Dear Rabbi Shmuley,
We were very excited when you informed us you were coming to Krakow and that you wanted to give a lecture to the Jewish community over Shabbat. We naturally accommodated you and your family both in physical nourishment (providing lunch) and with an audience comprised of a portion of the revived Jewish community in Krakow for your lecture which was edifying and entertaining. I enjoyed a conversation with you standing outside the JCC before you departed on your Shabbat walk with your family. I believe you saw the Wawel castle and walked on the Wisla, all the while a kippa on your head and your whole family walking by your side in peace.
You met our survivors, some of the 70 child survivors who hid their Judaism during Communism but are now proud to celebrate their lives as Jews today; as well as our younger generation who over the last few years have returned to their Jewish roots and comprise a strong component of the 650 members of our community. As I recall, you were blown away and you expressed that several times to us over the Shabbat.
Imagine then our bewilderment when we read your previous two posts about your experience in our city. While you rightly speak of certain countries like France and Germany, where being Jewish is getting harder and scarier, you then went and called Poland a “Jewish graveyard”, a place where you implied no Jewish life exists and your experience was one of “endless ghettos, death camps and mass graves.” Did you see nothing else??
You were invited by Rabbi Schudrich to stand on stage at the Jewish Culture Festival — an annual festival started by non-Jews 27 years ago which celebrates Jewish life and culture in Krakow — and you stood there watching the rabbis of Poland make Havdalah in front of 10,000 Krakowians, all smiling and singing along. You were blown away. Your exact words to Jonathan Ornstein, director of the JCC were “I will tell the world of the amazing Jewish life in Krakow”. A graveyard? Endless ghettos?
How humiliating it was for our seniors to receive word that they are surviving, even thriving and engaging in Jewish life once again in a “Jewish graveyard”! How disrespected they felt to know that a famous rabbi came to their home, was invited to lecture and enjoyed their hospitality, and then with one short blog, they vanished from the Jewish world!
Yes, Poland endured one of the greatest tragedies to befall the Jewish people. But to ignore the thousands of Jews who somehow, in some way, have chosen to and succeeded in returning to Jewish life in a Poland of today which is one of the safest and easiest places to live as a Jew in Europe is an affront to them and all those who struggle to climb their way back into the Jewish people.
Certainly, Israel is our Homeland, and the ideal place for all Jewish people, but if Jews can choose to live in New York or Los Angeles and we respect their decision for doing so, then we must acknowledge the Jews who choose to stay in Poland and rebuild their lives in Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Wroclaw, Katowice and tens of other cities where Jews reside.
Rabbi Schudrich has been working to revive Jewish life for the past 30 years, with remarkable success; Jonathan Ornstein for 15 years, Rabbi Gurary for over 10 years. I am relatively new to the Jewish scene in Krakow yet I have witnessed miracles of Jews and Jewish life rising up from the ashes and moving forward despite the difficult memories of their past.
These brave Polish Jews deserve a chance. They have overcome the odds to turn Poland into something much more than the “graveyard” to which you refer. Keep your promise, Shmuley, and help them by telling their story.
Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland
Mr. Jonathan Ornstein, Executive Director JCC Krakow
Rabbi Avi Baumol, Rabbinic Representative of the Chief Rabbi, in Krakow, Emissary of Shavei Israel