KRAKOW – A group of 16 young ‘hidden Jews’ – Poles who have recently discovered their Jewish roots after being raised Catholic – arrived in Israel on Wednesday to participate in a specially designed seminar in Jerusalem put on by the Shavei Israel organization.

During and after World War II, many surviving Jews in Poland chose to hide their Jewish identity from their children, to save them from the Nazis and later from the Communist regime. In recent years, many young Poles who grew up as Catholics are discovering their alternate lineage.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization that was founded and is chaired by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States.

The organization aims to strengthen the connection between the descendants of Jews and the state of Israel and is active in nine countries.

The participants from Poland, between the ages of 18 and 35, came primarily from Krakow, Katowice, Warsaw, Lodz and Gdansk. For many, it is their first visit to Israel.

“There is a growing thirst among young Poles with Jewish roots to learn more about their Jewish religious and cultural heritage,” said Freund.

The unique program designed by Shavei Israel will assist these young Polish-Jews in discovering more about their roots and learning more about ancient and modern-day Israel. Run by Polish speaking rabbis and educators, topics that will be covered are the laws of Shabbat, the upcoming festivals of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succot, and the weekly Torah portion. The participants will also enjoy daily lessons in spoken Hebrew and tours of various sites in Israel such as Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Masada, the Sea of Galilee and Safed, known as “the City of Kabbala.” They will also visit Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl.

“This awakening would have been unthinkable just 25 or 30 years ago,” Freund said.

“Since the downfall of Communism, an increasing number of Poles have sought to reclaim and affirm their Jewish identity. We owe them any assistance we can give them.”

Freund added that “with the start of the new Jewish year just a few weeks away, it is fitting that these young Poles have come to Israel to rekindle their bond with the Jewish people.”

Freund said that the participants represent the future of Polish Jewry, a community on the rise “despite decades of suffering and persecution.”

“There can be no sweeter revenge for what was done to us seven decades ago in Poland than to reconnect as many of these young Polish Jews as possible with the state of Israel and the Jewish people.”

There are approximately 4,000 Jews registered in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands who to this day are either still hiding their identities or unaware of their family’s heritage. In recent years, a growing number of them, known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have begun to return to Judaism.

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