Russian Jews Speak Their Minds
There is no doubt that Soviet leaders are sensitive to criticism.
Protests lodged against the recurring anti-Semitism are not falling on
So it is with all dictators. They are above reproach among their
own people, but they are not immune to condemnations from the
outside. So it was with Hitler's lieutenants Goering and Goebbels-
although Hitler himself always remained arrogantly inhuman and
unresponsive to protests.
Khrushchev certainly gives the impression that he seeks justice.
That's why he immediately branded the authors of the Ukrainian
anti-Semitic book "idiots."
But many Jews in Russia definitely are uncompromisingly more
Communist than their non-Jewish colleagues in the party. There were
Jews in Nazi Germany who protested against the boycott of German-
made _goods conducted in this country under Jewish auspices—even
though the Nazi chieftains feared it. (There was the "Jewish leader"
Naumann and a handful of his cohorts who objected to the protests
against Nazism.) By the same token, there are Russian Jews who,
instigated by their party leaders, have objected to the condemnations
of USSR anti-Semitism. There are, however, facts that are indisputable
about the spreading venom against Jews in Russia.
An unusually interesting appraisal of the Jewish attitudes in
Russia was developed for the Christian Science Monitor by Paul Wohl,
based on his personal experiences in the Soviet Union. The CSM
writer - commences his evaluation by stating:
If you meet a Soviet citizen abroad and ask him where he is
from, he will answer: from the U.S.S.R. If you know him a little
better, or ask him in his own country, he will answer that he is a
Russian, a Ukrainian, a Latvian, or any of the other Soviet nationali-
ties. If he says, "I am a Soviet citizen," he probably is a Jew.
Only if he belongs to the Communist elite is he likely to describe
himself as a Jew.
For all but tested party members engaged in important work it
is a problem to be a Jew in the Soviet Union, and even more so to
be a devoutly religious one.
For a Soviet Jew it is harder to practice Judaism than it is for,
say, an Orthodox Christian to practice his religion, because Judaism
is suspected of giving its adherents a non-Soviet, international out-
look and of orienting them toward capitalist practices; in other words,
of dampening their zeal, the most cherished virtues in the Soviet
The emergence of Israel has further complicated this situation.
Yet every Soviet Jew this writer has met professed to be a
Soviet patriot, was engaged in practical work, rejected Zionism, or
had an aloof attitude toward the state of Israel, tempered in some
cases by sympathetic curiosity.
While this has been my own experience, some on-the-spot observ-
ers believe that most Soviet Jews would like to go to Israel. (Many
non-Jewish Soviet citizens, too, would like to emigrate.)
Paul Wohl then proceeded to say that there is no doubt that "Jews
and Armenians are proportionately more active in underground capital-
ism than, say. Russians and Ukrainians, more than half of whom live in
the countryside and have little opportunity to travel." But there is a
clarifying statement to point to existing prejudices. The Monitor's
special writer points out on this score:
Yet the proportionally large number of capital sentences of
Jews for "speculation," defrauding the state, and similar charges and
the way they have been played up in the press, would seem to indicate
that anti-Semitism still is strong among the officialdom.
Last year I witnessed evidence of it.
was riding in the Moscow Subway when a big brawny man in
his early 30's, later identified as a building worker, made an anti-
Semitic remark to a frail-looking older man.
The latter reacted sharply, identified himself as a war veteran,
reserve officer and Communist, and demanded to see the younger
man's identification papers. Most of the bystanders supported his
request and offered to act as witnesses. The younger man complied,
and it was understood that he would be taken to court. He walked
But what are the attitudes of the Russian Jews themselves? In his
CSM article, Paul Wohl states the following, offering his personal
experiences in the USSR:
In Leningrad, in November, 1961, at the time when several leaders
of the local Jewish congregation were reported to have been arrested,
I shared my table in one of the best restaurants with a rotund and
prosperous-looking Jewish furrier, who ate and drank merrily. He
was a foreman in a shop and made money on the side fashioning fur
coats for prominent citizens.
I asked him whether he was a believer and had gone to the
synagogue on the recent day of atonement. He was not quite certain
about the former. To the synagogue he went once a year. It was a
tradition, he said. "Maybe it's good. One can never know." About
anti-Semitism he was noncommittal.
He told me that on certain Jewish holidays the young people
nowadays liked to dance folk dances and to sing songs in Yiddish in
front of the synagogue to show that they, too, had a nationality. This
was something new, he added; then he changed the subject.
During my recent stay in Moscow, I met a Jewish chemist who
questioned me about the condition of Jews in America. He admitted
that it was harder for Jews to make a career in universities and
"But we do get ahead," he said, "if we have very good grades.
I now study on the side for a degree as a civil engineer and hope to
teach at a university." One of the difficulties he mentioned was that
there were proportionally more Jewish students and professors than
non-Jews. This man seemed to be outstanding in his field and was a
Shortly before returning to Warsaw I talked about the Jewish
problem with a noted Soviet naturalist. I had repeatedly talked with
him about matters of common interest without knowing that he was
This man, too, was a war veteran and a long-time party member.
My friend turned out to have a sound knowledge of the Bible. He had
studied it in Hebrew, he said, a language which his children also had
learned. As a party member he was a convinced atheist and anti-
His daughters had married Jewish army officers and engineers.
They were "proud to be Jews. Assimiliation had ended," he added.
What does this mean? I asked. The Jews' main contribution to
our civilization was the Bible, which is a religious book. Now they
also had Israel, and he rejected both. What then linked Soviet Jews
and distinguished them as a national group?
Friday, April 17, 1964 — THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
in Soviet Russia—Becker
Amendment's Vast Dangers
He acknowledged the failure of the Jewish settlement in Biro-
Bidjan, an autonomous so-called Jewish territory on the Manchurian
border, but thought that another such experiment under better condi-
tions might "perhaps" be possible.
The main thing was for Soviet Jews to study their literature and
to cultivate their folk ways without religion or contacts with Israel.
As a Communist he stressed that anti-Semitism was punished as
a crime in the U.S.S.R. I mentioned several facts pointing to official
support of anti-Semitism.
He replied that anti-Semitism was very old among the people
a superstition which the Nazis had revived and that it would take
many decades to get rid of it.
This Jewish Soviet Communist then gave me a few facts and
figures. He named a Jewish general who was twice a Hero of the
Soviet Union, and another one who was a Jewish general and a
member of the Supreme Soviet. Altogether 110 Jews have been named
Heroes of the Soviet Union during the war. At least one Jew is a
full member of the party's central committee.
Jews account for about 1 per cent of the Soviet population, but
more than 10 per cent of the scientific personnel, 14.'7 per cent of all
physicians, 14 per cent of the writers, 23 per cent of the composers,
13 per cent of all artists, and more than 10 per cent of the jurists.
I asked him about why Jews had their Jewish nationality indicated
in their internal passports. Was this not making things unnecessarily
difficult for them?
The internal passports, which state everyone's nationality are
an old Russian institution, said my friend.
When I told him that the carrying of identification papers is not
compulsory in the United States and in many Western countries, he
found this hard to believe and then countered with a reference • to
the high incidence of criminality in the West.
There is just cause for this long quotation. The passport question
is vital. Last week it was reported that there will be a change in such
internal regulations which call for the specification of "Yevrei"—
"Jew"—on passports held by Jews. But the situation in the USSR
would still remain most seriously complicated under conditions of the
proscription of cultural rights—a ban on Hebrew and on Yiddish
newspaper publishing—at a time when more than 500,000 Russian Jews
claim Yiddish as their mother tongue. The spiritual-cultural-religious
discriminations are in force and the Russians may well be jittery over
Then there is the matter of heroism shown by Jews who served
in the Russian army. As an inheritance from Stalin and his anti-Semitic
cohorts, there are the widely spread rumors that Jews made poor
soldiers, that they were cowards, etc. The records tell an entirely
different story. The Paul Wohl account presents facts that should be
generally known. We are deeply indebted to the CSM writer for his
most revealing report on the status of Jews in the Soviet Union.
These revelations are not necessarily the most complete or basic
facts about the actual conditions in Russia, but they do offer frank
views on the imbedded anti-Semitism, on the difficulty of uprooting
them; on the implied fears even among the most rabid Jewish Com-
munists and anti-Zionists of the consequences of the spreading hatreds.
Isn't it reasonable to believe that if the Soviet authorities really
intended to prevent anti-Semitic excesses and to avoid placing blame
for speculations mostly on Jews that they would succeed?
The Becker Amendment
Congressman Frank Becker of New York has inaugurated a move-
ment for a Constitutional amendment which would negate the recent
decisions of the United States Supreme Court in opposition to the
teaching of religion in our public schools and which would alter all
the original intents of the First Amendment providing for the prin-
ciple of church-state separation. The Becker amendment contains a
menacing proposal. While we live in an age in which we should not
fear change, it is not as if the New York. Congressman had proposed
a progressive move as of, for example, away from oppression unto the
direction of libertarianism; or to remove • restrictions on civil rights
and the freedoms of our people. What he deals with is in itself a mat-
ter of freedom:, the right of Americans to choose their own way of
teaching religion and not to be interfered with in their interpreta-
tions. The Becker amendment would bring us right back to medieval
Somehow, we have confidence that his amendment doesn't have
a ghost of a chance to win wide support. Nevertheless, there should
be an expression of protest against the very nature of even asking
consideration for so backward an idea, and it would be well for all
liberty-minded citizens to write to their representatives in Congress
and to urge them to reject anything akin to the Becker plan that
would place restrictions upon our free school system and would turn
it chaotically into a battleground among faiths. Once the teaching of
religion were to be permitted in the free American way of choosing
or rejecting a faith, that is exactly what would happen, and that is
what should be avoided.
Aleph Katz—Yiddish Stylist
Two of our columnists, Nathan Ziprin and Boris Smolar, already
have commented enthusiastically on the latest volume of poems and
plays by Aleph Katz. An added word of praise is in order for the
able author best known as Aleph.
He is a brilliant stylist, as his newest work, "Die Emesse Khassene"
—"Quote a Wedding"—proves decisively. Like the seven of his preced-
ing works, this one has deep feeling, is steeped in Jewish folklore,
has marvelous elements of humor, is splendid literature.
Would that it could reach a very large audience! Regrettably,
even the best of Jewish literature in English has a small reading
public, and the readers are vastly diminished in Yiddish! But those
who do read Yiddish would do well to share the charms of Aleph
Katz's writings, and especially his latest work.
20 Tons of Matzo
Charged to USSR
NEW YORK, (JTA)—More than
20 tons of matzoth intended for
Soviet Jews during Passover last
month lay undelivered and wasted
in Moscow custom houses. Bnai
Brith said here. The unleavened
bread had been shipped by Jews
in Western countries at a cost of
$100,000, including $20,000 paid
in customs duties to the Soviet
Union, Label A. Katz, president
of Bnai Brith, disclosed. Bnai
Brith also learned that parcels of
matzoth sent to Jews in Kiev,
Kishinev, Tashkent and Samark-
and were not delivered, while
matzoth shipped to Odessa by the
Chief Rabbi of Denmark a r e
"known to have been confiscated"
by the Soviet authorities, Katz said.
Katz said that the matzoth which
failed to get beyond Moscow's
customs houses were about half
of an estimated 90,000 pounds
shipped to the Soviet Union "after
Soviet officials had let it be known
that such shipments were author-
ized and presumably would be
delivered. In view of what has
happened in Moscow, it is not un-
likely that undelivered parcels of
matzoth are piled up in the cus-
toms offices of other Soviet cities."
The Bnai Brith leader said he
had no estimate of how much of
the matzoth had reached the
tables of Soviet Jewish families.
One slight indication, he said,
came from a report published in
London 10 days ago which quoted
Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin,
of Moscow, as saying that he had
received 204 parcels of matzoth
for distribution to members of
his congregation. Katz said that
1,000 such parcels—about 10,000
pounds of matzoth — had been
directed to the attention of Rabbi
Levin. The bulk of the shipments,
he said, had been sent by Jews in
the United States, Canada, Great
Britain, Israel and elsewhere to
individual Jewish families in the
Soviet Union. The shipments cost
approximately $250,000, Katz said.
USSR duty charges were about 45
cents on each pound of matzoth.
Katz also charged that the press
campaign made Jews in Moscow
fearful to claim the 6,000 pounds
of matzoth that were baked in
the single rented facility t he
authorities allowed this year. The
Bnai Brith le a d e r estimated
that it had produced no more
than 8,000 pounds of matzoth.
Katz noted also that the Soviet
Union had carried on an "intimi-
dating campaign" against Jews
prior to Passover, so that many
Soviet Jews who knew they had
matzoth parcels shipped to them
feared to claim them.
ROOSEVELT -URGES HOUSE
TO CONDEMN PERSECUTIONS
WASHINGTON, (JTA)—A res-
olution condemning the persecu-
tion of persons by the Soviet
Union, because of their religion,
was introduced in the liaise of
Representatives b y Democratic
Congressman James Roosevelt, of
California. The resolution is iden-
tical with the one introduced in
the Senate by Connecticut Demo-
crat Abraham A. Ribicoff. Senator
Ribicoff's measure has already ob-
tained 63 co-sponsors.
The insertion of the resolutions
adopted by the American Jewish
Conference on Soviet Jewry into
the Congressional Record AV as
among the echoes of the confer-
ence in both Houses of Congress.
Ashkenazi New Chief Rabbi Installed in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM, (JTA)—In an im-
pressive ceremony at Heichal
Shlomo, headquarters of the Chief
Rabbinate here, Rabbi Isser Ye-
huda Unterman was installed Sun-
day as the new Ashkenazi Chief
Rabbi of Israel. He filled the post
which has remained vacant since
the death of Chief Rabbi Isaac
Halevi Herzog, in 1959.
Present for the ceremony were
President Zalman Shazar, Prime
Minister Levi Eshkol, Cabinet
ministers and Knesset members.
A fanfare was sounded as Rabbi
Unterman, former Chief Rabbi of
Tel Aviv, entered the chamber,
accompanied by t h e Sephardi
Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, who
continues in the post which he
has held for many years.
In a greeting on behalf of the
government, Premier Eshkol stres-
sed the significance of the Israeli
Chief Rabbi as the rabbi of the
whole Diaspora, and voiced the
hope for a spirit of tolerance.
In his inaugural address, Chief
Rabbi Unterman underscored the
need to preserve the true spirit of
Judaism in order to achieve and
fulfill the lofty, age-old vision of
moral wholeness. This, he said,
could be achieved by common
striving and by abandoning the
biases which cause friction.