Jewish diversity flourishes in Poland
2 August 2007, Warsaw (dpa) - More than 60 years after the Holocaust Jewish life in Poland is thriving with new diversity.
2 August 2007
Warsaw (dpa) - More than 60 years after the Holocaust Jewish life in Poland is thriving with new diversity.
Before its occupation by Nazi Germany, Poland was once home of Europe's largest Jewish community, and Warsaw was the continent's largest Jewish city.
Poland's Jews were almost wiped out by the Nazis during the Second World War, while the heroic rising of Warsaw's Jewish Ghetto against the militarily more powerful Nazis marked a tragic end of an era.
But a new era is beginning. Reformed Jews are planning to build communities all over the country where until a few years ago what remained of Jewish life in Poland was either orthodox or completely secular.
Beit Warszawa, the reformed community in Warsaw, started up with only two members in 1999. In the meantime its membership has risen to some 200, and for the last year it has even had its own full-time rabbi, Burt Schuman.
During his recent visit Rabbi Joel Oseran, the associate director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) in Jerusalem, met a lively community of people, many of whom had only discovered their Jewish identity a few years ago.
"We're open for all those who are looking for something," Oseran said.
Representatives of the reformed community in recent months have therefore been trying to establish contact to events addressing Poland's Jewish heritage or interreligious dialogue.
"No matter whether it's Zielona Gora, Gdansk or Lublin - time and again people approach us who say initially they're just curious and then slowly admit that they're actually of Jewish origin," Schuman says with a smile.
Many Holocaust survivors were too traumatized to pass on their Jewish heritage to their children or grandchildren.
Anti-Semitic incidents in post-war Poland also meant that many remained silent over their Jewish identity.
Only after the fall of communism religious traditions were revived, mainly through the activities of Jewish foundations from the United States, such as the Lauder Foundation.
"I would have told Lauder to diversify," Rabbi Schuman says, because with the exception of Beit Warszawa all Jewish religious communities in Poland are orthodox.
Only the orthodox Jewish community is recognized by the government and considered the negotiating partner as far as the return of synagogues, graveyards, community buildings or other real estate is concerned.
The Beit Warszawa synagogue was originally a residential building in Warsaw's Wilanow suburb.
"We know from our experiences in Russia that many Jews who grew up without any religious bonds have difficulties with orthodox life," Rabbi Oseran says to explain the "Jewish outings" at events of the reformed community.
Whether in dealings with issues of religious commandments, rules about food or the acceptance of non-Jewish partners, there are obvious fewer strictures among the less rigid reformed Jews. In keeping with the growing interest, an umbrella organization for reformed communities called Beit Polska is due to be formed next year.
"What we need most of all is rabbis who speak the language and understand the local mentality," Rabbi Schuman says.
The first step has been taken - a young Polish Jew is about to take up his studies at the Abraham Geiger College for the education of rabbis in Potsdam.
And in autumn Schuman will be assisted by Rabbi Tanya Segal from Israel.
"What a role model," Schuman says about his future colleague.
"She's the first full-time female rabbi in Poland's history - that will be a real revolution!"
Subject: German news