Rabbi Freund of Shavei Israel said that they are looking into the possibility of sending a qualified rabbi to assist the community in its religious needs.
An event, thought to be impossible after the Shoah, took place in Lodz.
Rabbi Yona Metzger, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, attended an auspicious meeting that culminated in the re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim of Poland, the Association of Orthodox Rabbis in Poland.
Before the Shoah, many towns in Poland had the nickname Little Jerusalem, as they were the source of Judaism for the whole world. They would send out young rabbis to far-flung communities, in need of guidance, spreading the word of Torah. Today after the devastation of the Shoah, more than 60 years ago, there are finally enough rabbis to form an association.
The honored guest, Rabbi Yona Metzger, signed a special scroll together with Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich and other community rabbis serving in Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw and Lodz, declaring the formal re-establishment of the group. Today there are close to 10 Orthodox rabbis serving Poland including two Chabad Shluchim, who did not participate in the event. Their activities range from running day schools, teaching Bar Mitzvah boys and couples preparing for marriage, kosher supervision, dealing with Holocaust related issues to dealing with the government.
The re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim took place at the initiative of Rabbi Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, based in Israel. It is an organization, active around the world, which seeks out “Hidden Jews” and helps them return to Judaism. The event last week was originally trumpeted as the second annual seminar of Shavei Israel in Poland. But when Rabbi Freund saw the list of possible attendees he realized that it was time to organize all the rabbis in Poland.
Though the initiative was originally his Rabbi Freund said his organization, except for the two Rabbis in Poland who are from Shavei Israel, will have no say in the new association. Rabbi Yitzchak Rapaport is working in Wroclaw and Rabbi Boaz Pasz in Krakow, as representatives of Shavei Israel.
The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, has been in Poland since 1989 under different titles and has seen the Jewish community grow from being invisible to the most visible and active minority group in Poland.
Signatories of the re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim of Poland.
Seated (L-R) Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Rabbi Yonah Metzger.
The most famous story of a returning Jew in Poland today, is that of Pinchas Zlotosvsky. He is often the first Jew one sees upon entering the Jewish community center, which includes the Nozyk synagogue, in Warsaw.
It was only a few short years ago that Pinchas roamed the city as a skinhead. Then his mother told him that he couldn’t hate Jews because he himself was Jewish. She had been hidden in a monastery during the Shoah, which enabled her to survive.
His transformation was complete. ‘”He went from skinhead to covered head,” Rabbi Schudrich likes to say.
Pinchas and his wife and children are involved in every aspect of the Orthodox community. He studies in the Kollel with Rabbi Meisels, works as the mashgiach and shochet and is often the first to come to davening in the morning. It frequently surprises visitors to Warsaw when they meet a Chassidic Jew in complete traditional chassidic garb. Everybody thinks he is a visitor and starts talking to him in English or Yiddish, but Pinchas smiles at their reaction, when he explains that he is only fluent in Polish.
There was a time not to long ago when there was not one recognizable Jew on the streets in Poland but today you have Jews proudly wearing kippot, hats, beards, peyot and even kapotehs (frock coats). They still stand out but they stand proud.
This year’s Shavei Israel Conference was held in Lodz where the community has no rabbi but is led by Simcha Keller, a very efficient layman, who became religious at the age of 16 while studying with his grandfather. He studied in Israel and is a member of the Alexander Chassidic group.
He proudly shows off the Linat Orchim (guest house) with a mezuzah on every door, the soon-to-be-completed mikveh, kosher dairy restaurant, meat catering facilities, as well as the many social activities that the community runs.