An Eastern European exotic paradise

An Eastern European exot

polish embassy residence 248.88 (photo credit: Uriel Messa)
polish embassy residence 248.88
(photo credit: Uriel Messa)
When we arrive at the residence of Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska in Kfar Shmaryahu and walk into the palatial sitting room, there's a strong wow factor in evidence. It's partly because of the size of the room, partly the view of the garden and pool glimpsed through the window and perhaps mostly because of the table groaning under the weight of bowls of fruit, mouth-watering cakes and an official white and gold tea service emblazoned with the information that this is the property of the Polish government. Urged by the ambassador to take tea, eat fruit, sample the cake or nibble on the snacks, one can't escape the feeling that the old Israeli joke about the ima polania - the Polish mother - is singularly appropriate. Later we discuss the stereotype and agree that it only applies to Jewish mothers and that the real Polish mother is probably the opposite. The ambassador, who has been in her post for three years, is passionate about improving Israeli-Polish relations and anxious to point out that the Jewish experience in Poland was not all suffering and victimization. "There are a thousand years of Jewish history in Poland and you have to ask why - because when Poland was free and sovereign the Jews had privileges and lived well." She feels that Poland got a bad rap as far as Jews are concerned only when it was under foreign occupation - by the Germans during the war and the communists after the war. "The whole history of Poland was rewritten," she maintains. Only in the last 20 years does she feel that there has been a huge revival of Jewish life in Poland with many people rediscovering their Jewish roots which their families had abandoned to try to escape the Holocaust. However, since the 2001 commemoration of the 1941 Jadwabne massacre, when Poles murdered their Jewish compatriots, there has been much soul-searching in Poland and a serious attempt to come to terms with Polish guilt during the Holocaust. Relations between Israel and Poland were established in 1949 and severed after the 1967 Six Day War - "a dictate of Moscow," she emphasizes. In 1989 they were reestablished and the last 20 years have been years of very hard work to examine the history of the two countries and to build trust and cooperation. For Magdziak-Miszewska this is her first ambassadorial appointment. Originally a journalist with degrees in language and theater studies, she was posted to Moscow in 1991 as press attaché and deputy head of mission, and so began her diplomatic career. As an expert in Jewish-Polish relations, she was more than happy to be posted to Israel, having visited many times. Her work as Polish consul-general in New York strengthened her attachment to and understanding of Jewish issues. WHEN SHE first saw the house, she said, it felt like a paradise, with its luscious gardens, large pool and hammocks slung between tall trees where she can relax after a hard day. "My husband is especially happy with this house," she says. "In New York after a stressful day, I would come home to change and go out again visiting all the shops. Here, I just go straight to the pool - it's healthier and cheaper." Her husband has an unusual profession - he is an artist armorer, making copies of old coats of arms using ancient techniques. He has a collection of saddles in their Warsaw apartment and likes to go horseback riding here in Israel. Their daughter Anna is doing an MA in philosophy in Poland. Much of the furniture belongs to the Polish government and is actually made in Poland. If not for the pinkish tiles all over the house, it would have a predominantly European look with its heavy ornate furniture. She is not thrilled with the tiles and covers them wherever she can with Polish handwoven rugs. "It's such a large room, it's not easy to make it look cozy," she says. She put up brick-colored curtains and pelmets to bring some warmth and contrast to the heavy maroon suite covered in cushions. The walls are covered in figurative paintings, all done by Polish artists to bring a note of Polish authenticity to the place. Much of the furniture is also Polish, hand-carved cupboards and chests of drawers unmistakably Eastern European rather than Middle Eastern. The wide windowsills running the length of the lounge are an ideal place to display ornaments, whether it's a bronze bust of Chopin, a menora received as a gift or the well-tended plants which flourish in the sunny room. Around the walls are many reminders of cooperation between the embassy and its Israeli hosts, in particular a certificate from the Chabad organization thanking the embassy for hosting a bar mitzva celebration for 12 boys. Queried about this, the ambassador explains that she knew the Chabad rabbi in Poland and when she came here she visited the Chabad orphanage. "How can I help?" she asked, and was answered that she could host the bar mitzva ceremony and party - which she did. With such a large living room opening up to the garden, the house is ideal for large parties and the ambassador does a lot of entertaining. "We have two important national occasions," she says. "One is Constitution Day, May 3, which we celebrate as it's the oldest constitution in Europe. The second is November 11, celebrating unification after 100 years of partition in 1918. We invite Polish citizens and their descendants." With Israel and Poland cooperating closely in many fields and with commerce very lively between the two countries, the ambassador is optimistic about the ongoing development of Israeli-Polish relations and will continue to work hard to ensure an even better future.