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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

Ordinarily the political machine will not try to break up a religious organization to get rid of an obnoxious leader of the group, though it will do so if necessary. It has never attacked any well-established church or congregation; it prefers in such cases to work from within, persuading the proper authorities to transfer or dismiss the offending preacher. In the case of Rabbi Benjamin Plotkin, however, the organization attempted to get an opponent out of the city and to disperse his congregation. He was never an active critic of the regime, but he was interested in freedom of speech. His congregation rented a meeting place for three thousand dollars a year in the Jewish Community Center Building pending the raising of sufficient funds to build their own synagogue. After the rabbi made an address on freedom of speech he got into trouble with the executive board of the community center. The president of the board was Judge Morris Barison, a Hague organization leader among the Jews of Hudson County; the treasurer was Louis Jacobs, a member of the Jersey City Board of Education. According to a statement Rabbi Plotkin made later, he was told in December, 1937, by the executive board that his `congregation could remain indefinitely in the center provided we did not discuss the Hague administration.'

His troubles commenced in earnest when in May of the following year he appeared as a character witness for John Longo, anti-Hague Democrat, who was accused of election frauds. His congregation was given six weeks to move out, and the renting of halls being what it is in Jersey City, they could find no place to which to move. He was attacked by other Jewish leaders in the city for his associations with Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union; he was, of course, called a communist, and he was told that there was no place for him in Jersey City. The political skill of the organization was apparent during the whole controversy; no gentile spokesman, among all those around the Mayor who were exceedingly willing to attack anyone charged with communism, had a word to say against the rabbi. They left the entire attack to Jewish politicians. After months of dispute, a truce was arranged in July, 1938, the terms of which were not made public, under an announcement that to do so would not contribute to the peace and dignity of the Jewish community. No rabbi now holds forth upon freedom of speech in Jersey City or in any other way annoys the powers in City Hall.


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