We all wish the yeshiva mazal and brachah. “Chadesh Yameinu K’kedem – May Hashem restore our days to the glory of old.”
The recent rededication of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, which I was honored to attend, was an event without precedent. It was the first time since the Shoah that the local community took over, planned and executed the restoration of a building of historic religious significance. For years the yeshiva building had been used as a medical college and was returned to the Jewish community just three years ago. The building had been in appalling shape with major renovations desperately needed.
When the building was returned to the community, all vestiges of its glorious Jewish past had been removed. Even the windows in the main study hall had been sealed shut with bricks.
At first, the community wanted to restore the building to exactly what it had been, but as always debates took place as to the practicality of the plans. Cost was a major concern in the project. Could they afford to replace the windows? What about the metal letters on the building façade?
There were also other elements that concerned the designers. The two rooms off the main study hall had to be used properly. One room had been used as the library, but the books had disappeared. The other room had housed a model of the Beis HaMikdash to help the students visualize the lessons they were learning; this too had long since disappeared.
Jan Gebert, the coordinator of the project, was said to be the most cost-conscious, but in the end he agreed to make the building resemble the original as closely as possible.
Rabbi Yechiel Kauffman and Jan Gebert measuring the proper placement of the mezuzah and finding the original nail hole under the paint.
The façade has the lettering as in the original, and the bricks have been removed from the windows. The library, though, stands empty, waiting for books to be donated. The room that once housed the model of the Beit HaMikdash is now a dining room.
The pillars that hold up the balcony in the main hall are one of the elements that Mr. Gebert is proud to point out. There was a debate as to what color the originals were. During the medical school days they had been painted red. Mr. Gebert explains how he scraped down to the bare pillar to discover that the original color was a dark forest green, and so they painted them that color.
Yale Rieser, who for years had worked in the genealogy department at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, went exploring through the as-yet un-renovated parts of the building and discovered some old Jewish books that once belonged to the library. “It is amazing what there is in the depths of the building,” Mr. Rieser told me. “I found one book that has inscriptions from about ten students.”
Some are just signatures, but one has a description of his studies and proudly proclaims his delight at being a student at the Yeshiva.
“There are many holy books,” Mr. Rieser. “The people rebuilding the yeshiva don’t know what they have. The books should be cleaned and catalogued.”
Another part of the building that is waiting to be renovated is the mikveh. It had been used during the glory days of the yeshiva by the teachers as well as the students. Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, said in an interview that the mikveh is in amazing shape. “More or less all we have to do is clean it out, put in a new filter, bring in new water and it is ready to go.”
Concern had been voiced about what would be done with the magnificent edifice after the ceremony. Would all the work be just for the 20 or so Jews who make up the present day Jewish community of Lublin? Would it be a place for tourists to come and try to imagine the sound of Torah learning with piped-in recorded Jewish music, or is there a way to bring the building back-to-life with real Jewish study as in the days before the Shoah?
Rabbi Schudrich dreams of building a real yeshiva in Lublin. After the rededication ceremony, he didn’t go home to rest. He went directly from Lublin to the Warsaw airport from where he flew to Israel to attend a number of events. But the main purpose of his trip was to interview candidates for the position of rosh kollel for the future yeshiva. (A kollel is a yeshiva whose students are married and paid to sit and learn on a fulltime basis.)
“I hope to open the yeshiva in September in time for Rosh Hashanah, with a number of kollel families that would spend half-a-day studying on their own and half-a-day teaching others,” Rabbi Schudrich explained. They will teach the local population at all levels. A few of the possible subjects to be covered are Bible studies, kashrus and prayers.
Many people had been concerned about the money being spent. Are we doing the right thing? Is it a waste of money? During the last stages of preparing for the ceremonies, Jan Gebert asked the visiting rabbi from Brooklyn, Rabbi Yechiel Kauffman, on how and where to place the mezuzah on the front entrance. Rabbi Kauffman pulled out a picture of the placement of the mezuzah on the original building and tried to line it up according to the design on the doors. They marked the place and then decided to make starter holes for the next day. When they lightly punched a nail in place the paint chipped away and the original nail hole from 77 years ago was exposed. Everybody present took it as a sign that all the work they had done correctly and will not be in vain.