The Australian Jewish Times (February 21, 1985)

TEL AVIV: Raphael Kotlowitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s aliyah department, told reporters upon his return from a visit to Romania the country’s Jewish community was disappearing, with almost no marriages or births and more deaths every day.

He quoted Chief Rabbi MosA small "window of opportunity" may be opening up in Eastern Europe which could lead to better conditions for local Jewish communities and improved relations between world Jewry and the Communist bloc.

This was one of the main impressions gained by the ECAJ president, Isi Leibler, during an eight-day visit to Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia as a member of a World Jewish Congress (WJC) mission.

"The signs are tentative, and we must avoid over optimism or exaggeration," Mr. Leibler said.

"Furthermore, what may happen in some of the East European states may not necessarily be accompanied by similar improvements in the Soviet Union. But the reception accorded the WJC delegations in the capitals of Bucharest, Budapest, and Prague, together with the overall improvement in East-West relations, however small, suggests there are possibilities for further contacts which can be pursued."

The mission was an initiative of the North American section of the WJC and was led by Frieda Lewis, the section chairperson.

Mr. Leibler accompanied Mrs. Lewis, a former national president of Hadassah, on all the delegations which met with government officials and was one of three mission members who participated in all other official meetings in the three capitals.


The Bucharest Jewish community has remained united and active with its many institutions continuing to function," Mr. Leibler said. "The continuity of the Jewish community is a tribute to the impressive efforts of Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen.

"The Romanian Government has continued to allow the community to maintain its religious and social welfare institutions, and at the same time, those Jews who want to emigrate to Israel are allowed to do so," he said.

The Romanian Jewish community now numbers only 16,000, and many of its remaining younger members were preparing for aliyah to Israel.

The four-person WJC delegation met the Romanian Foreign Minister, Stefan Andrei, the first meeting of its kind at such a senior level with a representative delegation of international Jewry.

The Romanian Foreign Minister was preparing for the visit of Israel's Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, this week when he will hold talks with President Ceaucescu.

The Romanian Foreign Minister emphasized the relationship of the forthcoming disarmament talks between Washington and Moscow with wide issues, including the resumption of the emigration of Soviet Jewry, which would be placed on the agenda if East-West negotiations showed progress and if there was a return to detente-like conditions between the superpowers.

In a meeting between the WJC delegation and Minister Campanescu, the Minister for Cults (Religions), Mr. Leibler asked for, and received, assurances that the Romanian Government would deal strongly with recent manifestations of anti-Semitism in the form of racist articles that had appeared in sections of the Romanian press.

On the last night of the mission's stay in Bucharest, the Jewish community's youth groups presented a farewell concert which surprised and moved the visitors with the high standard of musical talent, Hebrew, and Yiddish language skills and enthusiasm, reflecting many hours of intensive preparation and rehearsal.

"I doubt very much if our communities with three or four times the numbers and the combined resources of Sydney and Melbourne could do as well," Mr. Leibler commented.

By contrast to Romania, Hungary presents a prosperous picture to the Western visitor, and its Jewish community of 80,000 is by far the largest in Eastern Europe.

But it lacks the vitality, Zionist tradition, and religious leadership of Romanian Jewry, Mr. Leibler said.

"Although the Hungarian community has capable organizational leadership in the person of its vigorous general secretary, Ilona Seifert, young Hungarian Jews could benefit enormously from a more energetic and purposeful spiritual and cultural focus in their communal lives.

"This was especially noticeable at the Friday night and Shabbat services and activities the mission attended," he said.

Present with the WJC delegation, which met with Hungarian Vice-President of the Church Affairs Office, Barna Sarkadi Nagy, was the Israeli Ambassador, Moshe Gilboa.

Ambassador Gilboa, who heads the desk dealing with Jewish communities in the Israel Foreign Office, was the first Israeli Ambassador to enter Hungary on a diplomatic passport. His participation in a delegation to see a Hungarian Minister of State was seen as further evidence that some states in the Eastern bloc were prepared to make concessions in their dealings with Israel and world Jewry, Mr. Leibler said.

Of the three cities visited, Prague had the smallest Jewish community — four to six thousand — but, as its leader, Dr. Desider Gaisky, pointed out, it had the most tangible and visible Jewish historical flavor.

"I was not prepared for the way in which such features as the ancient Jewish cemetery, the Altneuschul, the statue of Rabbi Low, the Jewish museums, the Jewish community center, and the traditional Jewish residential quarter all form an integral part of Prague's history and are very much part of the city today.


"They are major tourist attractions, and the government promotes them as such," Mr. Leibler said.

The Prague Jewish community has been able to preserve many Jewish artifacts, ceremonial objects d'art, and valuable manuscripts.

The WJC mission was invited to send a delegation to meet Jan Pudlak, the head of the Czechoslovakian Institute of Foreign Relations, the first time the Czech Government had shown itself wishing to talk directly and openly with such a group.

es Rosen as saying the community now numbered only 33,000 — less than usually thought.

Kotlowitz said most Romanian Jews were now elderly and many were living on welfare.

At one stop on his visit, at Tamishra, he learned only two Jewish babies were born this year while 65 elderly Jews had died, out of a total Jewish population of 1800.