Polish writer Henryk Halkowski, z”l, one of Poland’s most notable contemporary Jewish personalities, died suddenly on January 1, just days after celebrating his 57th birthday. Friends said the cause of his death was a heart attack. He wrote and translated several books and essays on Jewish culture, history and thought. An expert on the Jewish history and heritage of Krakow, Halkowski also was an acute observer of the transformation of Jewish life after the fall of Communism. With his thick glasses, gray beard and zest for conversation, Halkowski was a familiar figure in this city’s Jewish quarter, Kazimirez.


“Henryk was one of a kind,” Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich said. “His soul was gentle and his intellect fierce. He would always let you know what he was thinking. While you may not always have agreed with what he said, it was always well thought out and absolutely sincere. He was an anchor of Yiddishkeit in Krakow and we will miss him very greatly.


I first met Henryk on my first visit to Krakow more then 10 years ago and we quickly became friends. His enthusiasm about the Jewish history of his hometown, Krakow, made him an unforgettable character. He was a fixture in the Aleph Café on the main square in the Jewish neighborhood opposite the Rema Synagogue. Henryk wrote a popular book on legends of Jewish Krakow and often gave impromptu tours of the many synagogue buildings and cemeteries in Krakow.


The last time I saw Henryk, during the High Holy Days, he was an active participant in the minyan. Although not overly religious he felt very protective of his Jewishness. He once commented to me that he had retired from being a professional Jew. He had problems with the fact that many of the “Jews,” and especially vendors at Jewish events, were not in fact Jewish but only taking advantages of Jews coming to Poland, searching for their roots, for monetary gains.


“Kazimirez will never be the same without him and all his craziness,” said Malgosia Ornat of the Austria Jewish publishing house. “We will miss him a lot. He was so important for Jewish life in Krakow and a certain period of its revival is gone forever.”


Joachim Russek, the director of Krakow’s Centrum Judaicum Jewish Center here, called Halkowski “a guardian of Krakow’s Jewish legacy” and said, “The Kazimirez quarter without him will not be the same.”


Torah Comes To Poznan


On January 8, 2009, a Hachnassat Sefer Torah, a ceremony introducing Torah Scrolls to the seat of the local Jewish Religious Community, took place in Poznan. The representatives of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland participated in the ceremony. When I visited the community last year it was explained to me that they did not have regular services, as the community was too small. They gathered regularly twice a month for Oneg Shabbat and held regular services when enough people joined them. Now with the introduction of the Torah Scrolls it is hoped that they will be able to have services on a more regular basis.


Sign Erected At Bilgoraj Cemetery


It was recently reported in this column that the cemetery in the town of Bilgoraj was in danger of being obliterated. While negotiations are ongoing as to the final disposition of the Jewish cemetery and adjoining mass grave a sign has been erected at the site through the initiative of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, reminding visitors of proper behavior during the visit on its grounds.


Jewish Scholastic Agreement With Chile


The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland recently announced an agreement between itself and the Center of Jewish Studies of the Chilean University (Centro de Estudios Judaicos Universidad de Chile) concerning, among others, intellectual cooperation, exchange of publications and information about Jewish culture and history as well as joint educational and scientific projects. It is hoped that the cooperation between the two will raise awareness, of the importance of Jewish-Polish culture on the Jewish world, to the university in Chile.