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Reaching Behind The Iron Curtain: An Interview with Soviet Jewry Activist Rabbi David Hill

Rabbi David Hill

Rabbi David Hill

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Many years later when we invited Brzezinski to a national conference on Soviet Jewry in Washington, he came over to me and said, “Were you the one who asked me that question?” I said, “I didn’t think you remembered.” He said, “I never forgot it.”

You were president of the National Council of Young Israel from 1961-1965, yet you write in the book that you are displeased with the organization today. Why?

Because they turned to the right. When I was president, and even a short time thereafter, we had national conventions that attracted over a thousand people. Prior to Lubavitch, it was Young Israel in the 1930s, ‘40s, and early ‘50s that did work on kiruv, attracting young people. But in the middle or late ‘80s, Young Israel decided to take a different course which I objected to.

In what sense did Young Israel move to the right?

I’ll give you an example. There was a rally that was called for by the OU in the 1990s, and they asked Young Israel to participate. To bring in greater numbers, they also asked Agudah to participate, but Agudah insisted that no prayer for Israel or the soldiers be made. And as much as I objected, Young Israel gave in. That was unforgiveable.

As someone who is, thank God, over 90 years old, what would you say has been the most important value you have carried through your life?

The concept of hakaras hatov – to recognize that when something good is done to you, you should have the ability to say thank you. My thank you was to the Almighty God who rescued my family from Europe, and at a very young age I decided that I had a debt to pay back.

Any message you would like to impart to the younger generation?

Read Jewish history. If you do, you will find that more miracles have happened to the Jewish people in the last 70-odd years than in the previous 2,000. Our prophets proclaimed in the name of God, “I will gather you amongst the nations and bring you back home.” We are the generation [referred to in that prophecy] – mine, yours, and the ones to come. So young people must understand the beauty and the history of our people to see what they could contribute to the future.

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About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.


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