KRAKOW – Seventy years after most of Polish Jewry died in the Holocaust, it
seems that Jewish life in Poland is experiencing a revival.
More than 150
people gathered at the Jewish Community Center in Krakow on Monday evening to
celebrate the Passover Seder. Among them were non-Jews, mostly Catholic Poles,
with a great interest in Judaism. For many of them, it was the first Jewish
holiday they had ever celebrated.
Leading the Seder was David Pash, son
of the city’s Chief Rabbi Boaz Pash.
Guests sat around tables laden with
traditional Passover dishes and kosher Israeli wine and matza, and listened to
the Haggada in Hebrew and Polish.
Jonathan Ornstein, head of the Krakow
JCC, told The Jerusalem Post
about the preparations for the Passover evening and
said that even he was surprised by the number of requests they had received to
attend the celebration.
“We had a lot of interest, and we had more than
150 guests, including locals and people from all over the world, including
Israel, the United States and Canada who are visiting Krakow and asked to join
us,” he said.
“We had people of all ages, from a six-week-old baby to a
He added that “our main mission is, of course, to
build Jewish life here in Krakow, but we are always happy when visitors can join
us and see the wonderful rebirth of Jewish life in Krakow.”
Ornstein, the Monday night event was “the biggest Seder we have had so far. We
even had to split the Seder into two parts, and we accommodated people in the
reception area, in the hall, and even had to take some doors off to give us more
space. David Pash, who led the Seder, asked me how we would open the door to
invite Elijah if we had taken them all off the hinges. When I think about the
Seder this year, that so many local Jews wanted to come... It’s
He also sees the significance in celebrating Passover in
a place that is most often associated with the biggest Jewish tragedy in
“I come from the United States, I used to live in Israel, and
now I have Polish citizenship,” he said. “I know how we are supposed to feel
about the time when the Jews left Egypt, but when I look around this room and
see 15 or 20 Holocaust survivors sitting together for Passover Seder, I think:
These people really did come out of slavery.
That’s why for us it is
always special to celebrate Passover in this place, which actually saw Jews
coming out of the slavery of the Holocaust.”
Ewa Wegrzyn, 31, is one of
the Catholic Poles who attended the Seder. Her fascination with Judaism started
many years ago, when she became interested in Jewish life in Poland before World
War II. After taking courses in “Jewish studies” at the Jagiellonian University
of Krakow, she now holds a PhD in Judaism and is teaching the next generation of
“This is my first-ever Passover Seder,” she said. “I have a lot
of Jewish friends in Krakow, and I know that it is a very important evening for
them. I wanted to share it with them.”
Asked what her impression of the
Seder was, Wegrzyn smiled. “First of all, a lot of food. It is very interesting.
I know the story from the Bible and I speak Hebrew, but not ancient Hebrew, so
it was a little difficult for me to follow the prayers and the song.
Nevertheless, I found it very interesting and a very pleasant
Sometimes I also come to the Jewish Community Center for
What made a Catholic Pole like her become so interested
in Judaism? “I was always very interested in history,” she said.
school, I heard about the Jedwabne massacre [in July 1941], when Poles murdered
their Jewish neighbors. When I was close to graduating high school, my teacher
told us that we should learn a lot about Jewish-Polish history because it might
appear in the final exam. I started to become very interested and spoke with my
It turned out that her best friend before World War II was a
Jewish girl from the same village called Rachel.
“I started to be more
and more interested in Jewish life, and then decided to study Judaism at the
Jagiellonian University. Later I traveled to Israel and learned Hebrew, and
that’s how I fell in love with Israel and Judaism.”
She says she can also
see a revival in Jewish life in Poland.
“I can say that not only here in
the Jewish community, but also in our institute of Jewish studies, we have more
and more non- Jewish students who are interested in learning about Judaism,” she
“We are the generation born after Communism, and we look at history
from a different perspective. We are still ashamed of the pogroms against Jews
in Poland after the war, but on the other hand, we have a Jewish festival in
Krakow every summer that attracts thousands of people, many of them Poles with
no Jewish roots.”