Last Thursday evening, hundreds of guests milled about, chatting amiably as they
awaited the start of the joyous ceremony.
Bedecked in white, the striking
bride made her way down the aisle, each step drawing her closer to the wedding
canopy where her groom stood smiling broadly.
As a light breeze stirred
the air, the wife-to-be circled her intended seven times in the traditional
manner, her eyes closed in concentration as she uttered a silent
After the rabbi guided the young couple through the rituals that
would culminate in the forging of their matrimonial bond, a glass was shattered
to recall the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Cries of “Mazel Tov” rang
out, which were hastily followed by blissful and energetic dancing, as the
guests pushed forward to take part in the celebration.
From New York to
London to Tel Aviv, it is a scene that has become fairly common, as a new
generation comes of age and fashions the next link in the chain of Jewish
But this was no ordinary Jewish wedding.
What made it
unique was that it took place in Warsaw.
That’s right: Warsaw, the Polish
capital. Less than seven decades after the Germans and their henchmen murdered
over 90 percent of Poland’s three million Jews, the city is once again
witnessing a revival of Jewish life.
The once unthinkable has now become
reality: there is a minyan three times a day at Warsaw’s Nozyk synagogue, and a
well-stocked kosher store offers a wide array of items. There is even a kosher
falafel stand that has opened near the synagogue. If gastronomy is any guide,
Warsaw’s Jews are definitely on the upswing.
The city also now boasts a
number of Jewish social, cultural and educational institutions.
the wedding last week was held in the courtyard of the Lauder Morasha school, a
Jewish day school that was established in Warsaw by the Ronald S. Lauder
Foundation in 1994.
Prior to the Holocaust, the school building had
housed a Jewish senior citizens’ home. Its halls now echo with the sounds of
Jewish children learning Hebrew and singing Jewish songs under the guidance of
Polish-born Rabbi Mati Pawlak, who serves as director.
groom, Maciej Kublinski, who goes by the Hebrew name Chaim, embodies the
revitalization of Jewish life that is taking place.
After visiting Israel
with his grandmother in 2000, Chaim decided to delve more deeply into his Jewish
roots. In 2003, he joined the Polish Union of Jewish Students and became an
A critical turning point for him was his participation in
a 2008 seminar on Judaism organized in Krakow by Shavei Israel, the organization
that I founded and chair. He later attended Shavei’s annual summer seminar in
Jerusalem for Polish Jewish youth in 2010, which further strengthened his
commitment to Jewish life and learning.
Four years ago, Chaim started
attending services at Warsaw’s synagogue, and he now studies in the kollel there
which is headed by Rabbi Yona Simons.
Chaim also teaches at the Lauder
Morasha school and works as a youth counselor and educator for the Jewish Agency
for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee. His new bride, Katarina, who
originally hails from Slovakia, has been living in Poland since 2010, pursuing a
master’s degree in developmental economics. Together, they will now begin to
build a new Jewish home.
The miracle taking place in Warsaw – and that is
truly what it is – is largely thanks to the efforts of one very dedicated man:
Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who has been working in the country for
nearly two decades, devoting himself to rebuilding Jewish life.
others saw only devastation, he saw opportunity, a chance to salvage something
from amid the ashes.
All across Poland, there are untold thousands of
people who have been discovering, or rediscovering, their Jewish roots in recent
years, much like Chaim. Known as the “hidden Jews” of Poland, many of their
forebears were forced to conceal their Jewish identity because of Nazism and
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the changes that have
taken place in Polish society, it is now much easier for people to “come out of
the Jewish closet” and explore their heritage.
To be sure, anti-Semitism
remains a significant problem in Poland, and no one is under any illusions that
Polish Jewry will once again recoup its pre-war glory.
But the Jewish
people have an obligation to reach out to Poland’s “hidden Jews” and help them
to recover their birthright. After nearly being snuffed out by Hitler and his
henchmen, and then quashed by Stalin and his surrogates, the indestructible
Jewish spirit somehow managed to survive.
Many Jewish organizations are
now hard at work on the important issue of restitution of Jewish property in
Poland. But the restitution of Jewish souls is no less crucial, and more
resources need to be directed to this effort.
As I stood and watched
Chaim and Devora’s wedding in Warsaw, I suddenly felt as if I was catching a
glimpse of a profound and undeniable truth. However bleak our situation might
be, and regardless of the challenges we face, let no one have any doubts: the
Eternal One will never abandon His people Israel.
The writer is chairman
of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish
communities to return to Israel and the Jewish people.