New Chabad House In Warsaw
The opening of the first full-time Chabad center in Poland, under the direction of Rabbi Shalom Ber and Dina Stambler, was made official at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim earlier this year. A variety of factors, not least of which is the growth of Poland’s Jewish population (placed at 10,000 according to census figures, and double that according to Stambler), have contributed to the decision by Lubavitch to open its activities there.
Poland joined the European Union last year. The country has also become increasingly open to Western trade and influences. Jewish traffic has swelled, bringing a need for services for the many thousands of Jews who come to discover the alte heim – the old home from where they can trace their family history. A new generation of Polish Jewry is also beginning to look at their Jewish roots with curiosity and interest.
The new Chabad shluchim, (emissaries) and the 10 rabbinical students who will be studying at the newly-formed Lubavitch yeshiva in Warsaw will help fill the roles of “instructors, teachers and leaders.” With the generous support of the Rohr Family Foundation, Joseph Neumann of New York, and the Stamblers, Chabad will offer Poland’s Jews all the opportunities for Jewish growth.
In a telephone interview Rabbi Stambler said he looks forward to working with Rabbi Michael Shudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, and at the same time add a new dimension to Jewish religious life in Poland. “We hope to rekindle the long chasidic heritage in Poland,” he explained.
For many years Poland was known as the only country in the world with a Jewish presence that did not have a Chabad House. The Rebbe was asked to send a shaliach to Poland more than 10 years ago and he said no. Most people give as the reason for the refusal that Poland is one big cemetery. But Rabbi Stambler explained that “the Rebbe didn’t think a permanent Jewish community should be reestablished in Poland, but now that there is a growing community, with the local Jews as well as the many people coming for business and tourism, the situation has changed and a Chabad presence is needed.”
Poland was never abandoned by the Lubavitch movement, however. Whenever there was an event happening in Poland there were always a few Chabad men talking to people and offering them tefillin to put on. For a few years the head of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, Rabbi Joseph Kanafski, was a follower of Chabad and often gave classes in Chabad Chasidut.When asked if he was a shaliach he said, “No, I am here as an employee of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. The difference between me and a shaliach is that I am here on a job I can quit or be fired from. It is a temporary position, while a shaliach goes to a posting for life.”
The new center includes a library, study rooms and kosher restaurant, a particularly welcome development for Jewish businessmen and travelers, who number well over 20,000 each year. Chabad of Warsaw is located at Slominskiego 19-508.
Lublin Community Office Opens
The Jewish community of Poland will dedicate its first community offices in Lublin since World War II. The office will open on the premises of the Yeshiva Hachmei Lublin, one of the most famous yeshivas in Europe before the Holocaust.
The return of the building to Warsaw’s Jewish community in 2004 was “the first step in restoring not only the building to Jewish hands, but Jewish life,” said Michael Schudrich, Poland’s U.S.-born chief rabbi. Up to 50 people registered as Jews live in Lublin, but Schudrich says there may be many people of Jewish heritage who did not come forward after the communist regime’s anti-religious repression ended more than 15 years ago. The Lippman family of New York gave a Torah scroll to Polish Jewry in honor of their daughter’s bat mitzvah last year, and it will be on permanent loan to the community office in Lublin.
The yeshiva was built by the renowned Rabbi Meir Shapiro, who was a leader of the fledging Agudat Yisrael and originator of the Daf Yomi program. During the Holocaust the massive building was used as Nazi headquarters; afterwards it housed a Polish medical school.
Shmuel Ben Eliezer