Personal Ties To Poland Spur
Special to the Jewish Times
AUGUST 18, 2005
When Tad Taube decided to create
the Polish Jewish Heritage Program, a branch of his
Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, he did
it for more than philanthropic reasons.
"I was born in Krakow," Taube said. "I
have linkages that I feel positive about, and I wanted
to make those linkages stronger."
Beyond the personal connection,
Taube is motivated by a perception that Americans misunderstand
Poland and its relationship to Jews -- and he wants
to bring Polish and American Jews closer together.
"American Jews are certainly
wary about Poland because they relate it to history
-- extreme anti-Semitism -- and they don't have much
of a sense of what's different at this point,"
"Prior to World War II there were 3.5 million Jews
in Poland; it was the most culturally productive Jewish
population that ever lived. Consigning those 3.5 million
people to a postscript in history is unacceptable."
The San Francisco-based Taube
is founder of Woodmont Companies, a real estate investment
and management firm, and president of the Koret Foundation.
He recently traveled to Poland accompanied by the board
of directors of his Taube Foundation.
The group toured Jewish sites
in Warsaw and Krakow and met with local Jewish leaders
to understand the impact of the foundation's work on
the estimated 8,000 Jews in Poland today.
The foundation currently supports several Poland-based
organizations, including Warsaw's Jewish Historical
Institute and Krakow's Center for Jewish Culture, which
sponsors an annual festival of Jewish culture.
Allocations for these projects
approach $1 million annually, Taube said.
Another project the foundation is helping to fund is
the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, slated to
open in Warsaw in 2008. The museum has received $1 million
in donations from the foundation so far.
While in Warsaw, Taube opened
a new resource center at the Lauder Morasha School,
an institution for Jewish children from kindergarten
through ninth grade started by the Ronald S. Lauder
Foundation, Taube's philanthropic partner in Poland.
Taube dedicated the center in honor of his parents,
Zygmunt and Lola Taube.
"My parents were great optimists.
They believed in tomorrow," he said, before cutting
a ceremonial ribbon. "I can think of no better
way to honor them."
Board members toured the school;
met with groups such as the Forum for Dialogue Among
Nations, which works to improve Polish-Jewish relations;
visited the Moses Schorr Center, which offers classes
in Hebrew and on Jewish themes and issues; met with
Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich; and lunched
at Beit Warszawa, Poland's Reform congregation.
The encounters crystallized what
until then they had only heard about Poland's Jewish
"We didn't really feel what
was needed until we came here," said Anita Friedman,
executive director of Jewish Family and Children's Services
in San Francisco. "Now we know."
Stephen Dobbs, the Taube Foundation's
executive director, outlined the major goals of the
Poland initiative: to recover the country's pre-World
War II Jewish culture, preserve, sustain and restore
Jewish facilities, acquire Jewish artifacts, and improve
the lives of contemporary Polish Jews.
"In the U.S., we've had
350 uninterrupted years to engage in dialogue on what
it means to be a Jew," while Nazism and communism
froze that discussion in Poland for many years, Dobbs
said. Only with outside help can that conversation be
relaunched, he added.
For Friedman, who traveled with
her husband, Igor Tartakovsky, and their three sons,
the trip was marred by an encounter with the darker
side of contemporary Polish-Jewish relations.
The daughter of a Polish Jew who immigrated to the United
States in 1947, Friedman took her family to her father's
hometown, Gniewoszow. As the family walked around town,
they were approached by local hooligans who shouted
at them and threatened them.
"Americans have never really
felt" this type of anti-Semitism, she said. "These
are the type of people who pointed out our families"
during World War II. "They were so ready to use
In the end, the hooligans didn't
harm the family but left them shaken.
But Friedman knows Poland is a changing country that
can't be understood in a single visit.
"Poland means death to so many Jews," she
said, "and the notion of vibrant Jewish life is
shocking -- it flies in the face of stereotype."
"There's a period of mourning and then rebirth,"
Shana Penn, director of the Polish
Jewish Heritage Initiative, said it's important for
her board and other Jews to see Poland up close.
"One wants one's board to
be totally engaged with initiatives," she said.
This project "calls for direct participation because
we're breaking through stereotypes and recognizing the
similarities of being Jews in the world today."
For board member Rabbi Steven
Pearce of Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, donating
time and money to help rebuild Polish cultural institutions
lays the groundwork for the community's continuity and
"When Jews here come out
of the woodwork, they now have a place to call home,"
This story reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic
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