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August 28, 2015 / 13 Elul, 5775
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40 of Poland’s ‘Hidden Jews’ to Complete Daf Yomi in Lublin

The Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva.

The Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva.
Photo Credit: Michael Freund

More than 40 ‘Hidden Jews’ from Poland will participate in an unprecedented seminar organized by Shavei Israel on July 30 through August 2 in Lublin, Poland, dedicated entirely to the study of Talmud.

The gathering will be held at the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva and will coincide with the completion of the Daf Yomi daily cycle of Talmud study which was launched by the yeshiva’s founder more than 80 years ago. The seminar aims to strengthen the local Polish Jewish community while also reaching out to the ‘Hidden Jews’ throughout the area, many of whom are looking to reconnect with the Jewish people.

“The symbolism of this seminar and its location are especially poignant,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, adding that “the Germans and their collaborators sought to snuff out Jewish life and learning. But nearly seven decades after the Holocaust, Jews are once again studying the Talmud at Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin.”

Freund also noted that “since the fall of the Iron Curtain, an increasing number of young Poles have begun rediscovering their Jewish roots and expressing a desire to draw closer to Israel and the Jewish people. It is incumbent upon us to reach out to them and help them to do so.”

The Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva was founded in 1930 by the late Rabbi Meir Shapiro, who introduced the revolutionary idea of ‘Daf Yomi’ to the Jewish world. The practice is a daily regimen of study covering the entire Babylonian Talmud, completed one day at a time in a cycle of seven and a half years, a practice that has had resounding success and which continues today.

A group of Jews from abroad who have taken part in the Daf Yomi will be completing the cycle at the same time as the Shavei Israel seminar, which is being led by Rabbi Boaz Pash, Shavei Israel’s emissary to Krakow who serves as the city’s Chief Rabbi. The ‘Hidden Jews’ in participation will take part in the final days of study along with them and then will join them in celebrating this milestone.

When the Nazis took Lublin in 1939, they closed the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, stripped the interior and burned the Yeshiva’s library in the town square. The Nazis then used the building for the regional headquarters of the German Military Police. In 2003, the building was returned to the Jewish community and was reopened in February 2007.

The Jewish community of Lublin dates back to 1316, when Jews first settled at the outskirts of the city. By the mid-16th century, Jewish life in Lublin had begun to flourish, and an autonomous Jewish zone existed in the district. Jews were given land to build their own institutions and a cemetery, and a Hebrew printing press was established in 1547.

The city was home to rabbinical giants such as Rabbi Shalom Shachna, who established a yeshiva in Lublin where luminaries such as Rabbi Moses Isserles (the Rama) studied. In the 18th century, Lublin became a center for Hasidism, and leading rabbis such as the renowned Seer of Lublin left their mark on Jewish life.

During the Holocaust, Lublin was transformed into a center of mass extermination of Jews. The Nazis captured Lublin in 1939 at a time when about 30,000 Jews lived there. By 1941, the Jewish population had reached about 45,000.

Today, several dozen Jews are officially registered as members of the Lublin Jewish community, but hundreds of‘Hidden Jews’ reside in the area. Recently, a growing number have begun to reclaim their roots.

The “Hidden Jews” are a phenomenon that has gained in strength in Poland in recent years, with many Jews slowly returning to Judaism and the Jewish people. Many of these Jews lost all contact with Judaism due to the extreme anti-Semitism they encountered after the Holocaust, and some of them even converted to Christianity. Others concealed their Judaism from the Communist authorities and now feel free to assume their true identity.

Another phenomenon are Jews who were adopted by Catholic families and institutions during the Holocaust. They were told nothing of their Jewish identity, and only in recent years have gradually begun to discover it. Today, around 4,000 Jews are registered as living in Poland, but according to various estimates, there are tens of thousands of others who have concealed their true identity, or are simply unaware of it.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening ties between the State of Israel, the Jewish people and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnai Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, and the “Hidden Jews” of Poland. For more information visit: www.shavei.org.

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