If you needed a reminder that the Soviet regime was thoroughly opposed to religious practice and faith, then look no further than the pages of the IJN — 91 years ago this week.
“Anti-holiday drive begins” reads the headline. Dateline: Moscow. “Altho Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur are nearly two months away, the Jewish section of the League of the Godless today began its annual campaign against these high Jewish holidays. Four Yiddish pamphlets came off the press today for distribution among Jewish workers in the town and cities . . . A special edition of the Apikoires (Atheist), the Yiddish atheist monthly, went to press a fortnight ahead of time, in order to make available for the anti-religious campaign.”
Apikoires urged Jews to stay in work in the “field and factory” on the holiday, and the news report tells of “special shock brigades” mobilizing to keep Jews away from shul, and that this year — 1931 — they were getting an early start — hence the Aug. 7 publication date — instead of leaving it to the last minute as apparently they had the previous year, 1930.
To be sure, there were Jews who deeply believed in this anti-religious ideology, who believed that religion had held Jews back from progress. But their were plenty of faithful Jews in the Soviet Union and it must have felt like such a deep affront to be attacked by one’s own co-religionists in such a way.
As American Jews we often forgot how privileged we are to have the Constitutional right to practice — or not practice — our religion. Perhaps once, in the early days of America’s Jewish community, there was similar agitation from secular Jews against religious Jews. Thankfully, today, that is unfathomable. American Jews across denominations have the freedom to explore their religious belief and more than ever we see collaboration among denominations when it comes to Jewish culture and education. A lot has changed in 91 years!