Shalom Life | October 20, 2014

A Vibrant Jewish Community Reemerges in Poland

New Generation Seeks to Connect with its Jewish Identity

By: Jessica Pallay

Published: June 20th, 2012 in News » World

A Vibrant Jewish Community Reemerges in Poland

On a gray, rainy day this spring, a group of North American Jews gathered in front of the giant dome that serves as a memorial at the Majdanek death camp in Lublin, Poland. They stared in awe at the mausoleum, which contains some of the ashes of the tens of thousands of Jews that perished at Majdanek during the Holocaust.

“It was horrific and painful and awful,” said Lauren Lebovitz, who was part of The Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet Alumni Mission to Poland. “Nobody could have prepared us for that moment, seeing how intact the camp was, and how it stood as a monument to all that happened there.”

Today in Poland, a vibrant Jewish community is reemerging, as a new generation seeks to connect with its Jewish identity, lost for decades to the Holocaust. That rebirth was evident during last month’s Cabinet Alumni mission, which offered a unique perspective on a country laden with a complicated past, but blessed with an opportunity to establish a flourishing future for Polish Jews.

Following the mission theme, “From the Darkness into the Light,” the trip began in Krakow, where the group was joined by scholar and Israeli MK Nachman Shai, as well as Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland. Participants saw historic Jewish landmarks, including the Old Jewish Quarter and Lublin Yeshiva, and toured the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek concentration camps. Later in the week, they visited Wloclawek, the hometown of Shai’s parents, and walked through the Warsaw Ghetto.

To contrast the country’s sobering Jewish history, the mission also explored the rising Jewish community of Poland’s present. Participants met with Jewish leaders such as Zvi Rav-Ner, Israeli Ambassador to Poland, and Jonathan Ornstein, director of the new JCC in Krakow. The JCC has more than 700 members, and holds events that attract thousands of young Jews.

“It’s very exciting to see the reemergence of the Polish-Jewish community,” said Jon Deaner of New York, co-chair of the mission. “As we learned while visiting the new JCC in Krakow, every few days someone whose family had hid their Jewish identity for years walks through the door and announces they are Jewish and wants to reengage!”

Leslie Goldberg of New York, co-chair of the mission, added, “Jewish life in Poland is being revitalized. More and more people are accepting their Jewish roots and becoming part of the Jewish community. I look forward to returning to Poland in five or 10 years to see how much the community has grown and changed. I think really good things will continue to happen, and the trend of Jewish acceptance will continue to grow.”

Throughout the Polish tour, the mission also visited programs and organizations supported by Jewish Federations and our partner agencies, The Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Many of these programs focus on enhancing Jewish identity since Poland’s Jewish community has lost decades of religious and cultural engagement.

“Our biggest opportunity is helping the people of Poland feel secure in publicizing their Jewish Identity,” said Deaner. “We need to get more children to attend programs like Taglit-Birthright Israel and Szarvas, an international Jewish summer camp in Budapest. Educating the youth is an incredible place for Federations to make an impact.”

After returning from the mission, Lebovitz met with 120 ninth-graders, classmates of her daughter, in her hometown of Chattanooga. “I showed them our pictures, told them stories of our journey to Poland and spoke about the history of the atrocities perpetrated against our people. The girls asked questions, cried and thanked me so much for sharing,” she said.

“I believe in leading by example,” she added, of her decision to travel on this mission. “It’s so important to tell our children, but the kids also have to see you doing things. How are we going to keep involving the next generation?”

Russian Social Media Site Hosts 'Miss Hitler' Beauty Pageant Russian Social Media Site Hosts 'Miss Hitler' Beauty Pageant TrendingWhat You Missed in the News: October 13 - 20 What You Missed in the News: October 13 - 20 TrendingSpain Will Vote to Recognize Palestinian State Spain Will Vote to Recognize Palestinian State Trending
 

Russian Social Media Site Hosts 'Miss Hitler' Beauty Pageant

October 20, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Russian Social Media Site Hosts 'Miss Hitler' Beauty Pageant

'Miss Hitler 2014' encourages women to send Nazi-themed photos explaining their love for Hitler, and hatred of Jews

Read More

Israeli Hospital Treats Hamas Leader's Daughter

October 20, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Israeli Hospital Treats Hamas Leader's Daughter

The child was treated at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital for "a number of days"

Read More

Israeli Site Beats BuzzFeed For Second Most Shared Links on Facebook

October 20, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Israeli Site Beats BuzzFeed For Second Most Shared Links on Facebook

PlayBuzz accumulated 7.6 million shares on Facebook during September, second only to the Huffington Post

Read More

What You Missed in the News: October 13 - 20

October 20, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
What You Missed in the News: October 13 - 20

Our Top Stories this week include the Israeli army girl calendar, the best Steven Spielberg films, an interview with Ari Goldkind, and more

Read More

The Ten Best Spielberg Flicks Every Film Lover Needs To See

October 17, 2014 | By Caitlin Marceau
The Ten Best Spielberg Flicks Every Film Lover Needs To See

Spielberg has directed over 50 films and produced more than 140. How can you possibly narrow his masterpieces down to just 10? We somehow managed to.

Read More

Six Israelis Dead, 12 Still Missing After Avalanche in Nepal

October 17, 2014 | By Caitlin Marceau
Six Israelis Dead, 12 Still Missing After Avalanche in Nepal

A freak storm and several avalanches leave dozens dead, including several Israeli tourists.

Read More

Israel's Ben-Gurion Put Through Ebola Drill

October 17, 2014 | By Caitlin Marceau
Israel's Ben-Gurion Put Through Ebola Drill

The Israeli government is encouraging Ebola simulations be practiced to prevent the possible spread of the virus.

Read More

Etsy Called Out For Selling Anti-Semitic Paraphernalia

October 17, 2014 | By Caitlin Marceau
Etsy Called Out For Selling Anti-Semitic Paraphernalia

The online vendor has been called out for selling almost 1000 items emblazoned with swastikas or Hitler's likeness.

Read More

More Headlines