Avi Baumol

A Bright Day for Jews in Krakow

For the last three months our world in Krakow was flipped upside down. We woke up one day in July to find out that the synagogue we had been praying in for years was locked, with armed, masked guards preventing us from entering its doors. Orthodox Jews are obligated to pray three times a day in the Synagogue, it is a second home for the locals and a lifeline for tourists who need a place to pray, learn and meet other Jews in the community. The leadership of the Jewish Gmina Żydowska (Jewish religious congregation in Krakow), which owns and controls all the synagogues in the city (as well as all public Jewish property which was restituted to the Jews in Krakow), decided to lock us out of our synagogue along with our prayer shawls, books, phylacteries and everything which was stored there for years.

For the first few weeks we prayed in front of the bolted gates, a silent protest, to show the Jewish Gmina President (and his daughter, the vice-President) that we viewed their actions as egregious, that we would tell the world of the injustice against Jews in Krakow (ironically perpetrated by Jews in Krakow!), and that we would not give up. When it started to rain and the weather turned, we realized that though we were not giving up, we were moving to a nearby catering hall, graciously offered by its owner, Mr. Berenholtz, a true tzaddik.

At the same time that we were pleading to the world to fight against the injustice, in which we received support from presidents, chief rabbis, Jewish and non-Jewish leaders all over the world, we also pursued a legal course of action in order to get the court to acknowledge that what took place was illegal and unjust. Rabbi Gurary hired a lawyer from Warsaw, Mr. Giertych, who said our case was strong because it was true and the truth should prevail. He said, however, that it would take time and money, something the official Jewish Gmina had much of because of the revenue coming in from all the property they own and control, but we didn’t.

Rabbi Eliezer and Damian Brikman in the synagogue

Three months have transpired, and it has certainly not been easy. We were maligned time and again but we kept fighting. We alerted the world and specifically the Jewish world to the injustice taking place in Krakow, but we felt that while there was much sympathy and pledges of encouragement, our efforts were seemingly futile. We kept praying that as the Jewish year closed, and our community felt much like the Israelites wandering in the desert, we would somehow find a way back to our Shul, to the Izaak Synagogue, and pray there for Rosh Hashana.

Jakub Włodek, Agencja Gazeta

Wednesday morning, during Shacharit morning services at the catering hall, Rabbi Gurary received a call from the lawyer, Mr. Giertych—a holiday miracle! The judge had ruled in our favor, the seizing of the Synagogue by the Gmina was unjust and the court agreed with our claim that while there is a larger ongoing court case going on about the synagogue, it was nevertheless unjust to kick us out of our house of prayer. Mr. Giertych was coming that day with the court decision in hand to present to the leadership of the Gmina, instructing them to immediately give us back the keys and let us back in our synagogue.

Jakub Włodek, Agencja Gazeta

“And on that day, the Jewish community of Poland, had light, joy, happiness and honor”. We came together, our Sefer Torah in hand, to pray the first prayer in three months. We danced, rejoiced, and thanked God for the wonderful gift for our community.

Let this sign join our Rosh Hashana symbols which usher in the new year with sweetness, justice, Godliness, and unity. And let us hope that this remarkable event is just the beginning of favorable decisions God grants us in our quest to unite the entire Jewish community of Krakow, root out corruption, expand the Jewish Gmina to include every Jew in the city, and once again return to be a shining city of Torah, Jewish brotherhood and peace.

Rabbi Avi Baumol, Rabbi Eliezer Gurary

Photo by Hagai Rabi
About the Author
Rabbi Avi Baumol is serving the Jewish community of Krakow as it undergoes a revitalization as part of a resurgence of Jewish awareness in Poland. He graduated Yeshiva University and Bernard Revel Graduate School with an MA in Medieval JH. He is a musmach of RIETS and studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut. He served as a rabbi in Vancouver British Columbia for five years. Rabbi Baumol is the author of "The Poetry of Prayer" Gefen Publishing, 2010, and author of "Komentarz to Tory" (Polish), a Modern Orthodox Commentary on the Torah. He also co-authored a book on Torah with his daughter, Techelet called 'Torat Bitecha'. As well, he is the Editor of the book of Psalms for The Israel Bible-- In summer 2019 Rabbi Baumol published "In My Grandfather's Footsteps: A Rabbi's Notes from the Frontlines of Poland's Jewish Revival".