Restoring Jewish Life in Krakow with a Little Help from Our Friends — At the UJA

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When the UJA Federation of New York’s Women’s Philanthropy Mission came to Krakow in April and visited the JCC they had already heard about the revival of Jewish life in Poland and they asked a simple question–what can we bring? I answered, we need Mezuzas!

Over the past year I started offering Jews in Krakow the opportunity to restore the Jewish spirit to homes in Krakow by affixing mezuzas to their doors–something which had scarcely been done since the Holocaust. Since April, I have been traveling around Krakow and its environs meeting Jews, talking about their history, and bringing back a bit of old Jewish Krakow.
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Eliza Schwartzman left the Ukraine four years ago for Krakow to study in university without having to contend with the ongoing war which is only two hundred miles from her family home in Dnipropetrovsk—Eastern Ukraine. Growing up Jewish, she was nevertheless cautioned by her parents to hide her Jewish roots and identity throughout her early years, as anti-Semitism in the Ukraine continues to haunt the remainder of the Jewish community there.

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Eliza made it out to a safe country with greatly decreasing public anti-Semitism and the ability to start her life anew. But she didn’t know what it meant to live as a Jew. The first years in Krakow she stayed to herself and did not even consider that there was an open, inviting Jewish Community Center she could join.

Then a few months ago, she decided to become a volunteer for the Jewish Culture Festival and before it began I gave the volunteers a lecture about Judaism at the JCC. I mentioned as I often do that the definition of a Jew in Poland is someone who has Jewish roots from either their mother or their father’s side, and that they are welcome to join the community and partake in all the Jewish services provided.

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Immediately after the class Eliza came over and said who she was and that she would like to become part of Jewish life. That included her coming to Friday night services, my Shabbat classes, joining the student club, learning with me throughout the week and much more.

Last week she asked me about my ‘Krakow Mezuza Campaign’ and whether I could help her affix mezuzas on her door. Of course!

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Eliza was shocked at the level of Jewish life she was able to experience in Krakow: Open, fun, friendly, spiritual, intellectual, and social. These are the building blocks of Jewish life for a young woman looking for a community, a home.

As we sat in her kitchen and drank some tea, I explained the power of this mitzvah of Mezuza. It transforms your house in to a Jewish home; it puts God’s name on your doorposts and acts as a constant beacon of light.

In the Ukraine, Eliza had no outlet for her Jewish curiosity; in Krakow she is blossoming. She visited Israel on Taglit and felt the excitement of the Holy Land, hoping to return in the future.

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Until then, we will continue to study together, share Jewish holidays and Shabbat meals. She will continue to hang out with Olga and Sergei, Kasia and Krzyszek and help create the fabric of young, thriving Jewish life in Krakow.

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 is also the Emissary of Shavei Israel in Krakow, 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--https://theisraelbible.com/bible/psalms
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