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December 6, 2016 / 6 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Schudrich’

Chanukah In Poland

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

         Last week Rabbi Schudrich of Warsaw sent me more pictures from Poland showing the community celebrating Chanukah. Even though we celebrated the holiday over a month ago, it is always nice to see signs of rebirth of Jewish life in Poland.








Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Old Cemetery In Lodz Exposed

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

         It is said that Poland is one large Jewish cemetery. While that is not 100 percent true, anytime people dig in Poland, they have to be careful of what they might find.


         Last week the city of Lodz was working on the trolley line, that runs near the known boundaries of the old Jewish cemetery, when the workers came across bones. To their credit, the work was immediately stopped and the police came and told Simchah Keller, head of the local Jewish community, about the situation.


         Since it was the end of the day and dark, it was decided that further investigation would have to wait until morning. In the meantime, Mr. Keller contacted Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who happened to be in London at the time. There, Rabbi Schudrich consulted with Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, an expert on halachot regarding cemeteries.


         In the morning I went to the site with Mr. Keller and found a large-scale ditch, about three-and-a-half feet deep, in the ground. After checking with a local expert on the cemetery, as well as old maps, it was confirmed that the ditch indeed passed right through the edge of the cemetery.


         The cemetery, which was in use between 1811 and 1892, had survived the Nazi invasion of Poland, and the Shoah, only to be destroyed by the communists in 1949. It was during the time of reconstruction, after the war, that the communist authorities decided that the property was too valuable, and built housing and a major road over the cemetery.



Rabbi Ephraim Moshe Maisels, giving his morning Torah class after shachrit.



         Today the Jewish community fights hard to ensure that there is no further construction (desecration) on the site. The question now remains of what exactly can be done. Rabbi Michael Schudrich arrived directly from London before Shabbat to examine the situation for himself. He met with town engineers, as well as the local community. Mayor Jerzy Kropiwnicki assured Rabbi Schudrich that no more work would be done on the site until a solution, agreed upon by all parties, can be found.


         Aryeh Klein, an engineering expert from Israel, will visit the site later on this week. He has experience working on several cemeteries in the past, and will report back to the Rabbinic Commission of Cemeteries in Poland, on what can be actually be done in this situation.


         Rabbi Michael Schudrich, said in an interview with The Jewish Press, “We, the contemporary Jewish community are committed to fight for the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in our country. This incident reminds us of the desecration committed by both the Nazi and the Communist regimes, against the sanctity of both the living and the dead Jews of Poland.


         “It also shows us of how Poland has changed, how in a free democratic Poland, national and local authorities, work with us to preserve Jewish cemeteries and not desecrate them.”

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

A Year In Poland

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

         For many, Polish Jewry is a misnomer; they (even those that come to visit) think that there is no longer any Jewish life, that it was all killed in the Holocaust. In the past year, I have been privileged to see just how much life there is in Poland.


         My first trip to Poland was in time to celebrate Sukkot with the community. A joyous time anywhere, but psychologically celebrating Simchat Torah, where the Nazis had once tried to wipe out all the Jews, has a special meaning.



The overflow crowd of nearly 1,000, listening to the chazzanut of Joseph Malovany at the Nozyk Synagogue.



         Then I returned for the opening of the Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, a yeshiva that, during its six short years of operation, was at the forefront of Jewish religious education. Many dignitaries attended the event, both to remember the past, and hope for a better future.


         In June I was supposed to go to the opening concerts of the Krakow Jewish Festival, but got sidetracked and went to Warsaw for the weddings and Bar Mitzvah of members of the kehillah, proving that there is still Jewish growth in Warsaw. While in Warsaw I also attended the cornerstone ceremony for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. I then made a side trip to Czestochowa for the opening of the local JCC and then made my way back to Krakow for the final days of the festival.


         On my latest trip I met with, Rabbi Ephraim Miezel, a recent arrival in Poland, who came to open a kollel as part of the Torah MeZion program of Jerusalem. He came, with his wife and two children, to deliver Torah classes. As always, one cannot come to Poland for just one event. I attended the rededication of the three Ohalim in Piotrkow, as well as the Day of Remembrance in Lodz.



Lodz community leader, Simchat Keller, directing the workers, as they pour cement for the new mikveh in Lodz.



         As the summer in Poland begins with the Jewish Festival in Krakow, the Isaac Bashevis Singer Festival in Warsaw marks its end. The opening night saw an overflow crowd come to the Nozyk Synagogue to listen to the great Chazan Joseph Malovany, and two of his students, sing along with the Jewish Choir of Moscow.


         All these activities that I have witnessed, as well as many others that I have not been around for, prove that the Jewish community, both religious and secular, is strong and vibrant. Rabbi Schudrich is looking forward to many more advances in the coming year including a reliable kosher restaurant that will open, IY”H, after Pesach.


         Another project, to which Rabbi Schudrich is looking forward, is the completion of the building of the Lodz mikveh. This past week saw the pouring of the first cement for the foundation of the mikveh. In the past, in order to use a mikveh, one had to travel to Warsaw, a two-and-a-half-hour train-ride each way. So building a mikveh in Lodz will enable many more people to participate in this major mitzvah.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Rededication Of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin in Poland (Part III)

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

         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.


         We all wish the yeshiva mazal and brachah.Chadesh Yameinu K’kedem – May Hashem restore our days to the glory of old.”

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Chanukah In Poland

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

        The Polish Jewish community held its first public menorah-lighting ceremony Sunday evening, the third night of Chanukah. In the past, the community traditionally held small gatherings outside Jewish community offices in Warsaw. But this year, a large public gathering of Jews and non-Jews participated in a menorah-lighting ceremony in Grzybowski Square near the Nozyk Synagogue.


         President Lech Kaczynski’s wife lit the giant menorah with the help of Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, and wished a joyous Chanukah to the hundreds of people gathered on the square. Other candles were lit by Israeli Ambassador David Peleg and Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz.


         On Monday night, the fourth evening of Chanukah, the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland (ZGZ) and the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland (TSKZ), together with other Jewish organizations, were invited by the President Kaczynsky to light a Chanukah menorah, for the first time in history, at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. Rabbi Schudrich led the recitation of blessings while President Kaczinsky lit the shammash.



Rabbi Michael Schudrich with Polish President Lech Kaczinsky and members of the Jewish community of Warsaw at Chanukah menorah lighting ceremony in the Presidential Palace.



         The menorah, a gift to the Presidential Palace, was made by a student in the Lauder Morasha School, the Jewish school of Warsaw, as part of an annual family menorah competition.


         The ZGZ and the TSKZ presented President Kaczynsky with a prayer for the welfare of the Polish state, written by Rabbi Moses Schor, a pre-Shoah rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw and a member of the Polish Parliament. The prayer was adorned by an original papercut done by Monika Krajewska, a leading local Jewish artist.


         Piotr Kadlcik, president of the ZGZ, explained the special meaning of Chanukah, especially for the Jews of Poland today.


         President Kaczynski said he was happy that representatives of the Jewish community came to the palace for this occasion. He said he understood that Chanukah is a holiday of joy that was celebrated in the homes of many Polish Jewish citizens. He emphasized that he was grateful that today’s local Jewish community is growing and strengthening itself and that the candles of Chanukah can again be seen in Poland.


         Rabbi Schudrich commented that Chanukah [Hanukkah] is a time of achieving the impossible. “Our reemerging Jewish community of Poland, so honored and recognized tonight by our president,” he said, “is a sure sign that the spirit of the Macabbees lives on in 2006.”


         Artur Hofman, president of TSKZ said, “This is particularly meaningful in a place that was believed to be only a Jewish cemetery; that in fact we have a living and active Jewish community.”


         Other communities throughout Poland also held Chanukah festivities, including group candle-lighting ceremonies and parties with latkes, jelly doughnuts (punchki in Polish) and dreidels.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Trip To Ukraine And Poland

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

     As of Tzom Gedalia, Sept. 25, I will be on a trip to Ukraine and Poland. The trip to Kiev in Ukraine will enable me to participate in the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the massacre of 37,000 Jews at Babi Yar. The commemoration will be attended by political leaders from all over Europe, including Vladimir Putin from Russia and Victor Yuchenko of Ukraine.

      I will also take advantage of the trip to explore the Jewish community of Kiev. Rabbi Azman of Kiev has invited me to spend Yom Kippur with him and promised to give me access to everything I need to report on the community at large.

      After Yom Kippur I will travel by train to Warsaw, Poland, for the Sukkot holiday, returning to the U.S. after Simchat Torah.

      During my stay in Poland I will be able to further my research and interview many people. Many changes have taken place in Poland since my last visit. There is now an emissary from the Lubavitch movement, as well as a chief rabbi in Galicia. This year also saw four new rabbis starting to work throughout Poland, when only a few short years ago Rabbi Schudrich was alone in teaching and leading the sparse community.

      The Lauder Foundation had in years past always imported much of its staff from the U.S., but now all the positions in the Lauder Foundation are filled by local Polish Jewish. This is a testament to the educational efforts of Rabbi Schudrich.

      During Chol Hamoed I will be taking part in the reunion of Jews from the town of Czestachowa. Before the Shoah there was a thriving community in Czestachowa, and today there are almost no Jews left. During Chol Hamoed,Jews who remember what Jewish life was like before the Shoah will return to the town of their youth to show their children what they remember. For the first time in more then 60 years a sukkah will be built in Czestachowa and decorated by children around the world.

      Simchat Torah is a holiday when even people who are only marginally Jewish come to the synagogue. I will be spending the holiday with the community and will return to report on the conditions in Poland.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Cemetery Restoration And Preservation

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

        Last week’s conference on Jewish genealogy in New York featured many sessions dealing with the issues of tracing Jewish lineage. One subject that came up in many of the discussion groups is the use of cemeteries in finding the last trace of ancient family members. There were talks on how to read a tombstone, recognizing names and titles, and the meaning of many of the decorations and other markings found on grave markers around the world.


         Some presenters discussed how, when they went back to their ancestral home, they found the cemetery in an appalling state. Often tombstones were missing or broken, the plots covered with dirt and garbage, or even built over.


         There has been a movement by individuals as well as foundations to rectify the situation. In a session dealing specifically with cemeteries, work that has been done was showcased with videos showing the original condition of the cemetery, the work done to refurbish, and the situation as it is today. It was pointed out that this situation is not unique to Eastern Europe but that cemeteries fall prey to neglect wherever there is not constant maintenance.


         Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, has been involved in cemetery work in Poland for almost as long as he has been in Poland. There are around 1,500 cemeteries in Poland, many of them in a state of disrepair, and Rabbi Shudrich has become an expert in cemetery restoration.


         Rabbi Schudrich has developed guidelines for anyone interested in working in old cemeteries.


         “First of all, we have to set priorities,” Rabbi Schudrich said. “There are mainly two categories of cemeteries, those that need work and those that are in imminent danger of being destroyed.


         The danger can be due to a city’s plan to take over the property and develop it for either commercial or private use. Whenever Rabbi Schudrich is apprised of a situation, he goes to the authorities and enlists their help in correcting it. He mentioned that he has enjoyed a very good and close relationship with the authorities, and that they have been very respectful as well as helpful.


         “Often the situation can be resolved with simple logic,” Rabbi Shudrich explained. “There is a town that wanted to run a sewer line adjacent to a cemetery wall. I explained that the walls are not always the exact boundaries of the cemetery and that there was also the danger of leakage from the pipes. After consulting the maps of the area I suggested that the pipe be laid on the other side of the road, and that this would solve a lot of problems. The solution was readily accepted.


         “In some cases we have to find the right official. In Poland there are often strong rivalries in local politics, and while one politician might be hesitant, another will be very responsive to our needs.”


         Before any work can be done on any cemetery, a complete survey has to be conducted to determine its exact location and boundaries. It has happened in the past that there was funding for 75 percent of the cemetery, so the cemetery was given at a discount, leaving 25 percent open for development. An example was the Warsaw cemetery, which had one corner sliced off and apartment buildings built over it. In other places where there is no fence or wall, people think that the area is abandoned and houses are built on the grounds – although in fact they are part of a cemetery.


         In Poland there have been many problems and mistakes over the years, and legislation has been passed in the Polish parliament to try to rectify the problems in the future. Rabbi Schudrich now must be notified whenever any work is to be done in a Jewish cemetery. He supplies trained supervisors who are to be present while the work is done.


(Continued next week)


Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/cemetery-restoration-and-preservation/2006/08/23/

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