For years, I have been writing about positive developments in the Jewish community of Krakow, in the JCC, in the Izaak Synagogue, and with the hundreds of thousands of tourists who have visited us and been inspired.
Today is different. Today the Jewish religious congregation in Krakow (the “Gmina Zydowska,” run by President Tadeusz Jakubowicz and his daughter, Helena, the vice president), to whom the Jewish communal property was restituted in 2001 from the Polish government, locked the Jewish worshipers out of the synagogue and posted five armed guards masked with balaclavas on their heads preventing any Jews from entering. We were stuck outside with our prayer shawls, phylacteries, and the Torah from which we would read during our service. We managed to retrieve a Torah and use it outside the bolted gate.
All we wanted to do was pray as we do every day in the synagogue, yet the Gmina leadership wouldn’t have that. They are currently engaged in a conflict/courtcase with Rabbi Eliezer Gurary, the Chabad shaliach (emissary), due to the fact that they raised the rent of the synagogue 1,000 percent (truly!), which has prevented the Jewish community from covering that expense. Regardless of the alleged financial dispute, the result remains the same; I, the representative of the chief rabbi of Poland, together with Rabbi Gurary and our congregants are all shut out from our house of worship.
It was particularly sad for 90-year-old Dov Landau, a Holocaust survivor who survived Auschwitz, fought in the Haganah, and has survived for another 75 years, regularly visiting Krakow, only to be locked out of the synagogue losing access to his talit and tefillin, which were locked inside. He was crying and calling out to the guards, telling them that this was the same experience he had had 77 years ago, with the German guards.
When the Jewish Gmina shut off the electricity of the shul, the Jews, faced with no choice, prayed in the synagogue in the dark. A few days later, Rabbi Gurary rented a generator at great expense and “la-Yehudim hayta ora” — we once again had light. But today the Gmina went one step further, bolting the locks and turning Jews away from the synagogue. This conjures up images from this exact place in the early ’40s, when Jews were barred by armed guards from the synagogues.
Last week, I, along with many other Jewish leaders, spoke to the Gmina leadership and pleaded on behalf of the Jewish community to let Jews pray in their house of worship, but they were indignant, saying, “Now, it is up to the lawyers.” I asked the president, who is well into his 70s, and who for generations tended to the cemeteries and supported the welfare of some of the Jews in the community, to think about his legacy. Does he really want to be remembered as the president who, after coming under repeated criticism for lack of financial transparency, and for turning the Hevre Synagogue into a bar with an entrance through the Aron Kodesh would now be the one who closed down the synagogue and prevented the Jewish community from praying? He stood up firmly at his chair, unpersuaded by my pleas.
Nevertheless, the Jewish community, used to hardship, but not from within, made do and prayed outside the gates of the synagogue with a borrowed Torah. In a sad providential case of irony, we read Parshat Korach, the one parsha in which Moshe is attacked not by Pharaoh or Amalek but by Jews, in an attempt to seize power and sway the Jewish people. It seems that thousands of years of Jewish history and the lessons of intra-communal discord have not been learned by us.
Truly a sad day for Krakow.
Rabbi Avi Baumol, Rabbinic Representative of the Chief Rabbi of Poland
Rabbi Michael Paley, Founding Executive Director, Tarbut Fellowship, Hungary and Poland