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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Separation of Synagogue and State – With an Iron Curtain

Jack Kemp, Israel Kremen and Tim Birdnow

(Authors’ note: There is some overlapping data in this article which was first used in a related piece on the suppression of Christianity in the Soviet Union. The conclusion is very similar to the previous article’s because all governmental practices of suppressing religion are similar in character. This article also has much new personal information on the suppression of Jewish life in the Soviet Union.)

So how does state collectivism coexist with religion? Well, we – and the American Left – have the historical example of the Soviet Union’s suppression of religion as a lesson. It is a lesson for those that wish to avoid this from happening here – and also a lesson for those that want something similar to happen in America.

Although we will primarily focus on how the Soviet Union terrorized and thwarted the practice of Judaism there, it should be noted that Stalin had a great contempt for the Eastern Orthodox Christian religion. It may surprise you to know that Stalin as a young man studied in an Orthodox seminary, so he understood more about the inner workings of Orthodoxy than the average Communist. He used that knowledge to suppress the both the church and the synagogue.

Tim Birdnow notes:


Gosateism, or official atheism, was never fully enshrined in the Soviet Constitutions, but neither was freedom of religion until the constitution of 1936, something that Stalin had to do even though he didn't like it.

Article 124 of the Soviet constitution of 1936 put a freedom of worship clause into place, but it's an odd clause, because it guarantees the right of those who oppose religion to proselytize. In other words, it made it state policy to harass churches by guaranteeing protesters the freedom to harass.

It should be pointed out that in 1936 many Western egg-heads were in love with the Soviet Experiment, although the show trials and whatnot had tarnished that image. Much of this "model constitution" was propaganda to feed the "useful idiots" in academia and the Western media. The Great Purge was in full swing, and Stalin needed something to make it appear he was not the monster that he appeared to be.


In “The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith” by Peter Hitchens, it states in
Chapter 13:

Had their only concern been a need for a belief system that prostrated itself before them, the Bolsheviks did in fact have to handle the body known as the “Living Church” (see chap. 13). This group of collaborationists was composed of priests and bishops who were more than ready to place Orthodox Christianity at the disposal of the Council of People’s Commissars. But after having served the Bolsheviks by splitting and weakening the Orthodox Church, the leaders of the Living Church were arrested (and presumably murdered in prison, since no more was heard of them) in the early 1930s.

This brings us to the title topic of this article: what about Judaism under the Soviet Regime? Although a minority religion, it was a religion probably more despised by the atheistic Soviet regime, both because of Russian anti-semitisim and the Communists and Secret Police members who came from Jewish families and wanted to destroy the observant practices and mentality of Judaism to create a “New Soviet Man.”

Peter Hitchens continues in Chapter 13:


The same thing happened to their Jewish equivalents, the “Yevseksiy” [Jack’s NOTE: Also spelled Yevseksii] (Jewish sections of the Communist Party). These were wound up in 1929, their functionaries purged in 1937. In this case it is recorded that their chairman, Semyon Dimanshtein, was shot in captivity.

By P. Hitchens saying the Yevseksiy was “wound up in 1929,” that means the Soviets disbanded the organization after:


The Yevsektsii, the Jewish sections of the Communist Party, are the main instrument of the new government in applying the Marxist doctrine of forced assimilation.


The systematic attack of the Bolshevik government upon all organized religions also affects Judaism. The Yevsektsii close down synagogues and kheyders, confiscate religious books and objects, and conduct a campaign against rabbis, ritual slaughterers and other essential functionaries of Jewish religious and communal life. If they refuse to resign, they are arrested and deported.

The Yevsektsii also campaign against the Hebrew language. In their eyes, Hebrew is the reactionary language of the Jewish bourgeoisie, whatever its content, and has to be eliminated in favor of Yiddish, the language of the Jewish proletariat. Hebrew schools and printing presses are closed.

At the end of the 1920s, Hebrew becomes the only language which is officially outlawed in the Soviet Union. Jewish religious education is now impossible.


With the almost complete elimination of organized Jewish religious and communal life, the Yevsektsii have become redundant and are dissolved in 1930. During the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s, most of its members are accused of having had "nationalist tendencies," and are deported or killed.


This lead to a state of fear and terror that Israel Kreman knew all to well, one in which someone not only had to watch one’s words, but even their own private thoughts, for fear it would lead to revealing an attitude or posture that the Soviet regime would notice and harshly punish. Punishment often meant firing from one’s job and getting a new one – breaking rocks in Siberia. Israel Kremen had to come to the U.S. from Russia to learn an overview of the official Soviet policies, but he too well knows the details of Soviet daily life – and the disturbing similarities with the burgeoning secularist values he now sees in America.

Kremen describes life in the Soviet Union as he knew it:

The life in the USSR (and in Nazi Germany) was built around the ideology of hate and slavery, actually a deadly cult. No one can get out of that place alive. It's a CULT. Now I understand it. When I lived there, I just tried to play my part to survive, until I learned I could get out. What I am worrying about now, as with millions of new refugees from Russia and other countries here, is that moral, political and ideological environment in the U.S. is copying what I experienced in the USSR, bringing us to Stalin's time of mass repression. We had only one "religion": communism with its leader Lenin, etc. Many young Jews at that time in Russia were atheists. Those who were not, went to (the British Mandate) Palestine as Bund Party members or covered up their religious attitude. Like in the USA today, it was a shame to be religious.

My parents were divorced, both were Jewish but without any knowledge of Judaism, I didn't know my father since age 5. At age 16, I met with him once - and I didn't like what I saw. The last time I met him just before my departure (from the Soviet Union) to request him to sign a paper that he didn't want anything from me. It was a requirement before all (exit) papers could be filed. My mother was deadly afraid of everything political. My grandparents still remember some Jewish holidays and (my grandfather) made matzoh himself, though no religion was allowed to even be talked about. The Bible and Torah was nowhere to be found. Not at home, not in the libraries. But all educated people MUST take and pass the courses "Scientific communism" and "Scientific Atheism" by criticizing the Bible without actually reading it. Oh, we became Masters of that. And I see that too many liberals (and many Republicans as well) can do it here (in the U.S.) very well. It was an Annihilation of Personality, based on nothing or on pure lies. So, my parents and grandparents did not tell me much about those most awful years of 1920-ies and 1930-ies: their goal was to survive and give us everything good possible in the (harshly limited) real situation. Day-to-day survival in Hell which pretended to be the Heaven. So, we played the "happy angels."

What Kremen is describing by giving the example for us here is that one had to develop a self-hypnosis to act as if one believed – the constantly repeated Party line that religion was evil and that Communism was good. Any other opinion was dangerous. In fact, having an opinion in the Soviet Union was dangerous. Although the level of indoctrination in U.S. high schools and colleges today isn’t as total as was the case in the Soviet Union, the insights on indoctrination against religion found in William F. Buckley’s 1951 classic book “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of Academic Freedom” read as true today as they did when it was published. And the latest attitudes of anti-religious biases in education are beginning to resemble those of an atheist state.

Israel Kremen further states:

When I was growing up, all churches (few of them were opened and active) and
synagogues in the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) with a population of 5 million and almost a half-million of Jews existed. There was only one old synagogue which was opened and active. BUT the people knew very well that the KGB (The Committee for State Security, i.e., the Secret Police) fully controlled all churches and synagogues, knew exactly who attend them when and how much they were involved, and (so, many people) were afraid to even attend them. Only just a few very brave people were active, mostly
elderly who didn't have anything to loose. Some people did have kind of small private churches at home.

When I was 18 and became interested in my own roots (I didn't know Hebrew nor Yiddish, though my name is Israel). In all official documents I was Israel, In Soviet Union, I NEVER called myself this name, but (used) Ilya or Igor, because Israel as a country was, due to heavy Soviet propaganda machine, was known as an Evil country, full of very bad people. At 18, I was a student of the most privileged and best Rimski-Korsakov State Conservatory of Music (where Tchaikovsky was among its first students 100 years ago). It was founded by Anton Rubenstein, a Baptized Jew, but because he was a Jew, the Conservatory was NOT named after him, a genius composer and pianist of the 19th century, like Franz List!

At this time, I decided once to visit the city Synagogue during (the) Simcha Torah Holiday (the most joyful Jewish Holiday dedicated to the event when Torah with the Ten Commandments was given to Moses) in the Fall of 1968: music, dances, young people, girls singing and dances all together, FREE, and no one from outside bothered us except the photographers who made a lot of pictures. Next day, we learned that two most talented girls in our Conservatory were asked to come to the Dean's Office and were shown the photos where they dance and hold the banners: "Let's go to Israel!" And, though they denied that they did it, the doctored(?) photos proved that they did. As a result, these girls were immediately thrown away from School and had no other choice but to immigrate to Israel ASAP.

The same year the small group of young Jews, including myself, decided to learn a little bit of Hebrew, openly. We found an old teacher of Hebrew, exactly the man who taught it in the 1920-ies, but stopped teach that decade. (Jack’s NOTE: Learning Hebrew was outlawed in the Soviet Union). He started to teach us but it ended abruptly in 3 months because I and all other students received a phone call about making a movie about the Russian Jews to be so free and happy and they want us to be in that movie, to be famous, and for that we should come in one of the central hotels on Sunday at 12:00 PM. We were 18-22 and stupid but not to the point not to understand that it would lead to immediate arrest because all central hotels were just for foreigners, and we would be there only if we were spies.

When I was there as a young adult in the 1960-ies and 1970-ies, everything was a Big Lie, as PLAY, in which everyone MUST known how to play to survive and make some social progress personally. Some people were more successful in this "Comedy", or better to say, "FARCE" than others. Practically, almost every intelligent person in the USSR
understood his/her role (in how) to move around in that DEADLY environment.

In America, Bill Ayers and the Weathermen wanted to kill 25 million “die hard capitalists” (capitalists and believers in God are not mutually exclusive categories) who wouldn’t comply with his New Socialist State. Today he is a respected educator and you could even enter a lottery to have dinner with him. See “Dinner with terrorists: Ayes and Obama’s National Endowment for the Humanities.” It is perhaps more realistic to say that a “progressive” program of outlawing many religious practices, such as signs and mangers on church property, saying “Merry Christmas” or “Shannah Tova” (“Happy New Year” in Hebrew), referring to religion in almost all school or government or business writings would be the beginning of a creeping Soviet atheistic model. The left could simply use a legal fiction, based the letter of Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists which is already treated by many liberals as having the force of federal, if not Constitutional law, to further ban public religious practices. Tim Birdnow pointed out that the Soviet Union had “freedom of worship” in private but the broader “freedom of religion” (open religious schools and training of clergy) were harassed and in great danger, as Israel Kremen has shown us from his real life examples from behind the Iron Curtain.
The atheistic state is always moving to shame people away from displaying their faith publicly. We are living in a country that recently banned people bringing in Bibles to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed National Medical Center – until there was an uproar reversing the decision. What makes anyone think the left would not do much more to inhibit displays of Christianity and Judaism if they had one or two more votes on the U.S. Supreme Court? The left, with the inspiration (if I may use that word here) of examples both old and new, is salivating for an opportunity to create its own version of the Dred Scott Decision aimed against People of Faith. And its own version of the Soviet’s “Gosateism,” their official atheist policy.
To paraphrase and reverse a jihadist saying, first the American left will come for the Sunday People (the Christians), and then come for the Saturday People (the Jews).

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