Israel's chief rabbi in Poland to revive first post-Holocaust
WARSAW (AFP-EJP)---Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi Yona Metzger
has arrived in Poland to formally revive the rabbinical
association in the country, a highly symbolic step in what
before the Holocaust was Europe's Jewish heartland.
"We believe that there will come a day when God will take the
bones and create life from death," Metzger said after a Thursday
evening ceremony at Warsaw's Nozyk synagogue, the only Jewish
place of worship in the Polish capital to have survived the Nazi
Metzger's visit will be capped Saturday by the official
re-launch of the rabbinical association in the central city of
Lodz -- the first nationwide grouping since the Nazis crushed
its predecessor during WWII.
The new association will be a shadow of its pre-war version,
gathering just eight rabbis from a handful of Poland's big
cities, including Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz and Wroclaw.
It will again unite all the country's rabbis together under one
But the limited scale is itself an illustration of the small
steps being taken to revive Jewish life in Poland, driven
largely by "new Jews": Poles of Jewish origin who are returning
to the culture and religion of their forebears.
According to various estimates, Poland counts just 3,500 to
15,000 people who identify themselves as Jewish, out of a total
population of 38 million people, more than 90 percent of whom
A small but growing number of young Poles are opting to step out
of the long shadow cast by pre-war Polish prejudice, the Nazi
Holocaust, and post-war Communist anti-Semitism to gradually get
back to their long-forgotten or hidden roots.
We have to give strength to the Jewish community here," Metzger
"There are a lot of people who didn't even know they were
Jewish. We want to tell them: 'Come and discover your roots.'"
It is nearly impossible to say how many Poles have some Jewish
ancestry, given the size of the pre-war Jewish community.
Jews first emigrated to Poland from western Europe to escape
11th century pogroms.
On the eve of WWII, the country was home to around 3.5 million
Jews, representing around 10 percent of the country's population
-- and Europe's largest Jewish community.
While Metzger was born in Israel in 1953, his father hailed from
His mother, meanwhile, fled the city of Breslau in Nazi Germany
in the 1930s and emigrated to Palestine.
Metzger met on Friday with members of the growing Jewish
community in the same city, handed over to Poland by the Allies
after the war and renamed Wroclaw.
On Saturday night, he will declare the formal re-establishment
of the group after signing a special scroll together with Polish
Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and all of the community rabbis
currently serving in Poland.
The ceremony will take place as part of an annual conference for
"Hidden Jews" which will bring together 150 participants from
across Poland, many of whom only recently learned that they have
The conference is organized by 'Shavei Israel', a
Jerusalem-based group that assists "lost Jews" seeking to return
to the Jewish people.
"I think it's highly symbolic that after so many years we have a
real, tangible sign that Jewish life here is on an upswing,"
Michael Freund of Shavei Israel said Thursday, lauding the
groundbreaking revival of the rabbinical school.
Shavei Israel is an association advising people returning to
their Jewish roots and has been active in Poland for three
The early 20th Century Nozyk synagogue lies in what was once the
hub of Jewish life in the Polish capital.
Before WWII, Warsaw was home to 400,000 Jews, making it the
largest Jewish city in Europe and the second in the world after
A swathe of the city was turned into a ghetto by the Nazis after
their 1939 invasion of Poland, and destroyed after a failed
uprising in 1943.
Half of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis were Polish,
and most died in Nazi German concentration camps, such as the
In 1945, Poland's surviving Jewish population numbered just
Many emigrated to the United States or Israel, either
immediately after the war or during waves of anti-Semitism under
the communist regime in the 1950s and 1960s.
Of those who stayed, some were Holocaust survivors who had been
able to hide their Jewish identity from the Nazis and decided to
keep it that way to protect the next generation.
Many others came from mixed Catholic and Jewish, or entirely
non-religious, families, where identity was fluid.
Original article: www.ejpress.org/article/24521