Jewish people in prayer outside Izaak Synagogue with a sign in front saying 'Private Property' ' .
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich was barred entry to the the historical Izaak Synagogue in Krakow on Thursday evening, in a shocking event in which a chief rabbi was barred from a house of prayer in the country he is meant to oversee.
He and Krakow JCC leader Jonathan Orinstein attempted to break into the locked historical house of prayer in a standoff that has been going on for days, shocking Jews and non-Jews in Poland and the world.
Police were called and both Schudrich and Orinstein were asked to prove their identity.
The dramatic closure Synagogue by Jewish community leaders caused an uproar as two rabbis and their community were tossed into the street on Thursday.
Led by Rabbi Eliezer Gurary and Rabbi Avi Baumol, the congregation prayed the morning service outside while facing a locked Izaak Synagogue, with security guards watching them. The congregation was on the outside looking in after some 10 years of prayer and learning at the historical Jewish heritage site reportedly over money and bitter disputes about who controls Jewish assets in Poland.
During a protest on Wednesday, Baumol said that the official leadership of the Krakow Jewish community is an “obstacle” to Jewish life in Poland, and that “they’ve been against us. We tried to keep it quiet, because it’s not very nice to tell the world that we Jews are fighting with each other,” he said to the crowd, “but when they close the doors of our synagogue… we say the buck stops here. We have to call upon the Jews of the world and the people of the world to join us and say this is enough; this is a shame.”
“Jews don’t use synagogues to make money from,” he explained.
Residents of Krakow, both Jews and non-Jews, took to the streets on Wednesday to protest against the decision of the official Jewish community to close Izaak Synagogue and place armed guards there.
Shlomi Shaked, an Israeli who is active in the Krakow community, called it “a violent take-over” in a social media post, which included photos of the guards.
The protesters, roughly 100 Jewish and non-Jewish people, carried signs saying, “Let Jews pray” and “Jewish community is not only the Jakubowicz family,” in reference to the head of the official Jewish community, Tadeusz Jakubowicz. His daughter Helena serves as his second in the official Jewish community.
According to Orenstein, head of the Krakow JCC, the majority of the protesters were Jews and pro-Jewish Catholics who felt the recent move by the community was simply too much.
Jakubowicz’s daughter was also criticized in a sign that said her being the community vice president – under her father the president – is “corruption.” Other signs pleaded for help from Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The signs said, “WJC, AJC, JDC help us!”
Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum called it an “ugly, vicious, anti-Jewish act of the organized Jewish community against the rebirth of Jewish life in Krakow,” in an article released on social media on Wednesday. “In Krakow, the holdings of the Jewish community are significant – and yet these vital resources have been treated as if the community was a private business,” Berenbaum wrote, “intent on maximizing profit with no responsibilities for the continuation and the enhancement of Jewish life.”
Berenbaum added that the Izaak Synagogue was renovated thanks to donations of Jews from around the world and not by the Jewish community, which now hung a sign outside calling it private property.
SPEAKING WITH The Jerusalem Post, Gurary said that members of the official Jewish leadership “are corrupt – they threw out members on made-up charges to prevent votes against them... they stole the board and nobody can do anything to them.” Gurary explained that in Poland, Jewish religious matters cannot be addressed by the Polish court because of “inside law,” meaning only Jewish community members can rule on their own affairs.
The Jewish community has attempted to remove the Jews who have been praying in the synagogue by shutting off water and power and increasing the rent. According to Gurary, Chabad had been renting the synagogue since 2008 for 3,000 PLN (Polish zlotys – $800) per month.
“It used to a museum,” he said, “and Chabad changed it into a place in which prayers are held every day; we have classes for everyone.” He added that it’s one of the few places where kosher food is available.
He slammed the official Jewish community leadership because “they don’t see it as a synagogue. They see it as real estate.”
Gurary explained that the official community increased the rent to 25,000 PLN ($6,650) per month and requested 170,000 PLN ($45,000) in back payments – a sum they have now increased, he said, to 300,000 PLN ($80,000).
Since the mail service was stopped, Gurary was unaware that there was a court case being held against him and was unable to attend it. The court ended up ruling without hearing his side. He stated that when the court became aware of it, a new session was scheduled for September.
On Monday, the gates of the synagogue were chained and armed guards placed there to prevent entry to the serving rabbis and Jews who use the house of worship. “They came like thieves in the night,” Gurary said, “and changed the locks and placed armed guards for 300,000 PLN.”
In response to the protest, the Management Board of the Jewish Religious Community in Krakow released a statement saying: “The Jewish Religious Community would like to emphasize that its actions are aimed solely at protecting the Jewish heritage of Krakow.”
The board explained that it felt people were threatening the existence of the synagogue by illegally connecting external power sources without required permits, posing a fire threat, as well as taking actions that were unauthorized. For instance, “the removal of historic doors, the fence of the narthex, and a number of other damages and negligence requiring urgent intervention.”
The board also insisted that it is not bound by any rental agreement to allow Chabad to occupy the premises, since the agreement had expired.
Schudrich told the Post that the first step right now is to get the Jews who were tossed out to the street their tallitot and tefillin. “We need to reopen the shul,” he said.
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