The Gripsholm, Sweden's beautiful ocean liner, was approaching the shores of the United States. The passengers hurried on the decks, eager to behold the Statue of Liberty, the ,symbol known to more people on this earth than any other monument. It leapt into our field of vision, greeted by exclamations of delight.
My wife and I stared at it with inexpressible emotion. I know I risk being accused of using banalities because words have been worn out by too much use or misuse. I wish I could restore to the word "liberty" its original, genuine intellectual and emotional impact. After what we had been through, after having witnessed what the loss of liberty meant to individuals and nations, it is an understatement to say that the sight of that statue had a powerful effect on us. That feminine figure rising above the waves, extending the torch of freedom toward all mankind, defied e doctrine of evil that had been imposed on the enslaved n the other side of the Atlantic. Though we hardly knew y English at the time, we understood the words on the facade of the statue, a quotation from the Bible: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof!" - Leviticus 25:10. In our minds, in our hopes the word "land" encompassed the entire globe. Did I not know that sons of the United States had recently crossed the oceans to sustain a gigantic fight in the defense of liberty, and that thousands of them lost their lives in that fight?1
My wife was expecting our second child. After long minutes of silence, she said, "I wish my child to be born in this country. "
I understood her fully, for I shared her thoughts. To us, wanderers, who bore upon our foreheads the mark of two thousand years of suffering of our people, America appeared as a continent untouched by tyranny, free and young, the defender of human values, the defender of faith.
Upon our landing in New York a group of Jewish refugees who had come from Sweden, also representatives of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis from the United States and Canada, were waiting for me on the pier. My arrival had been announced by the principal Yiddish-language paper in the City.
I was desirous of establishing contact with Jewish leaders and decided to stay in New York for a while.
The refugees I left behind in Sweden were, however, due to the possible abandonment of the kosher camp, on my mind. From my hotel, I sent a telegram to Count Bernadotte inquiring about them. Count Bernadotte answered immediately. I quote his telegram, because it illuminates the character of this extraordinary man. The telegram read as follows:
Thus I learned that the camp in which the refugees had been housed before my departure had now been utilized for Finnish people who had fled from the Russian occupation of their country during the desperate war that the little country had waged against its giant neighbor; at the same time I saw in Count Bernadotte's telegram one more proof of his true humanitarianism. It inspired me with a new confidence in mankind, a new confidence in spite of all. I thought that there were at all times a few individuals who actually redeemed the sins of thousands; thanks to them, civilization is preserved. In Bernadotte's case, he gave his life for his active love of mankind, just as his compatriot, Wallenberg, would do in the years that followed.
In New York a real surprise awaited me. I received an invitation from King Michael of Rumania to pay him a visit in his quarters at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
The King had arrived in New York at about the same time as I did. How did he happen to think of me? I reflected later upon this question and could come up with only one explanation, even though it appeared at first presumptuous on my part. Rumania capitulated in the, summer of 1944, and from then on the Rumanian Army fought on the side of the Allies. In December, 1947, the Communist Party, led by Anna Pauker, demanded the abdication of the King. King Michael was very popular and there were manifestations on the streets of several cities, clamoring his support. The demonstrators were dispersed by Communist soldiers arriving in army trucks. King Michael was forced to quit even though he had received from Stalin in 1944, the medal of the Order of Victory, the highest Soviet decoration, after he had overthrown the regime of General Antonescu. On that occasion, Radio Moscow broadcast a long commentary to praise the King. "This distinction," Radio Moscow said, speaking of the Stalin medal, "symbolizes the courage shown by him when he took his country out of Hitler's war.
President Truman also recognized the courageous action of King Michael, and presented him with the medal of the "Legion of Merit," with the following words:
In September, 1945, when I arrived in Zurich, I was asked by the representatives of the press what I thought of King Michael. I told them that thanks to him, Rumania was the only exception among the countries subdued by Hitler that dared to oppose Hitler's plan of mass deportation and extermination of the Jews. I insisted on the fact that the Jews of the entire world owed a debt of gratitude to the King and to the Rumanian nation, and that the King's courageous action would be acknowledged by history.
The Swiss press, both the German and French-language press, published these three testimonies in favor of the King. One of them added an anecdote that attempted to illustrate the servility of the Rumanian Communists toward the whims of their masters in Moscow. It goes as follows: Anna Pauker walked one day of bright sunshine in a street of Bucharest, holding an open umbrella aver her head. She was accosted by a passer-by who told her, "Your Excellency, why that umbrella? We have beautiful sunny weather." Anna Pauker replied in a dignified tone, "Comrade, it is raining in Moscow!''
Anna Pauker obeyed the wish of Moscow when she forced the abdication of the King. King Michael was given a safe-conduct to leave the country and Rumania was proclaimed a "People's Republic."
King Michael received me in a very friendly way, and expressed his appreciation for my humanitarian work, commended me on my efforts on behalf of the refugees. I, in turn, thanked him for his protection of the persecuted Jews, for preventing mass deportation and for bringing back those thousands who had survived the camps.
Aside from the King, I also had the opportunity of meeting Mr. Gafencu, a former foreign minister, General Radescu, who headed the Rumanian government at the time of my stay in Bucharest, and Mr. Vishoianu, former foreign minister of Rumania. All these men, who not so long ago played an eminent role in the shaping of history, were now refugees like myself. This thought constituted a lesson for me about the instability of human fate and fortunes.
I pondered a great deal during those first days on the soil of America about the direction my further activities should take. I was supposed to take up my post in Mexico City, but the Jewish leaders of New York repeatedly expressed to me their opinion that I would meet with more challenge in the United States than in a relatively isolated position in Mexico. I was ignorant both of the English and of the Spanish language; wherever I settled down I would have to learn the language of the country, for I could not see myself unable to communicate with people in their native tongue.
It was necessary, I decided, to make the trip to Mexico, just to see and make a comparison. Our journey there turned out to be most inauspicious. My wife came down with a serious dysentery; I was in great anxiety for her and the unborn child. The congregation that had invited me was a traditional orthodox congregation. The Mexican Jews in their majority had long been established in the country; there were few refugees among them. I remembered that it was explained to me that in Chinese writing the ideogram of challenge was represented by crisis and danger. By my past, I was preconditioned to challenge and was too young to settle down in a relatively established position with little opportunity for growth. It became obvious to me that I would reach a much larger audience if I preached and taught in English.
At last my wife recovered and we returned to the United States where my wife gave birth to our second son, David. Thus her wish, expressed at the sight of the Statue of Liberty, was fulfilled. I began to learn English with great enthusiasm. It did not take me very long before I could understand and grasp fully the meaning of the preamble to the Constitution: "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.''
I wonder whether the generations born under the protection of this inspiring document are so penetrated by its wisdom and appreciate its intent to the same extent as we, newcomers to the country did.
Presumably the Statue of Liberty, greeting countless immigrants upon their arrival in the United States, gave them the same joy it gave us, the same courage to start a new life. It was this notion of living in a free land that inspired subsequent generations to make this nation great.
For us, the document represented a benevolent law, civilization, encouragement to do well for one's self and for others. I was truly grateful to have been allowed to be here, to have my newborn son become a citizen of the country by the mere fact of his birth on American soil.
At the end of 1948, while I was in New York City, I was appointed director of the Synagogue Council of Mizrachi, National Religious Zionist Movement. Soon I was solicited for numerous speaking engagements. In 1949, I established my own synagogue on Central Park West, in New York. Unfortunately, the climate of New York and of the East Coast was not goad for me. I also developed a serious allergy which was undermining my health. On the advice of doctors, with great regret, I had to leave for more clement skies. In 1952 we moved to California.
I regretted leaving New York, but had no cause to regret my establishment in California. Throughout all these years I never lacked the opportunity to serve ideals dear to me. The conviction of being useful had made me happy; it encourages me to continue as long as I am able to do so. The present endeavor of writing the story of my life is part of my overall efforts to serve my fellowmen.
The upheavals in the sixties, the burning of cities, the demonstrations, bombings, filled me with great sorrow. I heard the new slogan echoing through the air: "God is dead!" For me there was direct relationship between the violence in the streets and the loss of faith that this slogan indicated. Deprived of it, the young staggered without any moral support through life. They had nothing to hold on to; angry, frustrated, they vented their frustrations on inanimate objects like angry men often do.
In those days of crisis when people questioned the very survival of American civilization I happened on Aldous Huxley's novel, Point Counterpoint. Leafing through it, I was attracted by the following dialog:
By mere chance - or was it? - I came upon this passage in the book and I cannot describe how much it galvanized me. The Second World War like the first one was a period during which the bottom had been knocked out of everything, and it was important, imperative that we should help put it in again!
I became the rabbi of the Congregation of Beth Abraham in City Terrace, in Los Angeles. I joined the Igud Harobonim, the Alliance of Orthodox Rabbis; later I was elected vice-president of the Orthodox Rabbinate of Greater Los Angeles, vice-president of Christians and Jews for Law and Morality, chairman of the Interfaith Committee of Los Angeles for Released Time for Religious Instruction. In addition, I am a member of the Mayors Community Advisory Committee, the District Attorney's Advisory Council, and a member adviser for the committee of the state Attorney General's office. My time was pretty well filled up, yet I remained unsatisfied for I wished to give more of myself, to communicate my beliefs based upon my past experience to large audiences.
I regarded it as a great opportunity to serve when I was called upon to testify in the matter of the Dirksen Constitutional Amendment to permit nondenominational voluntary prayer in public schools. For some strange reason, a number of clergymen of various denominations opposed that amendment. On August 4, 1966, I went to Washington and made an appeal for its passage.
In essence, I argued, the atrocities to which millions of innocent people were subjected during World War II and to which many are subjected in the far-flung corners of the world today were caused, and are caused, by the totalitarian states which deny the existence of a Creator and Supreme Being. From my study and meditation on the tragedies T witnessed, I have come to one conclusion, namely, that not considering themselves accountable to a Supreme Creator, the leaders of these countries believe themselves above moral laws and thus become destructive to life.
Standing before the congressional committee I pointed out that the interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court which forbade a voluntary ( I emphasized the word "voluntary") nondenominational prayer in schools on the ground of the freedom of conscience stipulated in the First Amendment, ignored the living fact that not only our Founding Fathers, but most of our citizens, had in mind a nation relying upon divine providence.
I expressed the opinion that human relations based upon the notion of a higher destiny of man, the respect of spiritual values, alone offered a solid foundation for the future of our country; they were more important than the stress of technicalities. Depriving children of their right to say a prayer before they started their daily work robbed them of hope and reliance upon a benevolent force that assured to them a purpose in life and the tranquility of their minds. These values prevalent in schools reflected inevitably on the homes. The converse was also true; their absence was disturbing both for the children and their parents.
Indeed, I said, there were millions of people throughout the nation who were deeply affected by the decision of the Supreme Court prohibiting the mention of God.
The essence of wisdom consists of recognizing that man's free will is his most precious possession. It enables him even to disassociate himself, if he so chooses, from his Creator to whom he owes this gift. No individual or group of individuals should have the right to deprive man of this unique privilege. Man should be free to seek and praise and serve, or even to ignore, his Creator in his own way, so long as he does not interfere with the next person's equal right. The Founding Fathers understood and gave attention to this concept when they provided that men as a group, through their government, should make no law respecting the establishment of religion. Religion, in its simplest form, is the formal worship of a Supreme Being. The Founding Fathers thereby separated church and state.
But if our forefathers were quick to express the principle of separation of church and state in the Constitution, they were also quick to affirm that the powers of the federal government were delegated from the "reserve" held by the people. Previously these same Founders, in the Declaration of Independence, had held it to be self-evident that the people are endowed with a reserve of certain inalienable rights which were bestowed upon them by a Supreme Being. In short, while the Founders were loathe to impose upon man's freedom of conscience where religion was concerned, they were quick to acknowledge their own, and this country's dependence upon a Supreme Being. They did not purport to separate God and state, but only the church and state. To some, the distinction may seem subtle, but the distinction is nevertheless there.
It appears that our Founding Fathers were equally concerned when they wrote the Declaration of Independence based on the biblical premise that all men are created equal - not to infringe on the rights of any denomination. If the Declaration of Independence is valid, then a voluntary nondenominational prayer is just as valid and not in conflict with our Constitution. Our Founding Fathers felt the state should not tell man how he is to worship his Creator, or that he should worship, if he does not recognize a Creator. However, the state, so long as the majority wishes, should acknowledge its dependency upon a Supreme Being. This was done through official emblems, slogans, oaths, declarations and speeches, and official holidays. The Founders did this because history had taught them that the nation which respects a Supreme Being enjoys divine protection and blessing. How right they were has already been demonstrated. On the other hand, nations which refused to honor, respect or even acknowledge a Supreme Being met with ultimate destruction.
The conflict today is not between one religion or another, but between those who believe in the existence of God and those who do not. The latter (who at this time are in the minority) claim that their conscience is offended by the very mention of a Supreme Being in public, even though they are free to abstain from mentioning Him.
I further submitted to the consideration of the senators, that the Preamble of the Constitution was equally as important and valid as the First Amendment. It was up to the Congress of the United States to bring about clarification of the First Amendment so that those who desire to recite a nondenominational prayer may do so under the law and not be prohibited, for such prohibition is as much a denial of the individual's right to believe and to pray as would be the imposition o£ prayer on nonbelievers. I said that in my opinion one of the greatest educational tools is lost when we do not tell our children that those who desire to gray to Almighty God may do so, and those who do not believe in prayer may abstain. This concept, I maintained, was the cornerstone and pillar of our American way of life, namely, to differ and remain together united in the brotherhood of man. For all these reasons, I said, I believed that the proposed Dirksen Amendment was needed, and if Congress would not enact it we would find ourselves to be in conflict with our traditions.
The amendment did not pass, but my testimony was not without effect. Newswire services carried excerpts of my testimony, and some major newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune printed it in its entirety. The late Senator Everett Dirksen praised my testimony as he was interviewed on "Meet the Press" on NBC.
Another statement before the California Senate Educational Committee was presented by me when the question of sex education in schools was considered. There was an amendment to sex education legislation added to the original bill which provided that only those children in public schools whose parents gave written request should be exposed to sex education. I was prompted to speak about this subject because of what I had seen and observed during my stay in Sweden. In that country, sex education was supported by the government for more than twenty years, and was made compulsory for all school grades for ten years. Irrefutable statistics coming from diverse research sources concurred to the effect that almost 90% of Sweden's inhabitants had premarital relations before they reached their twenties. Contraception is in Sweden a compulsory subject for youngsters fourteen years and over, and they also receive instruction in, venereal disease prevention, because of its enormous burden to the country. In spite of the foregoing facts, Sweden has one of the highest rates of venereal disease in addition to the rates of suicide and alcoholism, and nowadays also of drug addiction.
To the Senate Education Committee I submitted the above facts and added that here again, as in many other areas, the state, by adopting this program, would usurp the right and duty of the parents to enlighten their children. Sex education requires an individual approach; how much and what should be told to the child cannot be given uniformly in the classroom. Sex education as proposed in the present form would therefore not be beneficial to our young students.
The conditions, I further said, prevalent in Sweden were sufficiently proving that we were treading on dangerous grounds. To embark on such a questionable program was highly risky. After all, we, of the older generations, reached maturity without all these new methods. Let us rely on our past experience and not venture to experiment with innovations which may damage and intoxicate our youngsters' minds beyond repair.
I knew that my testimonies regarding the prayer amendment and sex education would bring upon my head the hostility of a great number of people, that I would be called old-fashioned and reactionary, but I could not and would not keep silent because my faith and my life experience commanded me to speak up.
Such questions important to the larger human community naturally challenged my will to stand up in the defense of my opinions. Meanwhile, my duties as an Orthodox rabbi required my day-to-day attention. One of the tasks I considered primary throughout my entire life was to see to it that my coreligionists who desired to observe the dietary law of their religion should be enabled to do so.
Soon after my arrival in California, I became aware of the fact that this state lacked an enforcement agency of the State Kosher Food Law that prohibits the sale of food products fraudulently termed "kosher," not prepared according to Orthodox Hebrew religious requirements. I vividly remembered the anguish in Sweden of the refugees who would rather starve than eat non-kosher food; this was the reason which prompted me to be interested in this question. In my opinion it was not only morally wrong, but was also liable to cause deep emotional disturbance to Orthodox Jews who would have discovered that they were defrauded in buying supposedly kosher products. Accordingly, together with my colleagues, we turned to the leading legislators to seek legislation that the State Kosher Food Law ( Penal Code 383 B ) should provide for enforcement.
The then-governor, Goodwin Knight, heeded our request, supported by the joint Legislative Budget Committee, in that they authorized the Department of Finance to conduct a survey throughout the state to ascertain the extent of violations of the State Kosher Food Law. Two rabbis and myself were appointed to conduct the survey and to report back to the legislature of the results of the study. Our investigation revealed flagrant violations of the law. Based on our report, in January, 1957, Assemblyman Joe Shell introduced legislation to provide enforcement of the "Kosher" state laws. We recommended that an item be included in the 1957 state budget for the establishment of proper enforcement to be supervised by an Orthodox rabbi. In view of my experience, this task of supervision was assigned to me. I was appointed Kosher Food Law Representative.
These various activities carried me through the years, from my arrival in California in 1952 to the year 1968. In that year a new opportunity arose for me to fulfill my ideal of "putting back in the bottom that had been knocked out of everything," to use the language of Aldous Huxley.
In 1968, I started a series of television talks in connection with the Jewish holidays with a view of stressing the importance of faith in our lives. I could not think of anything that would have made me happier than this II opportunity to spread God's word. Later, I also had a regular weekly radio talk on the program called "Time for the Truth.
Thinking out my assignment I concluded that my talks should introduce Jewish customs, acquaint the viewer with Jewish ethics, but that they should transcend these topics and touch also upon problems interesting everyone. I began, I believe, in February, 1968, with the interpretation of the meaning of the Passover festival in the life of the Jews. I started with this subject because the Passover holiday commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery; by extrapolation it referred to our and the world's present situation. World War II saved the peoples enslaved by Hitler; the Passover does, however, not only commemorate the past - it is also filled with hope concerning the future. I wished to bring a message of hope for a brighter future, namely that freedom will ultimately come to all. I would have liked to impart to my listeners a deeper understanding of the real character and intentions of the leaders of the world-wide revolutionary movement, the menace that emerged after the defeat of the Hitlerian conspiracy, which has not removed tyranny from this earth.
The radio program "Time for the Truth" had for its leit-motif: Return to God! Patiently, strong in our faith, we would have to restore the belief in the divine mission of man that two world wars had all but extinguished in the souls of the young generation. I was able to point out a significant fact. In our country religious affiliation dropped from 49% in 1958 to 44% in 1966; in the Soviet Union - the latest surveys indicated - half a century of extensive anti-religious propaganda still left 28% believers of the total population. .Also that in Poland and in Hungary church services were attended by people of all ages and of all walks of life.
"It is obvious," I commented, "that there is a connection between America's religious decline and Americas present social and moral upheavals."
Was this not the time to quote the Bible: "And many evils and troubles shall come upon them; so that they will say in that day: Are not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?" - Deuteronomy 31:17.
I spoke to my audience about suffering, attempted to respond to the baffling and ever-recurrent questions of why suffering exists and why God allows the good to suffer and the wicked often lead an apparently happy life. These questions have been debated by innumerable people, laymen and religious, and the answers are as numerous as are those who spoke to the subject. Sifting the arguments that come to my mind, I finally stop at one and give it to you. My answer is this: suffering is man-made for the most part. The majority of the evils that beset humanity, the wars, poverty, the insecurity of life, alienation, tortures, starvation, and many other calamities are brought about on humans by their fellow humans. They far outnumber the natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires, or the natural exhaustion of the body with advanced age. Man has a choice: he can create either paradise or hell on earth, and whatever he does, he is responsible. It has been given to him to combat or eliminate diseases; he can slow down the decay of the body; he must bear the responsibility for the society he lives in. It is by its fruit that you know the tree; it is by the result of his action that man should be judged. Free choice and freedom are interrelated, for freedom without free choice makes no sense. Man is free because he can choose between good and evil; a society is free when it allows free choice to the citizens. God created man free and responsible. It should be the same with a society and its citizens. In a totalitarian society the citizens do not make decisions concerning the running of the state; only the leaders do. The freedom of decision has been taken away from the citizens; they are not responsible. They are responsible only for allowing a totalitarian society to be created and for tolerating such a society, and they must bear the consequences of their indifference in this regard. The more I preached the more I felt the need for
action in this age of mounting and recurrent crisis. I received encouraging letters praising me far beyond my merit. I received many commendations on my television talk given on the eve of the Jewish High Holidays; among others, one stated that my message and the accompanying cantorial and choir chanting were profoundly inspiring and truly uplifting, and that "such inspiration must live so long as memory lasts." I was not insensible to such encouragements; they spurred me on to continue on the path I had traced out for myself.
I must add, for the better understanding of my position as a rabbi and an American citizen, that I have never disassociated in my mind my services to Judaism and those I owe to America. For me the two remain inseparable; I conceive and interpret literally the words "One nation under God" as binding for me. Serving God, T serve the nation. My congregation, Mishkan Yicheskel sponsored, starting in 1965, an annual God and Country Award. Every year we honor persons who by their deeds have distinguished themselves in proving their dedication to the American ideals of freedom and opportunity, those who fearlessly cherish and perpetuate the principles handed down to us by our Founding Fathers. In 1969, we counted among our honorees justice R. S. Thompson; Mr. Harry Von Zell, noted television and radio personality, Honorary Mayor of Encino, California, who spent many years of effort to upgrade standards of morality in the entertainment field; James E. Johnson, a twenty-one-year career officer in the Marine Corps; Don Belding, who had prominent leadership posts in Freedoms Foundations, The Arthritis Foundation, Easter Seal Society, and Crippled Children's Society; Bernard Spiegel, a leading figure in the Orthodox Jewish community who was also a recipient of the Gad and Country Award. In 1970, our honorees were Associate Justice Marshall F. McComb, of the California Supreme Court; Albert Collins, a key figure in the Food Industry for America, an organization to promote patriotism and an appreciation of our American heritage and the free enterprise system; Sam Campbell, the well-known editor of the Anaheim Bulletin; Lawrence Welk, who has been known as the "Champagne Orchestra" man to two generations of Americans. Among other honorees of the past I cannot omit George Putnam, the eminent television broadcaster; Mr. and Mrs. Patrick J. Frawley, Jr., prominent civic and philanthropic community leaders; and Dr. Vierling Kersey, well-known educator and civic leader. At our sixth annual God and Country Awards Dinner, held in the Palladium Ballroom in Hollywood, with Secretary of Transportation John A. Volpe as principal speaker, the list of persons present read like the "Who's Who" of the supporters of the American creed. Associate Justice McComb expressed his belief to the assembled guests stating, "How fortunate you and I are to believe in God and our wonderful nation. I shall always remember this inspiring event."
I mention all the above, not to boast about what I have done since I have become an American, but to point out that much can be and must be done to stand up to the challenges of our days. Arnold Toynbee, the illustrious historian, said, "A civilization survives or becomes extinct depending upon the success which it achieves in living up to the challenges that confront it:" Is it necessary to insist that no civilization can live up to the challenges that confront it without being animated by a religious spirit? Religious spirit in whatever form constitutes the greatest force of every individual and of every nation. It overcomes the most sophisticated weapons of modern technology, just as it overcomes every obstacle that bars the path to spiritual growth of the individual. Paradoxical though this sounds, historical examples abound to prove it.