25 young Polish Jews, many of whom have only recently discovered their Jewish roots, arrived in Israel on Monday for a special seminar organized by Shavei Israel, an organization that aims to strengthen the connection between descendants of Jews and the State of Israel & the Jewish people. The participants, between the ages of 18-35, most of whom were raised Catholic, came from cities like Krakow, Katowice, Warsaw, Przemysl and Gdansk. For many it marks their first time visiting Israel.
“There is a growing thirst among young Poles with Jewish roots to learn more about their Jewish religious and cultural heritage,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund. “This awakening would have been unthinkable just 25 or 30 years ago, but since the downfall of Communism, an increasing number of Poles have sought to reclaim and affirm their Jewish identity. We owe it to them to assist them in any way that we can.”
Freund added that, “with the start of the new Jewish year just a few weeks away, it is fitting that these young Poles have come to Israel to rekindle their bond with the Jewish people.”
The program, run by Polish-speaking rabbis and educators, is designed to assist the young Poles in discovering more about their Jewish roots and learning more about ancient and modern-day Israel. Among the topics that will be covered are the laws of Shabbat; the upcoming holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot; and “Keeping kosher in a non-kosher world.” Participants will also study the weekly Torah portion.
The visitors will meet with the Polish Ambassador to Israel, and an spend a day studying at a local yeshiva.
About 4,000 Jews live in Poland today, but some suggest there may be tens of thousands of other Jews in Poland who to this day are either hiding their identities or are simply unaware of their family heritage. In recent years, a growing number of such people, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland”, have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.
Shavei Israel currently has two full-time emissaries in Poland located in Krakow and Katowice.