the organization and functioning of the synagogues in a federation of Russian synagogues.
(c) Permission for delegates from this synagogue federation to attend conventions outside the Soviet Union and to receive delegates from synagogues bodies from the Western world.
(d) Lastly, but with utmost urgency, permit those Jews who desire to leave Russia for a country of their choice to do so.
In sum, we Jews of Birmingham fully recognize that the Jews of Russia have one address. That address is not only known as a place of assembly and a location for study, but as a House of Worship. It is best known as the Synagogue. That institution and that alone is the focal point for the survival of Jewish life in Russia. It is our considered opinion that the government of these United States should exert every effort to strengthen Russian Jewish life through the medium of strengthening the Russian Synagogues and provide the means for spiritual growth in which in the final analysis, the Rabbis of the Talmud affirms: "if I am not for myself, what am I; but if I am only for myself what good am I; and if not now, when?" The Jews of Birmingham, and hopefully the people of these United States are prepared to live by this ethical proposition. We love America, but we are not only for America since as true Americans, we must be for the growth of all people. And finally as Jews and as Americans we dare not say "let someone else do it tomorrow; rather let us do it today" ... not as the ugly American policeman, but as the beautiful American humanitarian who asks no special privilege for Jews or any minority, only for a massive tolling of the liberty bell proclaiming freedom throughout the earth with actual liberty and bona fide justice for all !
Mr. ROSENTHAL. Thank you very much, Rabbi.
STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN BUCHANAN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ALABAMA
Mr. BUCHANAN. Mr. Chairman, I have a statement prepared which I would ask unanimous consent to present for the record at this time.
Mr. ROSENTHAL. Without objection, it is so ordered. (Congressman Buchanan's prepared statement follows:) STATEMENT OF Hon. John H. BUCHANAN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS
FROM THE STATE OF ALABAMA Mr. Chairman, I appreciate having this opportunity to testify on a matter which is of very great concern to me and to millions of other freedom-loving people throughout the world—the continuing repressive policies of the Soviet Union against its Jewish citizens.
This concern has been particularly evidenced in the House of Representatives through repeated expressions on the House Floor and through the significant number of bills on this subject which have been referred to this Subcommittee. I want to commend the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, therefore, for giving the House an opportunity to channel this concern into possible action through the scheduling of these hearings.
This past Saturday, November 6, 1971, The Washington Post carried an article, entitled "Soviets Seen Boosting Exit Visas of Jews." A statement made by the author of this article, Robert G. Kaiser, seems to sum up for me what these current hearings are all about: “Diplomatic observers who keep track of Jewish emigration believe foreign pressure on the Kremlin is responsible for the relatively large number of Jews now being allowed to leave."
HEARINGS NOT FUTILE
This statement is important because we must view these hearings and our repeated expressions of concern in light of real help which we might possibly be to these victims of Soviet oppression, and not as mere exercises in futility.
In reference to this same article, it is obvious that we can only react to statistics regarding the granting of an increased number of exit visas to Soviet Jewish citizens with very mixed emotions. We are, of course, gratified by any increment in the number of Soviet Jews who are allowed to fulfill what most of us consider to be a very basic human right. On the other hand, such statistics only serve to remind us that in this tragic situation, the right is only exercised at the pleasure of the Soviet government.
We are all tragically aware, furthermore, that the denial of the right of expatriation is only one of the many injustices suffered by citizens of the Soviet Union, and particularly by its Jewish citizens. In this connection it is important to remember that what is being experienced in the Soviet Union is far more than prejudicial attitudes of some citizens toward others; it is the direct reflection of these attitudes through repressive policies and restrictions on the part of the Government toward some of its citizens. These policies and restrictions, furthermore, have cruelly suppressed so many basic human freedoms that in this country are almost taken for granted in their complete acceptance,
Last year I was a member of a special subcommittee conducting hearings in New York on the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union and heard testimony of continued acts of anti-Semitism there. The suppression of Soviet Jews has gone beyond the denial of religious freedom to affect the cultural, economic, and educational areas of life. Authorities in the Soviet Union have long suppressed, discouraged, and prevented the free expression of Jewish education and culture, and have deprived Soviet Jews of the opportunity of worshipping freely and in accordance with the traditions of their faith.
JEWISH PRESS, THEATER, DEAD
They are not allowed to learn either Hebrew or the Yiddish language in Soviet schools. Jewish synagogues and schools have been closed. The Jewish theater and the Jewish press are both dead. In Russia today only a few rabbis serve the more than 3 million Jews living there, and in Moscow only three synagogues exist to serve some 500,000 Jews in that city.
Last year we witnessed a tragic acceleration of a flagrant example of Soviet Jewish persecution in the prosecution of a number of Soviet Jews for various forms of alleged anti-Soviet activity. The entire world was stunned by the prosecution last fall of 11 Soviet citizens-nine of them Jewish-for allegedly planning to hijack an airplane. For this alleged act, the defendants were charged with such serious crimes as high treason, “organizational activity directed to commission of especially dangerous crimes against the state," stealing state property, and anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. The evidence available, furthermore, could only lead one to the conclusion that these individuals, like others in that country, were entrapped by Soviet officials.
The "show" trial which ensued was a complete mockery of justice resulting in outrageously heavy sentences. The fact that the two death sentences meted out in this trial were commuted to 15-year prison terms—a probable result of the pressure of an outraged world public opinion does not erase the terrible injustice done to individuals whose only "crime” was apparently their desire to escape persecution and emigrate.
Earlier this year we were given another disquieting picture of this Soviet repression, as seen through the eyes of one who had so recently experienced itMr. Leonid Rigerman. Concerned citizens in the United States were made particularly aware of the tribulations which Leonid Rigerman, the son of a native Ameri