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Rabbis from around the world gathered in Warsaw on Sunday to explore ways to promote the resurgence of Jewish life in central European communities devastated by the Holocaust and repressed under communism.
Some 25 rabbis convened in Warsaw's main synagogue for the start of a two-day conference to exchange ideas on issues from reviving the grass-roots Jewish leadership destroyed under Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism to practical matters of day-to-day life.
"This conference is really about living Jewish problems," Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said on the sideline of the conference, which was conducted in Hebrew. "How does one restart a Jewish community in a place where it was devastated?"
"How does one deal with educating the young that didn't have education before? Educating middle-aged people who didn't have education under the communist regime? How do you deal with getting kosher food?"
The rabbis at the conference, sponsored by the World Zionist Organization, came from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as Western Europe and Israel.
Israel's ambassador to Poland, David Peleg, said he viewed the meeting an important step in the ongoing struggle to strengthen Jewish life in Poland, "a unique country" that was home to more than 3 million Jews before the war, most of whom were murdered in Nazi death camps.
Today, the Jewish population is tiny and impossible to properly quantify because among those who survived the Holocaust and remained in Poland, many hid their religious identity to avoid the anti-Semitism and persecution rife during the following decades under communism.
Even 17 years since the transition to democracy, "some are still afraid because they don't know what the reaction will be from their immediate neighbors," Peleg told The Associated Press.
"Today we are trying to develop Jewish life in a place that had such a rich Jewish life before the war," Peleg said. "This conference could inspire some who still hide their identity to speak up."
The conference also comes as Poland's Jewish community faces new anxieties over a small right-wing party, the League of Polish Families, that entered a coalition government earlier this month. The League has its ideological roots in a prewar anti-Semitic party, and today has a youth wing whose members have been known to make Nazi gestures.
President Lech Kaczynski reacted to those concerns last week by telling Peleg "anti-Semitism in Poland has no chance."
Kaczynski also told the rabbis' conference, in a message read by his undersecretary of state, that Poland is committed to remembrance of the rich Jewish life that existed in Poland.
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