Aviva In Poland

Monday, February 12, 2007

And You Want to Tell Me there are No Jews in Poland....

Dear Friends Family and Readers

I was surrounded by 200 of Polish Jews for Shabbat and another 300 for an incredible day on Sunday. This weekend marked the opening of the Yeshivah in Lublin, marking the first time that there was a Yeshivah there since before the war. The Yeshivah space was returned to Polish Jewsish Community in 1997 and has been recently renovated. All of these fun details are placed in varies news stories on the net which you really should read about. What is not found in the articles in the incredible spirit and energy that those of us there felt. Arriving Friday for Shabbat and participating in Kabalat Shabbat with over 150 in synagouge that hadn't seen that many Jews in that space for over 60 years is incredibly moving. Throughout Shabbat, my dear friends Tal and Osnat(2 volunteers from Israel) and I brought an abundance of energy singing and life to the group of Polish Jews who were so enthralled by the experience. There was singing, dancing learning, neighbourhood tours and eating during Shabbat. The media was all over the moving Havdallah Service which was followed by all of the women lighting big candles and filling all the rooms in the 3 story building, symbolizing the fact that the lights are back in the Yeshivah.

Sunday morning brought an additional 300 people for the official opening of the Yeshivah.It was very cool seeing the community leaders unveil the sign, the bringing of the Torah and people of all ages feeling very proud to be standing at the event. Everyone present felt the hope for continued growth and revival of Jewish life in Poland. Having been a part of this community for almost 6months, you appreciate the smallest things-a big group of people showing up for a senior club program, a new person wanting to volunteer in the community, a child learning the words to a song you taught them-and so seeing something so big and so important for the Polish Jewish Community is really incredible. No one knows the future of Jewish Communities anywhere but seeing an event like this and the pride, energy and hope which filled the Yeshivah, there is no denying that for Jews in Poland there is a future. I am so thankful that I was able to be at the event, to bring my joy and energy to it and to see history and a future taking place.

Have a wonderful week
Love from Warsaw


  • Dear Aviva -
    The opening of the newly restored portion of the former Lublin Yeshiva must have been a very moving experience -- I envy you being there. However, I would like to correct some misstatements in your statement. The former Yeshiva is still a former Yeshiva. There has been some discussion within the Orthodox rabbinate in Warsaw of creating a new Orthodox Yeshiva in the building, but it hardly seems possible. First, there are currently only about 2,000 Jews registered with the Orthodox "Union" in all of Poland, only about 40 in the Lublin area, so that Lublin does not even qualify under the Union's rules as a Gmina. Most of these Jews are well into middle-age, or older, and are not likely to attend a religious school at this point in their lives. Second, and must more important, the law of 1997 that allowed restitution of communal Jewish properties will almost certainly be challenged soon because it grants sole control of all Jewish properties in Poland to one organization -- the ZGWŻ, which is almost entirely Orthodox and therefore not representative of the Jews of Poland as a whole. There are several groups ready to challenge the law, but since they are Jewish (or most of them are; there is one that is a secular Civil Society NGO from America) they have trouble cooperating. The best known of the challengers is the Progressive Jewish group of Warsaw, known as Beit Warszawa. If the challenge succeeds, and it is very likely to succeed according to several lawyers, then the properties currently owned by the ZGWŻ may have to be transfered into a Jewish organization that is more representative than the ZGWŻ. This might be a non-religious organization such as the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw, or it might be a new organization specifically formed to deal with the communal properties. Whatever is done, it is unlikely that these precious properties will continue to be controlled by a non-representative organization that has for years avoided all efforts to make it more transparent, more accountable, and more democratic. Sadly, ZGWŻ behaves like a holdover from the Communist Era, which is painfully ironic in view of the fact that it came to power by usurping the role of the traditional Jewish community of Warsaw, which included among its leadership Marek Edelstein, Bolek Scenizer, Helena Datner, Marian Turski, etc. All these people, and many others, have to some extent been replaced by what are generally called "the new Jews," many of them converts, like Piotr Kadlcik, the current president of the ZGWŻ. Perhaps you could really get involved and help to make Jewish life in Poland, fair, open, and representative.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:23 AM  

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