Shalom Life | December 22, 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?”

Haaretz Journalist Arrested for 'Spitting' at IDF Soldiers Haaretz Journalist Arrested for 'Spitting' at IDF Soldiers TrendingIsraeli Santa Claus Hands Out Free Trees in Jerusalem [VIDEO] Israeli Santa Claus Hands Out Free Trees in Jerusalem [VIDEO] TrendingOp-Ed: 'Eviction Notice' for Israel on US campuses Op-Ed: 'Eviction Notice' for Israel on US campuses Trending
 

Haaretz Journalist Arrested for 'Spitting' at IDF Soldiers

December 22, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Haaretz Journalist Arrested for 'Spitting' at IDF Soldiers

Gideon Levy, the popular Israeli columnist for the center-left publication, allegedly also cursed at soldiers at a Palestinian checkpoint

Read More

2014 A Sad Story for Gal Mekel as Pelicans Release Him

December 22, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
2014 A Sad Story for Gal Mekel as Pelicans Release Him

The Israeli point guard, who had only signed with the New Orleans squad two weeks ago, averaged 1.5 points and 3.3 assists in four games

Read More

Top 50 Hottest Jewish Women of 2014 (20-11)

December 22, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen
Top 50 Hottest Jewish Women of 2014 (20-11)

Join Shalom Life in celebrating the 50 most talented, intelligent, funny, and beautiful Jewish women of the year.

Read More

Israeli Santa Claus Hands Out Free Trees in Jerusalem [VIDEO]

December 22, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Israeli Santa Claus Hands Out Free Trees in Jerusalem [VIDEO]

Jerusalem's Christian residents got a cheerful surprise Monday

Read More

Tel Aviv Sets World Record For Dreidel-Spinning

December 22, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Tel Aviv Sets World Record For Dreidel-Spinning

754 Israelis were able to spin their dreidels simultaneously for at least ten seconds

Read More

Construction of First Coca-Cola Factory in Gaza Begins

December 22, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Construction of First Coca-Cola Factory in Gaza Begins

The move could eventually lead to thousands of new jobs for Palestinian workers

Read More

REVIEW: 'Jersey Boys' Brings Cheer to Toronto For the Holiday Season

December 22, 2014 | By Annie Constantinescu
REVIEW: 'Jersey Boys' Brings Cheer to Toronto For the Holiday Season

Forget Rudolph, Frosty or Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights. Let Mirvish get The Four Season stuck in your head this holiday season.

Read More

Op-Ed: 'Eviction Notice' for Israel on US campuses

December 22, 2014 | By Peretz Lavie
Op-Ed: 'Eviction Notice' for Israel on US campuses

What began several years ago as a local initiative in a few universities has turned into a poisonous, organized and well-funded campaign with clear goals - isolating and boycotting Israel in general and the Israeli academia in particular

Read More

More Headlines