Initial thoughts on Jewish Renewal in Poland
This blog is an invitation to join with friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland in the opportunities/challenges offered by fostering authentic Jewish life in Poland. For those of us outside of Poland it is a mitzvah (good deed/Torah obligation) encapsulated in the rabbinic phrase “Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh b’Zeh — All of the people Israel are responsible for one another.”
The World Union for Progressive Judaism, the European Union for Progressive Judaism, and the board of Jewish Renewal in Poland invited me 10 months ago to help lead along with the board of Beit Polska in Poland an effort to further develop a Progressive Jewish community in Poland. At present there are fledgling congregations in Progressive community — the oldest is almost 12 years — called Beit Warszawa. There are also several Havurot that are forming through our work in Chestochowa, Gdansk, Lublin, and Lodz. Together these communities are the foundation for Beit Polska, the Poland-wide umbrella organization. Indeed, some readers may be surprised to know that there is a lively Progressive Jewish communities in Poland.
I am no longer surprised this interest but I’m inspired to seek to help those individuals and communities grow even more!
The human challenges of Jewish renewal are many but a horizon of possibilities exists due to a number of factors. This blog will attempt to explain the changes in Poland since 1989 that foster the conditions for a Jewish community. Jewish renewal is not about numbers but about promises implicit in being a Jew or a friend of the Jewish people. For example, that promise is contained in the openhearted response to a 70 year old man who recently discovered that he is a Jewish foundling raised by a Polish Catholic family. The promise is fulfilled when we welcome him and perhaps his children and grandchildren to connect and learn about Judaism. The promise is fulfilled when we honor the courage of the family that took him in during World War II.
The response comes in providing Progressive Jewish responses to the many people in Poland who don’t know that they are connected to the Jewish people or others who out of curosity would like to know something about the Jewish religion, culture and people. We begin with a warm welcome not with numerous questions: can you prove you have “Jewish roots”? Do you have documents that prove you are Jewish? Our approach is to welcome the person to learn and to experience Jewish life. Some may decide to formally affiliate with Judaism through conversion and others will have positive experience of Jewish life.
I am moved by the sincerity of people seeking an opportunity to learn about Judaism, the faith that was once so ubiquitous in Poland. As a child of Holocaust survivors, I recognize my own feelings of seeking to master the traumas of the past in this work. There is an element of communal healing embedded in this effort.
In coming posts we will explore questions of Jewish identity, the preservation of Jewish cultural artifacts in Poland, the complexity of building a Progressive Jewish community. We will share with you information about: a) Beit Polska’s “twinning” programs with congregations in the Jewish world b)the program to train lay cantors, c) the University visitors program that brings Jewish scholars, rabbis and artists to Polish universities, and d) the big dream to develop a Jewish cultural center/synagogue in Warsaw for Progressive Judaism. We will introduce you to remarkable people who are building a rich Jewish life in Poland.
We believe that Polish Jewry’s illustrious past must be celebrated in all its amazing diversity and complexity; that the loss and sorrow of the Holocaust must not blot our the memory of generations of cultural and religious creativity. We believe, that yet another chapter will be written in the future of Jews in Poland. We need your help to build Sunday schools, Hebrew schools, summer camps, and synagogues that will make up a small but important community.
This work has an element of the mitzvah of pidyon sh’vuyim (metaphorically themitzvah of “redeeming captives”) but there is also the mitzvah of building for the future. I hope you join our efforts.