Shalom Aleichem – May Peace be with You*
* Malinowski Lech, “Szalom Alejchem – Pokój Wam”, published in the “Kurier Międzyrzecki”, nr 2 (276), p. 23
As part of the “Second Meeting with Jewish Culture” at the Museum in Międzyrzecz a lecture entitled “Judaism – the elder brother of Christianity” took place. The guest-speaker was Haim Beliak, a rabbi from Los Angeles. His lecture was translated by Piotr Mirski, a noted klezmer and the author of a Jewish songbook. Piotr Mirski is also a cantor and a congregational prayer leader. Rabbi Beliak was invited to Poland to participate in the international congress organized by the curia and the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. The date of the congress was chosen deliberately – a few days earlier the International Jewish Day was celebrated.
It was a great honor for the Museum in Międyrzecz to have this American Rabbi as a guest. Rabbi Beliak is a very modest person, with a humble attitude towards the surrounding reality and with good communication skills. Rabbi Beliak is a member of the Union of Progressive Jewish Communities (about 75% of Jews are affiliated with it; in Poland there are 13 Progressive synagogues), even though he comes from an Orthodox Jewish family. His mother was from Olkusz; during the war Poles helped her hide, and owing to a lucky coincidence she ended up in Germany, where after the war she met a Latvian Jew from Riga. They married and had a son – Haim Beliak, who was born in Germany. At the end of the 1940’s they moved to the United States, where the future Rabbi grew up, went to school and worked. He was among others a television camera operator, which was troublesome for someone who is left-handed. He visited Poland for the first time in 1985. As Rabbi Beliak explains, he affiliated with the Progressive movement because it takes into consideration the reality of life, which forces us to change the way we understand the world. Moreover, it provides a more clear interpretation of the Talmud.
Rabbi Beliak spoke about the work of Franz Rosenzweig of Germany that was among the first Jewish theologians to envision a complimentary role for Judaism and Christianity. Each of these historic faiths has a task in the world. Judaism was chosen to convey the message of God to a small people, the Jews. Christianity took the message of divinely inspired ethics and morals to the world. The Christian echo of Rosenzweig’s respectful theology is found in Pope Jon Paul II’s warm embrace of Jewish people. The Polish pope set an example of toleration and mutuality that is a milestone.
John Paul II, who was the first to travel to Jerusalem and to emphasize that Jews are the “elder brothers” in faith (in fact, he used to have a Jewish friend and he knew their language). For a long time Jews were a people without their own homeland, struggling with various obstacles and time after time being forced to escape from different countries. Poland was the first country where they found a place they could stay in since Medieval times. During the first half of the former century European Jews were nearly annihilated. Later, Israel was established; up to this day territorial disputes are still taking place there – Rabbi Beliak talked also about this subject expressing the hope that someday in the future Muslim, Christians, and Jews would all see each other as part of the same family.
The second, perhaps even more emotional moment, was the performance of Piotr Mirski, who, while playing his guitar, sang Jewish songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and in Polish. Some songs were more melancholic and some more vivid, but all of them engaged the audience’s attention; some people sang along.
The meeting was concluded with the traditional Jewish ceremony for the end of Shabbat. The braided Havdalah candle was gleaming in the dark as everyone held each other hands and joined in the ritual chanting. The custom of extinguishing the flame of the candle in red wine might have been somewhat surprising for those who are not familiar with Jewish tradition. After rubbing a few drops of wine on the eye lids and after everyone wished each other “a good week”, the meeting became less official, and special Shabbat dishes were served, including cholent, hummus and tzimmes.
Andrzej Kirmiel, the director of the Museum, thanked his guest for coming and he reminded that the last Rabbi who visited their city was a Rabbi from Piła – the visit took place even before Kristallnacht.The meeting was attended by among others Alicja Skowrońska – the president of the Jewish Community in Żary, Aleksander Stawicki – the chairman of the “Lubuska Fundacja Judaika”, Zofia Plewa – deputy president of the county council and Helena Nycz from Nietoperek (she showed the Rabbi her “Righteous Among the Nations” medal; when he saw it, he gave her a big hug). It was difficult to find enough room for everyone who wanted to attend the meeting, as has often been the case lately. It’s certainly a positive sign that the local community is showing interest in other cultures.
Lech Malinowski translation: Marzena Szymańska
* Malinowski Lech, “Szalom Alejchem – Pokój Wam”, published in the “Kurier Międzyrzecki”, nr 2 (276), p. 23, trans.: M. Szymańska.