By Judy Maller
Simchat Hochmah (The Joy of Wisdom) is a new ceremony celebrating reaching the age of wisdom (70). It is significant that four women chose to share their 70th year focusing on their commitment to Judaism.
The American Jewish community is blessed with smart and generous teachers. One of those teachers is Judy Maller, who shares her experience from a visit to Lublin in Fall 2012. At their “induction” to a special coterie of women steeped in wisdom (Hochmah) this summer 2013 each of the participants told about their search for inspiration and commitment in the Jewish community. In the future, we will be sharing more of Judy’s work from her interviews of numerous members of our community. (Naturally, the names will be changed to provide privacy.) We think this is a moment of great expectation for the Progressive Jewish community in as so many individuals are finding their voices. We plan to share those experiences with you.
Rabbi Maller and Judy Maller visited Poland to teach and engage with our emerging communities for a second time in Fall 2012. We thank them and look forward to their sharing more Hochmah (Wisdom). Beit Polska is blessed by the spirit of renewal in our esteemed teachers. Thanks to Judy and Allen.
Simcha Chochma, Piotr in Lublin; Allen and I, On the Threshold of Hope
I am very excited to be here and celebrate my Simcha Chocma with all of you. It makes me remember another Shabbos when I was in Lublin Poland with my husband who is a rabbi. That night gave me a great deal of hope for the future of Judaism and I would like to tell you the story of a different kind of Shabbos.
Piotr is only 34 years old, younger then our own kids. He has bright blue eyes and dirty blond hair with a slight build and a very sweet voice. Piotr was a convert to Judaism and is now a doctoral student in the Jewish Studies Department at a University in Lublin. Last year, he completed a two year program preparing him to lead both Shabbat and High Holiday services that was sponsored by Beit Polska, the emerging national umbrella organization of Progressive Polish Jews sponsored by The Beit Warszawa Foundation and its American sponsor Jewish Renewal in Poland.
He was driving us into the old city. In the trunk of the car musical instruments were packed to overflowing . The car was thudding along the rough uneven cobblestone road. Crowded houses were three stories high build around the 18th century.. We arrived at a popular restaurant . Young people from the nearby universities were spilling from the doorway into the cavernous tavern many had come for a fun night out and a good meal.
Tables were set up for small groups of four to six people. Candles were placed on each table. It felt very crowded with 60 to 70 people squeezed into a space the size of a large living room, almost half of the people were there because of the notices about the Shabbos services. Our group the organizers of the service found a spot at a long table set for ten along the Eastern wall. There was a platform for the band, a Klezmer band violin, sax, a full set of drums, and an electric guitar. Piotr was helping the three young men set up their instruments.
I set the Sabbath candles on the bar. The murmur of voices was more pronounced as I passed out the Shabbos prayer booklets with Hebrew and Yiddish songs. The band started with a Nigun then into Yiddish songs with Donna Donna and later with a lively Hebrew V’ha’eir Eineinu. People were singing loudly and the violinist was leaning bent over just like the Fiddler on the Roof.
Some people stood up stamping their feet and clapping in an uproar of voices and music. I felt my face flushed with excitement and jumped up to join them. I was filled with a sense of pride for these kids creating a Sabbath experience with their energy and hearts. The band stopped to give Allen (Rabbi Allen Maller, the guest rabbi) a chance to tell stories of the Baal Shem Tov. My husband was grinning from ear to ear as he told these Hassidic tales.
The rich odors of meat potatoes and spices were wafting from the kitchen. My mouth was watering as huge patters of salads, bread, dips were set upon our table. Guests were gulping the red wine and pouring more. Amazingly here was a Jewish service in the heart of the old city of Lublin.
Hitler had done his job and the Soviet dominated post-World War II policies sealed the fate of Jews. There were no Jewish communities remaining in Poland, it was Judenridden. Most of the Jews in Lublin had been murdered in the death camp of Majdanek, just a short distance from the city. The others returned only to eventually flee or go underground. Jewish music hadn’t vibrated in these walls for 70 years.
A klezmer band was rocking and Polish people were clapping, stamping their feet and crowding the doorways. A tiny spark of a Jewish soul was here in that packed room with these youngsters who didn’t know their past history and some older ones who didn’t want to remember. People felt that spark, their eyes glowed, bodies moved to the rhythm of the Klezmir music, smiles emerged and feet tapped.
Shabbos was back again in Lublin. A tiny flicker, a soul reborn in that dark room.
Our friend Rabbi Haim Beliak had invited my husband and me to return to Poland. Allen was to help set up Progressive Reform Communities in five cities and to teach classes in Judaism. Piotr was our contact in Lublin. Piotr’s job was to organize the structure and then to continue the community and classes when we left.
When he was in High School he went with his band buddies to the Klezmir Festival in Krakow. He returned to the festival for the next two years. Piotr knew the music was Jewish but knew nothing about Judaism so he started taking classes at the University in Jewish history, customs, the Shoah, Hebrew and Yiddish. The more he learned the closer he identified with the Jewish people.
This Jewish forest had been cut down to its roots, if one tiny leaf starts to grow and open on a blacken branch it would be a miracle. I hope that Jewish souls will slowly start to emerge out of the Polish people I have met there.
On this day, a turning point in my life , I think of the transformations of those youngsters struggling to become Jews again in a place like Poland. I have seen amazingly strong and determined people in today’s Poland Piotr used to tell us he felt like Moses driving six to seven hours from one town and back to lead services and hoping there would be a group of people waiting to join him when he arrived. A tiny Jewish miracle may even occur in our lifetime and I maybe had a little part in nourishing this revival.