What Does It Mean to be Jewish, Winter 1995

Moscow was our destination. The Fifth Biennial Conference of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews was to be held there on the weekend of Sept­ember 23-25.

Eighty of us departed North America for this Russian rendezvous. Some of us were apprehensive. We had been bombarded with media propaganda on the dangers of or­ganized crime, mugging, and murder. Twenty people already had succumbed to this warn­ing and had withdrawn from the group. They were convinced that we were flying into a Mafia trap and would be destroyed. Not even the onion domes of St. Basil’s could convince them to relent.

But, for most of us, excitement overcame fear. It was not only that we would experience the wonders of the Hermitage and the Bolshoi, that we would walk the banks of the Neva and promenade under the towers of the Kremlin. It was also that Humanistic Judaism had ar­rived in Russia. A new Eurasian Association for Humanistic Judaism had been formed some two years before, and we were coming to ex­press our support for this fledgling organiza­tion and for the future of a Jewish community in all the republics of the former Soviet Union.

The holding of a conference in Moscow was a gamble. Russia was in economic turmoil. The amenities in public institutions did not meet Western standards. The new leadership of our communities had not yet been tested.

But the experience we had turned out to be far more wonderful than anything we could have anticipated. It was not only that Moscow and St. Petersburg are filled with cultural mar­vels, or that the new capitalist energies of these two cities provided a dynamic setting of change and hope, or that all our fears of Mafia rape proved to be groundless. It was also that the experience of meeting Russian Jews who shared our aspirations and convictions and who were eager to bond with their brothers and sisters from Europe, Israel, and North America was deeply moving.

The conference was held in the original building of the University of Moscow, right across from Red Square and the imposing tow­ers of the Kremlin. The building had been quite magnificent in tsarist times. But it was now a shabby relic of its former glory, a victim of Communist mismanagement and neglect.

Holding the meeting there was important. It was the most prestigious educational insti­tution in Russia. It also had been one of the chief bastions of anti-Semitism in tsarist and Bolshevik days. Ironically, it now housed the new Jewish University. Our board meetings were held in the new Jewish library.

Two hundred fifty delegates attended the meeting. Besides the 80 of us from North America, there were 30 from France and En­gland, 10 from Israel, 2 from Latin America, and more than 125 from seven republics of the former Soviet Union. The Eurasian delegates, in many cases, traveled several days and nights by train to reach Moscow. They came, not only from Russia, but also from Belarus, Ukraine, Khazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia. The Eurasian Association is a coali­tion of thirty-five small communities scattered over eight million square miles, some of them closer to China and India than Moscow.

The theme of the conference was “What Does It Mean To Be Jewish?” The question was directly related to the needs of Russian Jews. It also flowed directly from the decision made at our Brussels conference in 1988, when we had dealt with the question “Who Is A Jew?” Having declared that Jewish identity is not only an inheritance but also a choice, we were now confronted by the more important issue of Jewish living. If one is a Jew, how does one lead a Jewish life? If one is a Humanistic Jew, how does one lead a Humanistic Jewish life? Determining Jewish identity is only the pre­lude to arranging for Jewish commitment. For Russian Jews who are searching for ways to express their Jewish identity for the first time, this question is crucial, especially since they are being assaulted by aggressive Lubavitcher missionaries who claim that their way is the only true way to be Jewish.

Addressing this question was a panel of distinguished speakers. There was Yehuda Bauer, world-famous Holocaust scholar and co­chair of the International Federation. There was Yaakov Malkin, founder of the community center movement in Israel and dean of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in Israel. There was Albert Memmi, an intellectual darling of the French literary world, a professor at the Sorbonne, and the leader of our French communities. There was Egon Friedler, well-known journalist and writer from Latin America and leader of our Uruguayan organization. There were many Russian speakers, including Semyon Avgustevich, the organizing genius of the Eura­sian Association.

There were two stellar moments at the conference. The first was the Saturday evening banquet. The Eurasian delegates sat at twenty-six tables, each of which bore the name of a city where one of our Humanistic Jewish com­munities existed. Delegates from outside Rus­sia could choose the community they wanted to connect with by simply sitting down at the appropriate table. The experiment worked wonderfully. The bonding was intense. Out of that communication came sister communities. We of the Birmingham Temple in Detroit have adopted Vitebsk in Belarus as our sister con­gregation. We will offer support, establish an ongoing dialogue, and learn from each other. By the end of the evening there was fervent conversation and spontaneous singing. The presence of distinguished guests from the Rus­sian Jewish leadership and the Russian par­liament seemed less important.

The second moment was at the end of the conference on Sunday morning. The declara­tion on how to lead a Jewish life had just been read. Delegates were standing up to articulate their response to the weekend. One of them, a representative from Kazan, whom we called Olga from the Volga but whose real name was Olga Apollonova, stood up and declared with great fervor, “We thank you for coming to Rus­sia. We have been waiting for the message of Humanistic Judaism. You do not have to break down the door. The door is open.”

What did we learn from our experience?

We learned that Russia, with all its eco­nomic and political problems, is bumbling down the capitalist road. No one has a better alternative. Even the opposition does not want to go back to the old communism. They want the freedom of capitalism with a wel­fare system.

We learned that the new free environment allows fascists and anti-Semites to sell their wares and to peddle their hate. Right outside the former Lenin Museum in Moscow, the anti- Semitic bible, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was being openly sold.

We learned that the Jewish community in Russia is struggling with the issue of whether there is any future for Jewish life in the former Soviet Union. The Israelis predict catastro­phe and want them to come to Israel. But many want to remain. Despite anti-Semitism, Russia is their home and Russian culture is their culture.

We learned that there is a real opening for Secular Humanistic Judaism in Russia. The ag­gressive message of Orthodoxy has limited appeal to a community molded by secularism and intermarriage. Our success will be deter­mined by our ability to train educators and leaders for new communities as well as by our power to produce a Humanistic Jewish litera­ture in Russian. The task is formidable. But we cannot betray this historic opportunity.

The Rabbi Writes – Bosnia

The Jewish Humanist, August 1993, Vol. XXX, Number 1

Bosnia. Before last year most Americans had never heard of the place. Now like Vietnam, Bosnia has been seared into the consciousness of the world. Bosnia now means genocide. 

Bosnia is a land of mountains and valleys in the Balkans. About thirteen hundred years ago it was invaded by Slavs wandering south from their northern homeland. After they conquered the land, the Slavs split into two nations. The Slavs, who converted to Catholic Christianity, became Croats. The Slavs, who converted to Orthodox Christianity became Serbs. Because of their religious differences the Croats and Serbs came to hate each other. 

In the fourteenth century an enemy arrived from the south. They were the Ottoman Turks and they were Muslim. Having conquered the Serbs and Croats, they converted many of them to Islam. The Slavic converts became the Bosnians (sic). The Serbs and the Croats continued to hate each other. But they now also hated the Turks. And they, especially, hated the Bosnians, whom they regarded as traitors, and whose privileged status, as friends of the Turks, they resented.  

In time, the Serbians won their independence. After the First World War, when the Turks and their German allies were defeated, the Serbians were rewarded with the gift of Croatia and  Bosnia. The new enlarged Serbia was called Yugoslavia (land of the south Slavs), and was dominated by the Serbian military. 

During World War II the Germans invaded and conquered Yugoslavia. They dismembered Yugoslavia and rewarded the Croatians with Bosnia. Croatian fascists, aided by Bosnian Muslims turned on the Serbs and massacred thousands of them. For the Serbians it was a “holocaust”.  Their hatred of the Croatians and the Bosnians grew even more intense. 

When the Russians gave Yugoslavia to Tito and the Communists, Tito tried to erase the differences between Serbs, Croats and Bosnians to create a new “Yugoslav” identity.But the success of his campaign depended on the success of Communism and on his own personal immortality. Neither happened. Tito died and Communism failed. And when Communism failed, Yugoslavia fell apart. 

First, the Croats seceded from Yugoslavia.  And then the Bosnians seceded.  Both actions provoked the Serbians to military action.  They wanted to “rescue” the hundreds of thousands of Serbs who lived in both Croatia and Bosnia.  They also wanted to wreak vengeance for the fascist “holocuast”.  They were very self-confident.  They were in possession of almost all of the military equipment of the former Yugoslav army.  Their leadership were (sic) former communists who traded Marxism for Chauvanism (sic).  They gave guns to violent and angry men who assumed the status of Serbian militia.  A cruel war became inevitable. 

The war has been worse than horrible.  It has given license to criminals to commit crimes in the name of patriotism. 

It has revived old hatreds which forty years of Communism had suppressed.  It has turned neighbor against neighbor.  In a land where Serbs, Croats and Bosnians lived intermingled and intermarried the war has re-erected human barriers that were falling down. 

In the Second World War the Croatian fascists were the criminals.  In this war the Serbian nationalists are the criminals.  Croats and Bosnians have committed atrocities.  But the overwhelming majority of the atrocities have been committed by the Serbian military and para-military.  Rape, pillage and destruction have followed the Serbian military with terrifying consistency.  Thousands have been killed.  Over half the people of Bosnia are refugees. 

At first the Croatian supported the Bosnians. But, when they saw that no one would intervene to save them, they turned against them, they struck a deal with the Serbians. Croatans and Serbians would divide Bosnia. The war would end. The Bosnians would be without independence and without a home. 

The Bosnians are today a people abandoned. They have no allies or active friends. They are the victims of genocide. They have been driven from half of their territory. They have no effective arms with which to defend themselves. Their Serbian and Croatian enemies are eager to dispose of them so that they can divvy up their territory. All that is left is a bombed out capital, a few disconnected towns and refugee centers teaming (sic) with the homeless. When peace comes they will have just enough land to constitute an “Indian reservation”.  They will be the prisoners of the Serbs and the Croats. 

During this terrible War many nations expressed outrage. The Germans were outraged. The Italians were outraged. British and Americans were outraged. But no one did anything. The United Nations sent humanitarian aid. The Security Council imposed sanctions on the Serbians. But nothing was done to frighten the Serbians into withdrawal. No one bombed their gun emplacements. No one sent adequate arms to the Bosnians so that they could defend themselves against slaughter. 

Clinton said he would do something. But, in the end, he did nothing. He sent his wimpish Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to mobilize our European allies into effective action. They refused to help and Christopher accepted their refusal without resistance.  The nation that led the world against Saddam Hussein in a grand coalition was “powerless” to prevent the genocide of a small vulnerable nation. 

There are multiple consequences for this neglect, for this failure to take action. 

A people that is entitled to its territory, its independence, and its survival has been destroyed.  Bosnian refugees like Jewish refugees in the last war will seek asylum in the cities of the West or linger in camps on the borders of Serbia and Croatia. 

Muslim Albanians, resident in the Serbian province of Kosovo (where they are the overwhelming majority) are next on the list of victims.  Serbian nationalists will deal with them in the same way that they dealt with the Muslim Bosnians.  They will terrorize them and drive them away.  It is clear that neither America nor the European powers are prepared to do anything to prevent another atrocity. 

Fascism in Serbia will grow stronger. The military victory will strengthen the power of strongman Milosevic and will lead to the suppression of the Serbian democratic opposition.  Serbia now represents the kind of chauvinistic authoritarian state-supported by fascists and former Communists-that America said it would not allow to rise from the ruins of the now defunct Communist empire. 

The stature of the West in Muslim eyes is now much reduced.  It is clear that Western Christians are not prepared to do anything to rescue a Muslim nation in Europe.  The Muslim powers have new reason to distrust the West and America.  Even though Muslim governments would have done more to help, they see themselves as helpless without Western intervention. 

The “world order”, which was reinforced after the Cold War with the American resistance to Iraqi aggression, has now been undermined by American ambivalence.  Every two-bit fascist dictator now knows that America and Europe will do nothing to stop genocidal war unless oil is involved.  The moral authority of America, which was high, is now low. 

Had America stood firm two months ago, she would have prevailed.  Milosevic had already capitulated before the threat of American intervention. But once he knew that America was not serious, he returned to his belligerency. 

Clinton lost an opportunity to demonstrate that he was a strong leader.  And the Bosnian people lost their life. 

We Jews, the victims of genocide, cannot be indifferent to what happened.  The Bosnian cause is our cause.  Our government needs to hear our displeasure  One more Bosnia in easstern Europe and fascism will be the heir of communism. 

The Rabbi Writes – Attempted Russian Coup

The Jewish Humanist, September_October 1991, Vol. XXVIII, Number 2

The Communist Party hardliners in the Soviet Union are a pathetic lot.  They cannot even do what they used to do best.  They cannot even conduct a successful coup. 

For three days freedom lovers in Russian (sic) and throughout the world were scared.  The sudden overthrow of Gorbachev-although predicted by some-shattered hope and expectations of a peaceful world.  The image of ruthless Communism re-emerged and was reinforced by memories of past repressions. 

But it was all over so quickly.  The Gang of Three-KGB leader Kryuchkov, Defense Minister Yazov and Interior Minister Pugo-proved to be nothing more than paper tigers.  For diehard Communists who remembered Stalin, it was embarrassing. 

Who were the coup leaders? 

There were all Gorbachev appointees whom he had chosen to appease the right wing of the Party and to provide balance to the “extremists” on the left he wanted to resist.  They were the remnants of the old establishment that had governed Russia for 70 years and were fearful of losing their power.  They struck one day before the signing of the new Union Treaty which would have decentralized Soviet government and deprived their jobs of any real significance. 

Why did they fail? 

They were sloppy.  The coup did not have the usual Communist efficiency and brutality.  They failed to seize all strategic buildings immediately.  They failed to arrest potential resistance leaders, including Yeltsin.  They failed to create an environment of military intimidation throughout the country.  Their coup had elements of comic opera, which future historians will exploit to their amusement.  They were an amazingly non-charismatic collection of leaders.  They all looked like faceless Communist bureaucrats from the Brezhnev era-black-suited, unsmiling, dour and filled with outdated cliches.  They were not the stuff out of which successful tyrannies are made.  Not one of the eight members of the State Emergency Committee could transcend the image of a Party apparachk (sic). 

They had not fully secured the loyalty of the commanders of the army.  Many junior officers were alienated from the archaic manner of the general staff.  Many soldiers had been converted to the ideals of democratic reform.  Many of them were reluctant to shoot their own people.  Only terror would have mobilized them.  And that terror did not exist. 

They were rejected by the outside world.  Bush and other Wetern leaders quite appropriately refused to recognize the legitimacy of the junta.  The external rejection gave heart to the internal resistance. 

They underestimated the extent of the democratic and liberal sentiment in the Soviet Union, both in the countryside and the major urban centers.  After four years of liberty, most of the Russian people were no longer prepared to return to the old obedience.  Gorbachev had wrought a revolution that could not be reversed.  What had once appeared to the masses as credible and frightening now seemed ludicrous and disgusting.  The coup occurred too late.  Three years earlier it would have been successful. 

They underestimated the courage of the masses and the boldness of Yeltsin.  They expected the old apathy, or at least ambivalence.  But they found mobs in the street willing to defend their new found freedom.  And the people of Russia had a defiant, charismatic leader who became the focal point of popular resistance. 

The coup leaders were not without some support.  Widespread anger over shortages, rising prices, speculation, increasing crime and ethnic conflict was a fertile ground for exploitation.  But, in the end, popular hostility was directed to them and to communism as the causes of the natural disaster. 

So what does the failure of the coup mean? 

It means the death of communism in the Soviet Union.  The coup was the last stand of the Party against the loss of power.  So discredited is Marxism that even the coup leaders were reluctant to use communist slogans to mobilize the masses.  They rather appealed to law and order.  The hardliners are in disgrace and so is their cause.  The attempt to overthrow Gorbachev was a kind of collective suicide. 

It means the embarrassment of Gorbachev.  Despite the fact that he was a victim of the coup and bravely resisted their demands for his cooperation, the reality is that the leaders of the junta were his appointees.  He had trusted them with power.  He had trusted them with power.  He had insisted on Yaneyev, the chairman of the junta, as his vice president, despite the protests of his own supporters.  He was undone by his own assistants, not a very pretty tribute to his sagacity or to his commitment to democracy.  Gorbachev may be bypassed by the rapid movement of events.  The revolution that he created may now need less compromised  leadership. 

It means a victory for Boris Yeltsin.  His courageous leadership during the coup attempt has made him a national hero.  Part buffoon and part genius, he is now the most popular man in the Soiet Union and a very eligible candidate to lead the Russians-and whoever joins them-to a market economy. 

It means victory for the nationalities of the Soviet Union who want more autonomy and even independence.  Already Estonia has joined Latvia and Lithuania in declarings its complete separation from the Russian Empire.  Whether the Soviet Union will hold together or disintegrate into its constituent republics is now an open question.  It means increasing power for America and the political agenda of Bush and Baker.  With the removal of the hardliners and the increasing dependence of the Russians on the help of the West, Soviet cooperation with the United States will be much easier.  That cooperation will enhance the effectiveness of the United Nations and increase pressure on Israel to make peace with the Arabs. 

The Gang of Three has unwittingly performed a wonderful service for the free world.  They have arranged to disappear.  A new world order may owe their stupidity a debt of thanks. 

The Rabbi Writes: Rosh Hashanah

The Jewish Humanist, September 1977, Vol. 15, Number 1

Rosh Hashanah 

A time for annual Jewish reflection. 

A time to look back on the year that was and ask the question: 

So what is the condition of the Jews? 

The condition of the Jews is not always easy to assess. But pleases the orthodox may not please the atheist. But the conservative calls progress that liberal may label reaction! 

But there are some current problems which all would agree were (sic) troublesome. 

The problem of Israel. The strong posture of the Begin government may be initially appealing. But it remains pure bravado unless Begin can find the Jews to occupy the territories he wishes to annex. In an ironic sense Begin and the old Arafat agree that Israel (or Palestine, if you wish) should remain undivided. For the Arabs the Begin state will in the long run be an Arab State. A bigger Jewish state, without Jewish immigration is the first step to an Arab Palestine. 

The problem of Russia. Russian anti-Semitism continues. In a recent issue of the magazine Moskva, Anatoly Scharansky asserted that Jewish bankers are not yet in power everywhere… it remains the most important task of the Zionist brain center to capture the key positions in the economic, administrative and idelogical machine of the countries of the diaspora… It is natural that such monstrous teachings could not fail to arouse vigilance, dislike and even hostility on the part of people with even a minimum of sense. The so-called Jewish world conspiracy becomes a convenient diversion on the part of the authorities to explain the inadequacies of the Soviet system and to justify anti-semitism. If three million Jews were not trapped within the boundaries of the Soviet Union, the statement would be ludicrous. 

The problem of Argentina. One of the largest Jewish communities in the world (numbering 500,000) is suffering the evils of an incompetent military dictatorship. Terrorism, inflation and unofficial antisemitism are on undermining the security of our Argentine Jewry. A competent dictatorship would at least (sic), have arranged for economic stability! Since the situation is not bad enough for emigration, ambivalence reigns. 

The problem of South Africa. It is only a matter of time before black (sic) nationalism sweeps away the Rhodesian regime and creates civil turmoil in South Africa. Given the power of the Africaner (sic) army it is unlikely that the whites will be driven into the sea in the near future. But South African whites, including 120,000 Jews will be living in the midst of riots and terrorist provocation. No matter how liberal Jews may choose to be, they are condemned to being white. The present emigration of Jewish professionals is the trickle before the flood.  

The problem of Quebec. Montreal had, until recently, the largest and most vital Jewish community in Canada. It’s English-speaking establishment including the Jews is unfrightened (sic) of the future. French Canadian nationalism, like most nationalism (sic) is economically irrational. But it is politically relentless. Toronto is also beginning to experience the exodus of Jews from Quebec. As recent history has demonstrated neither nationalism nor socialism have served Jewish interests well.  

But enough problems.  

What positive things exist? 

Two assets come to mind . 

1.The Arabs are incapable of uniting against Israel. Their hostility for each other in some cases seems to be greater than the hostility to Israel. During the past year Arabs fought Arabs in both Lebanon and Libya. A new public ally has emerged for Israel. The Maronite Christian Arabs of Lebanon prefer Jews to their fellow Arabs. 

2. The largest Jewish community In the world (some six million) have managed, for some reason or other, to end up in the most powerful nation in the world. America is today the industrial, intellectual and artistic center of our planet. Either the Soviet Union or Western Europe have the cultural vitality of the United States. Jewish power is a function of the Jewish presence in America. Leadership in the arts and sciences is disproportionately Jewish. While many Jews are embarrassed by our conspicuous presence (and think that we should never mention it in a public magazine), others like me are justifiably pleased and believe that our enemies should be reminded repeatedly of what they already know.  

This is reason enough for Jews to say Happy New Year.  

The Rabbi Writes – George Bush and Saddam Hussein

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1991, Vol. XXVII, Number 10

Bush boo-booed.  He made a serious mistake.  The failure to support the Kurdish rebels against Saddam Hussein may blow away the fruits of victory. 

Bush had Hussein on the run. The dictator’s army was in disarray, his image of power was shattered, his control of his country was vanishing.  Very little effort would have been required to topple him.  One day more of fighting to prevent the remnants of the Republican Guard to escape (sic) the American trap with their equipment.  An order (seriously meant) to shoot down Iraqi helicopters flying over Kurdish territory.  Military supplies sent to reinforce the Kurdish rebels. 

The opportunity for victory was given up.  Americans stood passively by to watch Hussein crush the Shiite and Kurdish rebellions, even though most people understood that there would be no Allied or UN triumph until Hussein fell.  Bush’s continuous appeal for the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator was an acknowledgment of that reality. 

Why did Bush make the decision he did? 

The nicest (although naive) explanation is that he did not want to exceed the mandate of the UN which authorized the expulsion of the Iraqis from Kuwait, but did not sanction interfering in the internal affairs of Iraqi politics.  Going beyond the mandate would anger the Russian and Chinese and undermine the possibility of future cooperation.  And after all, if we are morally obliged to overthrow the government of Iraq, are we not also morally obliged to intervene in other countries with governments equally dictatorial?  Once we start with internal political rearrangements where would we stop? 

A more realistic explanation is that the State Department feared that Iraq was falling apart.  They feared that Shiite fundamentalists, under the control of the Persians, would take over the country.  They feared that Kurdish rebels, proclaiming an independent Kurdistan, would threaten the goodwill of our Turkish and Syrian allies, who have substantial Kurdish minorities whom they repress.  They believed that a dismembered Iraq would be a source of chaos and turmoil in the Middle East, that only a strong military tyranny can hold Iraq together and that the only available military able to perform this task was the Sunni officer corps of the Baath Party.  Surely, they reasoned, some ambitious general, aware that America will allow the old military to stay in power, would choose to overthrow Saddam and his immediate circle of ruthless supporters. 

But the State Department reasoning is false.  And it led to a fatal decision. 

The prestige of the United Nations was not enhanced by the refusal to intervene.  It was diminished.  The man who chose to defy the United Nations is still in power with a substantial army to support him.  The United Nations cannot arrange to remove all aggressive dictatorial governments.  But it should not hesitate to do so when it has the power and the opportunity to accomplish the task, especially when the government in question is a source of potential future defiance. 

The cooperation of the Russian and the Chinese will not be the result of American caution.  It will flow from the perception that the United Nations is working and that America is serious about creating a new world order in which defiant oppressors will not only be punished but will also be removed from power. 

Chaos is not the only alternative to Saddam Hussein and military dictatorship.  Both the leaders of the Kurdish insurgents and the Arab Shiiites have publicly stated that they do not want to dismember Iraq and have pledged their cooperation in creating a democratic coalition government.  The Iraqi Kurds know that an independent Kurdistan is unacceptable for their Turkish and Persian neighbors.  They are willing to settle for a regional autonomy within a united Iraq.  The Iraqi Shiiites know that a dismembered Iraq would deprive them of the oil revenues they need for their own development.  And, being Arab Shiites, they do not want to fall under the control of their Persian co-religionists. 

What harm could have come from attempting to create an alternative coalition government to Saddam Hussein, which would have included Kurds, Shiites and opposition Sunnis?  Such a coalition would have received the support of Turkey and Iran.  Even the Russians and the Chinese would have been reluctant to support Saddam Hussein in the face of his collapse and the endorsement of major Middle Eastern powers.  But the alternative needed the direction and orchestration of the United States. And they were not forthcoming, even though the euphoria of military victory would have provided the momentum. 

The Bush government was obsessed with the fear of being sucked into a long and inconclusive civil war from which the Americans could not easily extract themselves and in which mounting casualties and inconclusive results would undermine American popular support.  But their fear was exaggerated and misplaced. 

What will America now do with a resurgent Hussein?  How will it counter his provocative and unrepentant propaganda?  How will it ensure compliance with the terms of the permanent ceasefire after its troops are withdrawn?  After all, the reason military action was taken was because economic sanctions were not working? (sic)  What guarantee do we have that they will work now?  And who will serve as the protectors of the Kurdish insurgents and Arab Shiites who were encouraged to rebel by American propaganda?  Why should Israel be persuaded to make concessions to the Palestinians, if the Americans are unwilling to force the Iraqis to make concessions to their Kurds? 

Image is not trivial.  The image of a strong victorious determined and idealistic America, which was so strong at the time of the military victory, is vanishing.  In its place has emerged the image of a contentious, fearful and confused America that is only concerned with its immediate vested interests and is unable to protect its own allies.  In the long run such a vision is not good for the long-run vested interests of America and the new world order Bush so loudly touted. 

The moment of opportunity has passed.  We are now into damage control. Living with regret is indeed useless.  But those of us who expected more of Bush have a right to be mad.  Wasting victory is not easy to take. 

The Rabbi Writes: I Want You to Come to Russia With Me

The Jewish Humanist, January 1994, Vol. XXX, Number 6

I want you to come to Russia with me. 

Russia is one of the most interesting and exciting countries in the word, especially now that so many changes are taking place.  Once the center of the Communist and Soviet empire, Russia is a troubled free nation struggling to determine its path to survival and success.  Heir to the power of the Tsars and the Bolsheviks, its chief cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg are places of cultural and architectural power. 

The rule of Communism and the victory of Yeltsin have set Russia on a course of dramatic change.  Private industry, private business and private property have now entered into the fabric of Russian life.  Free speech, free religion and free assembly have become the Russian norm.  While most Russians are still poor, some have mastered the new system to become successful.  Communist and fascist  thinking are still strong.  But they are unable to find a working majority, even when they have combined forces. 

St. Petersburg, which has repudiated the name of Leningrad, remains one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Built by Peter the Great two years after the founding of Detroit, it became the capital of the Russian Empire.  For two centuries the Tsars and the Russian aristocracy lavished their wealth on this northern metropolis by the Baltic Sea.  The result is an inner city of startling palaces, churches and museums which even Bolshevik hostility could not diminish.  The promenade along the Neva is still one of the most extraordinary urban vistas in the world. 

Moscow has been a city of trade and military power for over seven centuries.  Its Kremlin fortress provides a formidable and manificent center to a metropolis which has created successive circular roads around it.  Many Communist monuments still remain, including the tomb of Lenin.  And Stalinist skyscrapers and Brezhev apartments still dominate the landscape.  But the charm of old neighborhoods is being restored, especially the westside Greenwich Village called the Arbat.  Today Moscow is the center of the economic transformation.  Every luxury, Russian or other,   if you have the money.  And the streets are alive with aggressive private enterprise.  The mother city of Russia has gone back to its commercial roots. 

Around Moscow are the wonders of the early Russian state.  Suzdal and Yaroslavl were early rivals to Moscow’s ambitions.  Later they were absorbed into Muscovite ambition.  Magnificently restored, these cities, with their walls, churches and fortresses, represent the patriotic nostalgia which is now spreading all over Russia. 

Russia is also a Jewish country.  From the conquest of the Polish state to the Bolshevik Revolution, the Tsarist Empire encompassed the largest Jewish community of the world.  Many of the members of our congregation are the children and grandchildren of Russian grandparents.  Today Russian Jewry is a traumatized remnant of what was before.  It has been decimated by the Holocaust, by Communist oppression and by emigration.  Some one million Jews survive in Russia, together with another million in the other countries of the former Soviet Union-like the Ukraine and Belarus. 

In the last three years Humanistic Judaism has come to Russia.  An Association of Humanistic Jews has been created, with Simyon Avgustevitch the Education Officer of the Russian Jewish Council, as its president.  Members come from some thirty-five Jewish communities in Russia and from other countries in the former Soviet Union.  Many of them are very young.  While these young people are secular, they are searching to discover what it means to be Jewish.  Deprived of any real connection to their Jewish past by decades of Communist repression, they are enthusiastic to learn all they can about Jewish history and culture.  Only a well-informed disciplined group of Humanistic Jews will be able to offer resistance to the army of Orthodox missionaries who have now descended on the land. 

The emergence of this new association, together with the importance of Russian Jewish liberation, has encouraged The International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews to hold its Fifth Biennial Conference in Moscow in September of this year. 

The theme of the Conference will be, ”What Does It Mean To Be Jewish” (sic) the very question that most Russian Jews are asking today.  The Conference will begin on Friday evening, September 23 and will conclude on Sunday afternoon, September 25.  The meeting will be an extraordinary opportunity to hear prominent Jewish speakers from four continents and an opportunity to enter into dialogue and friendship with fellow Humanistic Jews from all over the former Soviet Union. 

The International Federation trip is the special way you can get to Russia and the Conference, together with dozens of other Humanistic Jews from North America, Europe and Israel.  At the heart of the trip will be the Conference.  But it will also include nine exciting days touring St. Petersburg and Moscow, visiting historic places, attending artistic events, and tasting the emerging reality of a free Jewish Russia.  The basic trip will last for twelve days, beginning right after Yom Kippur on Sunday, September 17 and returning on Tuesday, September 27.  If you want to linger for a while in Russia or Europe before returning, many options exist.  The officially designated manager of our travel is Connie Wolberg.  She can help you create whatever “package” you want. 

I am anxious to share this experience with you.  This trip to Russia is not only an adventure in travel.  It is especially an expression of our commitment to the future of the Jewish people in Russia and to the outreach of our very own Humanistic Judaism. 

The Rabbi Writes: Moscow/1989

The Jewish Humanist, January 1990, Vol. XXVI, Number 6


I went to Moscow last October, right after Yom Kippur.  I was on my way to attend the Board meeting of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in Jerusalem.  Now Moscow is not exactly on the direct route between Detroit and Jerusalem.  But I had received word from Jerusalem that there were leaders in the newly organized Jewish communities who were interested in Humanistic Judaism.  The time seemed right for making contact. 

I had been to the Soviet Union three times before.  My first trip in 1970, in the heyday of the Brezhnev regime, encompassed European Russia.  My second trip, in 1986 involved a dialogue in Moscow between leaders of North American humanism.  During all three visits I was very much aware of the repressive nature of the Communist regime and the insidious nature of Communist antisemitism. 

Soviet antisemitism was not Nazi antisemitism.  It was neither overt nor violent.  Its primary purpose was to limit the participation of Jews in the political, intellectual and cultural life of the Soviet Union.  Its secondary purpose was to limit the contact of Jews with the majority of their co-ethnics outside the country, especially those in America and Israel.  Its roots lay in historic Russian antisemitism, the paranoiac fear of ‘cosmopolitan’ people with outside connections, the foreign policy goal of winning the support of Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East. The resentment of Jewish intellectuality and sheer envy. 

Communist antisemitism was rarely overt.  It never openly denounced Jews.  It preferred to condemn Zionists and Zionism.  It pretended to favor Jewish national identity and Jewish national rights.  It always found ‘patriotic’ Jews to support its Jewish policies.  If you were a successful Jewish professional who was not interested in doing anything about your Jewish identity and who never aspired to the highest positions of political and cultural life, then you could live your discreet life without harassment.  While the communist antisemites seemed to encourage assimilation, their antisemitism also prevented it.  Most Jews remained Jews without any positive Jewish content to their lives. 

My trip to Moscow filled me with excitement.  I knew that the Gorbachev reforms had undermined Communist antisemitism and released a tremendous new energy of Jewish assertiveness and creativity.  Jewish cultural and educational associations were emerging spontaneously all over the Soviet Union.  Jewish emigration was also growing with thousands queuing up at the American Embassy to secure their visa applications.  With the knowledge of all these new developments I was excited to discover what was really happening.  Would enough Soviet Jews remain to make Soviet Jewry a viable cultural community? 

From the moment of my arrival in Moscow I was aware of the ‘revolution’ that had taken place in Russia. Six Orthodox rabbis with books and videos were standing in the airport.  The customs officials were uninterested in my baggage.  The hotel floor spies no longer existed.  Citizens openly talked about politics, often complaining bitterly about the Government and writing foreigners to enter the fray.  Newspapers were filled with provocative articles about official corruption and the need for ending the supremacy of the Communist Party.  Street demonstrations against the Party were held with no police interference.  Religious ceremonies were being held inside the Kremlin.  And even pedestrians now had the courage to cross the streets against the red light. 

Ensconced in my favorite hotel, the National, directly across from the Kremlin, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with about 35 people who were leaders in the Russian Jewish community.  I also traveled around Moscow to visit new Jewish groups and to experience the new home of the Jewish Theater Group in Taganskaya Square. 

From the very beginning it was obvious to me that, despite the new freedom of glasnost, the Jewish community was in deep trouble.  Its new energy and creativity was matched by grave social dangers. 

The first was economic hardship.  While glasnost (the dismantling of repression) is working well, perestroika (economic reform) is doing badly.  Despite the Gorbachev promises of more consumer goods and higher standards of living, shortages are everywhere.  Sugar is rationed.  Soap and meat are unavailable.  Long lines continue for available shoddy goods.  The infrastructure is crumbling.  Shabbiness is everywhere. 

The reasons for this continuing disaster are obvious.  The heavy economic hand of centralized planning has not been lifted.  Very little entrepreneurial spirit remains after 70 years of Communist rule.  And what does survive is deeply resented by many.  Deficits and technological backwardness hold back development and make change difficult.  As long as the Party is involved with the economy, the disaster persists. 

Emigration for many Jews is a better alternative than poverty and economic struggle.  Since they have little hope that the Communist Party can change anything for the better, they want to get out before an economic collapse will usher in other chaos or fascistic repression. 

The second social danger is violent antisemitism.  While glasnost has liberated democrats to speak their opinions, it has also freed bigots to speak theirs.  Overt fascistic antisemitism has reappeared.  This variety is not benign, like the Communistic version.  It is open and straightforward, and aimed at the destruction of the Jews.  A new political organization Ramyat, intensely anti-Communist and nostalgic for the old Russia, accuses the Jews of inventing Communism and imposing it on the Russian people.  And now they say that Communism has failed, the Jews have decided ‘to flee the country like rats fleeing a sinking ship’.  Ramyatniks hold rallies,, publish journals and speak freely in loud voices, in public subways.  Last June a rumor swept the Soviet Union that a mass pogrom was imminent. 

Needless to say, Jews are terrified.  With the collapse of Communism, a nationalistic fascism is as much a possibility as liberal democracy.  Hundreds of thousands of assimilated Jews, who had no thought of leaving the Soviet Union are now thinking of emigration.  When it is all over two-thirds of the two million Soviet Jews may choose to leave.  It will certainly happen if the economy continues to deteriorate and the Jews are held responsible for the decline. 

In the midst of this turmoil the Jewish community is divided by the competition of rival factions.  The Orthodox, reinforced by American and Israeli mercenaries, are aggressively trying to win the hearts of Russian Jewry!  Reform and Conservative agencies are trying to carve out their own niche.  Anti-government groups are zealously intimidating Jewish groups that are willing to cooperate with the Gorbachev regime and Party apparatchiks.  Amidst the free-for-all, there are personal rivalries and a widespread skepticism that in a few years, there will be any significant Soviet Jewish community around to organize. 

Secular Jews are very vulnerable.  Deprived of Jewish culture, and not understanding the alternative ways to be Jewish, they are easy victims of aggressive Orthodox missionaries.  Right now they need literature and videos about Secular Humanistic Judaism.  The many secular Jewish academicians and leaders I spoke to say that the first need is to enable secular Jews to feel secular and legitimately Jewish.  Existing literature needs to be translated and disseminated among confused people.  Since the hated former regime is associated with dogmatic secularity, the words ‘humanism’ and ‘humanistic’ are more attractive labels. 

At the end of December, a congress of Jewish cultural associations from over 75 cities of the Soviet Union met in Moscow to establish a national federation.  Mike Chlenn, a 49 year old ethnographer from Moscow (with whom I spent a memorable evening) was the organizer of the conference and became its leader.  As he said to me:  ‘I do not know whether we are the Gevra Kadesha (burial society) of Russian Jewry or the dawn of a new cultural renaissance.  Only time will tell.’ 

The Rabbi Writes: 1986

The Jewish Humanist, January 1986, Vol. XXIII, Number 6


A new year. A new agenda for problem solving. Old issues unresolved. New issues waiting to take center stage. 

What will be the major issues of 1986 – for Americans, for the world at large, for Jews in particular?  

1.As Americans, we will be devoting our attention to the following issues.  

Tax reform. Reagan’s proposal to provide more equity and simplicity for the taxation system has encountered so much hostility from both the left and the right that it is doubtful that any reasonable facsimile of the original proposal will ever pass Congress. But Reagan is determined that some form of tax reform bill be passed, even if the Democratic House distorts it. The momentum of his fiscal “revolution” and the prestige of his administration rest on success in this campaign. 

Budget balancing. The rebellion of Reagan’s own Republican followers in the House of Representatives against the deficit removal plan designed by Democrats, but endorsed by the President, was a political surprise. Arbitrating the debate between the left-wingers who want to cut defense expenditures and right-wingers who want to cut welfare money is no easy task.  But even liberals now concede that a sound economy demands a balanced budget. So the battle will continue-with every vested interest willing to eliminate every government benefit except its own. 

Farm devastation. The plight of the American farmer remains in the spotlight. Despite the new farm credit relief bill, a substantial minority of our agricultural entrepreneurs face bankruptcy. Americans are trapped by ambivalence. Farm subsidies are unpopular because they interfere with a balanced budget. Allowing the farm population to shrink is equally unpopular because most Americans believe that the last reservoir of traditional American virtue lies in the family life of the rural population. Resolving the ambivalence will provide a lot of public agony. 

Crime. Prison overcrowding and the early release of dangerous criminals has captured the public attention. Nothing is so personal as the universal fear of assault that both urbanites and suburbanites live with. Renewed calls for capital punishment will not subside. They, most likely, will grow stronger. Feeding, housing, and rehabilitating a large criminal population is a fiscal and moral issue that confronts the alternative use of the same money for more productive purposes. 

Congressional election. The performance of last year’s do-nothing congress has highlighted the impasse which now exists in the two legislative assemblies. Chaotic individualism and the breakdown of the old party discipline has frustrated the leadership in both parties and rendered constitutional decision-making unpredictable. The fact that all the Representatives and one-third of the Senators will be running for re-election this year suggests that this year will be worse than last. Most legislators will not want to take sides on controversial issues. 

Reagan. Always superb handling the personal side of the presidency, Reagan has proved himself less than superb in his second administration in getting what he wants. Poorly formulated public policies, insensitive staff people, squabbling cabinet ministers, and Congressional rebels continue to frustrate his political ambitions and the political legacy he wants to bequeath to posterity. Reagan’s leadership effectiveness will be an important issue for 1986. Democrats will be eager to exploit his new weakness. 

 AIDS. No disease has captured public attention in a long time to the same degree that this African plague has done. The media are obsessed with providing information, both reliable and scandalous, about the pervasive dangers of contracting AIDS. The struggle between self-protection and compassion continues to make headlines. The victims of the disease, whether homosexuals, drug abusers, or children, have aroused more fear than sympathy. As the number of cases increases, the media will continue to focus on this public anxiety.  

2. As members of the world community, we will be devoting our attention to the following problems in 1986. 

Russia. Disarmament talks between America and Russia appear to have gloomy prospects in the light of the Reagan administration’s decision to proceed with the development of “Star Wars” technology. But there is such a broad International alliance of public opinion, even from conservative European circles, for something to be done that desperation will force the leaders of both countries to provide some hope. Gorbachev, in particular, since he invested his prestige in the summit conference and in the creation of some new form of detente, will not let the issue die. 

South Africa. The intransigence of the Afrikaner government is leading to civil war and martial law government. Provoked by black (sic) terror, the Afrikaners will become more adamant and English-speaking whites will begin their flight. The confirmation will continue to divide world opinion between those who are outraged by the injustice to Blacks and those who most fear the loss of South Africa to Marxist control. 

Chile. Only two military dictatorships survive in South America – Paraguay and Chile. The latter is, by far, the more important and the more volatile. Demonstrations against the dictatorship of General Pinochet are bound to increase and become more violent, especially as long as economic decline continues. World attention will be dealing with the prospects for the future. Will the left or the center return to power? 

Nicaragua.  The continuing American campaign to unseat the Sandinista government enjoys wide American support and very little world support.  The presence of a second Marxist government in the Americas is intolerable to most U.S. conservatives, who see the present regime in Nicaragua as a form of dangerous Soviet penetration of the security belt of our country.  Support for the contras will remain a controversial issue. 

Philippines.  The corruption of the Marcos government, the killing of his chief opponent, and the rising Communist insurgency make the forthcoming election an intriguing test of alternatives.  If Corazon Aquino is able to unseat Marcos, will she yield to pressure from anti-American forces in her own party to repudiate the American alliance?  If Marcos remains in power, will his victory incite civil war and lead to the growing success of the Communist rebels?  As a strategically important nation in Southeast Asia, the Philippines merits our concern. 

3. As members of the Jewish people, we will be dealing with the following anxieties in 1986. 

Pollard Case.  The unfortunate spy fiasco in which Israeli agents were caught paying an American Jew to procure military secrets from a military ally was a traumatic embarrassment for Israel and the Jews who support it.  Questions of dual loyalty and the patriotism of American Jews resurfaced.  The desirability of the Israeli alliance was challenged by angry politicians.  And the Israeli government was confronted with a major crisis.  Given the fact that Pollard will face a public trial, the Israeli “perfidy” will remain very much in the public eye, and enemies of Israel will take advantage of their new opportunity. 

Peace.  The attempts of the Israeli Labor government to establish some basis for peace negotiations with Jordan and other Arab states will continue.  Most likely, in order to strengthen his hand and to avoid handing over leadership control to YItshak Shamir, his political opponent, in accordance with the coalition agreement, Shimon Peres will call an early election.  If Labor wins, the prospects for some form of peace negotiations will be good.  If Labor loses, confrontation will return. 

As you can see, the problems of 1986-like the issues of 1985-are formidable.  But we have no choice but to deal with them. 

The Rabbi Writes – Mikhail Gorbachev

The Jewish Humanist, February 1990, Vol. XXVI, Number 7

Time Magazine is right. Mikhail Gorbachev was the hero of the 80s. 

Gorbachev is proof that personalities do make a difference in history. Political, social and economic forces have their place. But determined individuals and crucial positions of leadership, have the power to transform the world – for either good or evil. 

Would the Greek Empire have existed without Alexander the Great? Would the New Deal have worked without Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Would the Holocaust have taken place without Adolf Hitler? 

Of course, times have to be right for change. But they are only the setting. Someone has to take advantage of the opportunity. The economic difficulties of the Russian Empire were not the creation of Gorbachev. Nevertheless, could have been confronted with many different strategies. More repression was one option. The decision of Gorbachev to choose glasnost and perestroika was not inevitable. Nor was his election to the leadership of the Communist Party. Several important conservative members of the Politburo were absent from Moscow on the day that Chernenko died. His coming to power was almost by chance. 

Because of Gorbachev Europe is no longer the same. The Cold War is ending. The Russian people are free to speak their mind. Subject nationalities are asserting their right to self – determination. The Soviet Satellites of Eastern Europe have been liberated. The hegemony of the Communist party has been repudiated by former Stalinist regimes. The Berlin Wall has come tumbling down. Jews of the Soviet Union are free to emigrate. 

It is quite clear that none of this would have happened without the boldness and political skills of Gorbachev. The collapse of the Stalinist governments of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria was only possible because the people no longer feared the intervention of the Russian army. The Brezhnev Doctrine so dramatically manifested in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, had been eliminated. The old rulers were left naked and defenseless before their own people. 

I do not believe that Gorbachev was fully aware of the consequences of his decisions. I am not sure that he would have made them had he been fully aware. His hope and vision were to reform and strengthen the Communist parties through liberalization. He wanted the social system to ride the crest of reform, not to be destroyed by its impact. 

What he wanted did not happen. He underestimated the ability of the Communist hierarchies to adapt to necessary change. He also underestimated the hostility to Communism which existed among subject peoples. Once freed from the fear of retaliation the mobs became uncontrollable in their demands. The Communist establishment came tumbling down like a house of cards. 

In the chaos of the last year the desire for personal freedom has taken second place to the power of nationalism. Long suppressed nations want autonomy and Independence more than they want economic restructuring. In the melee of conflicting national interests the Soviet Union may disintegrate into an arena of warring states. Fueled by patriotism, resentment and chauvinistic ambition, the nations of the former Russian empire may turn to an agenda never envisioned by Gorbachev. Armenia and Azerbaijan are just the beginning of the trouble. 

Will Gorbachev be able to survive these unforeseen consequences? Or will the emerging chaos spell his undoing?  

In recent weeks his nerves seem to be very much on edge. He delivered an hysterical speech in the Soviet legislature about his loyalty to Communism. He harshly scolded the Lithuanian audiences he had sought to charge. He told his wife to shut up in public. 

His survival in power is important. There is no other Russian leader charismatic enough to provide the image of leadership in the midst of this political storm. 

What is quite clear is that he cannot survive so long as he ties his fortune to the Communist Party. What has happened in the Soviet satellites will also happen in the Soviet Union. The discredited political structures cannot satisfy the demands of the people for personal freedom, economic Improvement in national assertiveness. If he insists on defending Communism he will fall with Communism. 

If Gorbachev can advance his boldness one more step, he will present himself as a reformist president who is not bound by the political and party structures of the past. If he does so, he will discover that his people will follow where he leads, that his conservative enemies will be stymied by their own confusion and that the support of Western nations will readily be forthcoming. 

If he fails to do so, he will only grow more frustrated amid the bewildering and unforeseen consequences of his own decisions. Attacked by both liberals and conservatives, his triumphant victories will degenerate into hysterical last – stands. He will be destroyed by what he created.  

Gorbachev was the hero of the ‘80’s.  Whether he will be the hero of the ‘90’s will be largely up to him – up to his vision of his role in history.  

The Rabbi Writes – Exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union

The Jewish Humanist, December 1990, Vol. XXVII, Number 5

The exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union continues.  It is one of the most dramatic events in Jewish History in modern times. 

One hundred years ago the majority of the Jews of the world lived in Eastern Europe, especially within the old Russian Empire.  Although oppressed by the Tsarist government, they constituted a vital national entity.  Reinforced by Yiddish and Ashkenazic culture, they saw themselves as a distant ethnic group.  Antisemitism made their national yearnings all the more powerful. 

But this community was undermined by three historic developments.  The opening up of North America to mass immigration allowed the oppressed Jews of Eastern Europe to flee antisemitism and to find refuge in a culture of freedom and opportunity.  Hundreds of thousands of Russian, Polish and Romanian Jews abandoned their homes and rushed to America.  The Bolshevik Revolution, which initially was identified with the liberation of the Jewish People and which had recruited thousands of idealistic Jews to its Marxist standard, turned against the Jews, Zionism and Yiddish culture.  Cut off from the rest of the Jewish people by Stalinist isolation, Soviet Jewry ceased to function as a Jewish community.  The rise of Nazi fascism and the Holocaust which it created, destroyed the heart of the Ashkenazic homeland.  The critical members of Yiddish speaking Jews no longer existed outside.  Outside of a few major cities Eastern Europe had become a Jewish wasteland. 

The present exodus of the Jews from the Soviet Union is the final stage in the dissolution of the Ashkenazic nation.  If, as predicted, one million Jews choose to leave the Soviet republics, the aging and indifferent Jews who remain will not be able to constitute a significant community.  For all practical purposes, the Ashkenazic nation, which lasted for over one thousand years, will be dead. 

Why is this exodus taking place especially now when the Communist tyranny has collapsed and the Jews are free to be what they want to be? 

The reasons are not difficult to find.  The economic chaos in the Soviet Union has totally demoralized the population, both Jewish and non-Jewish.  Most Soviet citizens have no hope that the severe economic problems will be solved in the near future.  Since Jews are allowed to leave and have a place to go, they choose to leave.  Only patriotic masochists would choose to stay. 

The major reason for Jewish flight is the terrifying re-emergence of overt antisemitism.  Under Communism antisemitism was controlled for state purposes.  Jews suffered discrimination but they were not generally exposed to violence.  Today, with the chaos of the new freedom, violent fascistic antisemitism is again part of the Russian scene.  Newspapers, rallies and public political figures denounce the Jews for corrupting Russian life and for both inventing and destroying communism.  Violence and threats of violence are increasing.  In this environment even Jews who had no interest in Jewish identity and who had never contemplated immigration for themselves are clamoring to leave. 

What does this dramatic exodus mean for the Jewish people? 

It means that the character of American Jewry will continue to be altered by the arrival of Soviet Jews in the United States.  Several hundred thousand Jews, distributed throughout the major centers of American Jewish life make a difference.  Their needs and their culture will help to shape the future of the American Jewish community. 

It means that Jewish life in Western Europe will be altered by the arrival of thousands of Soviet Jewish refugees.  Unable to secure entry to North America and unable to survive economically in Israel, many Russian Jews will seek to go where economic opportunity beckons.  Even restrictive immigration policies will not deter them.  They will slip through the cracks.  They may even be responsible for the revival of a significant Jewish community in prosperous Germany. 

It means that Israel will be strengthened by the arrival of nearly a million immigrants.  The security of the state demands more Jews.  But Israel will also be changed.  The secular forces in the Jewish state will be enhanced because Soviet Jews are overwhelmingly secular.  As long as the Labor party continues to abandon its socialist heritage (and Soviet Jews are overwhelmingly anti-socialist) it should benefit from the Russian arrivals.  The ultra-Orthodox are worried and should be worried.  Ashkenazic hegemony will also be restored.  One million Ashkenazi Jews will be a powerful balance to the growing Sephardic and Oriental presence in Isaeli life. 

What does this new exodus mean for us as Humanistic Jews? 

It means that we have a large new community of Jews in the Soviet Union, Israel and America who would be “turned on” by Humanistic Judaism, if they knew that it existed. 

Many Soviet immigrants are indifferent to Jewish identity.  Others are trying to find their roots in the religious revival, but many of them have a reawakened Jewish consciousness which they cannot fully express in the conventional Judaism which they have encountered. 

But we cannot reach these prospective Humanistics Jews through English and English speaking “missionaries”.  We can only reach them through Russian and Russian leaders.  The Orthodox missionaries are already working full time to seduce the “newly awakened” to traditional Judaism.  They have millions of dollars available to them to publish literature, produce videos and establish schools to broadcast their message. 

We cannot match their resources.  But we need to match their zeal before we lose one of the most important opportunities to bring confused secular Jews to Humanistic Judaism. 

On Monday, December 10, Nikoli Solovyev, a leader of Soviet Jews in the state of Israel, will be our speaker.  He is a member of the Israel Association of Secular Humanistic Jews.  He has contacts, through his work, with thousands of Russian Jews in both Israel and the Soviet Union.  He believes that the message of Humanistic Judaism is exactly what most Russian Jews need and want, if only they knew about it.  Come and hear how we can respond to this unique exodus in Jewish history.