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May 22, 2015 / 4 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Shavei Israel’

Commemorating The Start Of World War II

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009


    The official beginning of World War II was September 1, 1939. On that day German soldiers invaded Gdansk after bombarding the city with a military warship. As part of the Polish Government’s official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland’s Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based “Shavei Israel” organization held a special ceremony yesterday in the Gdansk synagogue to commemorate the outbreak of the war, which paved the way for the Holocaust.


     Well-known Jewish dignitaries who participated in the ceremony included President of Poland’s Jewish communities, Piotr Kadlcik; President of the Gdansk Jewish community, Michal Samet; and “Shavei Israel,” Chairman Michael Freund. In addition to the aforementioned, senior Polish and foreign government officials were also present.  


     The initiative behind the ceremony came from “Shavei Israel” Chairman Michael Freund, who has played a key role in strengthening Polish Jewry by dispatching young rabbis to serve in Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw and sponsoring seminars and educational trips to Israel for young Polish Jews.



Synagogue in Gdansk (Danzig) Poland, one of the first cities to fall to Germany, in WW II



   Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, recited a memorial prayer for the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, and recalled the Jewish soldiers who served in the Polish Armed Forces and died while fighting the Nazi invaders. A number of young Jews from across Poland, many who have just discovered their Jewish roots, took part, which highlighted the ongoing revival of Polish Jewry. Therefore, the slogan, “70 years later we are still here,” was the banner under which the ceremony took place.     


     In his remarks at the ceremony, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund said: “It is incumbent upon us to mark this sad day, to ponder its consequences and to internalize its lessons. But we cannot and must not lose hope – a Jew is not allowed to despair. The participation of young Polish Jews in this ceremony, many of whom have only recently returned to their Jewish roots, is compelling proof that the Nazis and their collaborators ultimately failed. Seven decades after the Holocaust, the Jewish spark is once again coming to life here in Poland.”



Rabbi Michael Schudrich speaking at the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.



    “Israel and world Jewry must rise to the challenge and facilitate this process of reconnecting young Poles with their Jewish roots. Shavei Israel is proud to be partnering with Poland’s Jewish community and helping to foster this historic rebirth. Seventy years later, Polish Jewry is still here,” said Freund.

Preserving Jewish Cemeteries In Poland

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

         Every spring and summer, there is renewed activity throughout Poland regarding the preservation of Jewish cemeteries. There are two kinds of work being done: Some are done by private people who see a situation in a cemetery in the region from where their family originated and attempt to restore the cemetery on their own. The other type approaches the Jewish community with a proposal to do the work and it is then channeled through the proper authorities. In the next few weeks, I will be reporting on a few instances that have recently occurred.


         Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, who has shown great interest in helping to restore Jewish life in Poland, was instrumental in restoring the cemetery in his ancestral town of Siedlezcka. Working with the Rabbinic Commission in Poland and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (www.fodz.pl), as well as gaining the cooperation of the local government, he did an exemplary job in preserving the remains of the cemetery. He sent the following report:


         SIEDLEZCKA, POLAND (Tuesday, May 27, 2008) – In the town of Siedlezcka in Galicia, Poland, yesterday, Monday, May 26, a moving ceremony took place marking the completion of the restoration of the local Jewish cemetery, which was established in 1850. Attending the ceremony, which took place at the ancient cemetery’s entrance, were Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, and the mayor of Kanczuga, Jacek Solek (who agreed to pave a new road to the cemetery at the town’s expense).


         The restoration works, which were financed in part by Freund and his family (through the Warsaw-based Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and the Siedlezcka-Kanczuga Landsmanschaft headed by Howard Nightingale) included: the general cleaning of the cemetery, restoration of the gravesites and building anew the stone wall surrounding the cemetery. The urgent need to build a wall arose recently due to the incursion into the cemetery by local Polish farmers attempting to expand their farming area.



Michael Freund in front of the new gate of the restored Jewish cemetery.



         The town of Siedlezcka is located in the district of Galicia, which is in the southeast of Poland near the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. For many years the local Jewish cemetery served various Jewish communities in the area, among them: Kanczuga (the community where Michael Freund’s family is from), as well as the villages of Gac, Bialoboki, Markowa, Manasterz, Zagorze, Chmielnik, Jawornik Polski and Zabratówka. It is estimated that to date only 500 graves remain, with the last known burial having taken place in 1940.


         In 1942 the Nazis rounded up over 1,000 Jews from Kanczuga, marched them to the grounds of the cemetery and murdered them before tossing their bodies into a mass grave on the site.



Michael Freund at the recently recovered matzevah of a relative.

(Photos are courtesy of Michael Freund)



         In his address at the ceremony, Michael Freund said that he could no longer stand by passively and watch the ongoing neglect of the Jewish cemetery and so he decided to fund its restoration. “It was sad for me to see that a number of the gravestones collapsed or were broken and that the cemetery was overgrown by trees and bushes and essentially looked like a forest. It was also evident that many gravestones were taken from the cemetery over the years to pave local streets, or were looted by local persons.” Freund added that, “today when I look over the result of the restoration work, I am very hopeful that the cemetery is now safe from plunder and that it will continue to serve as a monument to the thousands of Jews who lived in this area before the Germans arrived and destroyed everything.”


         About the town of Kanczuga:


         The first recorded Jewish presence in the town dates back to 1638. According to the 1921 census, the Jewish population was 967 people, but by the start of World War II, it had grown to over 1,000, and Jews made up more than 80 percent of the town’s population. Among the Israelis who originated in Kanczuga were former Knesset Member and Mapam party founder Meir Yaari and Binyamin Siegel, a former senior officer in the Israel Police Department. 

Agudat HaRabonim Of Poland Re-established After 70 Years

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

         An event, thought to be impossible after the Shoah, took place in Lodz.


         Rabbi Yona Metzger, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, attended an auspicious meeting that culminated in the re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim of Poland, the Association of Orthodox Rabbis in Poland.


         Before the Shoah, many towns in Poland had the nickname Little Jerusalem, as they were the source of Judaism for the whole world. They would send out young rabbis to far-flung communities, in need of guidance, spreading the word of Torah. Today after the devastation of the Shoah, more than 60 years ago, there are finally enough rabbis to form an association.


         The honored guest, Rabbi Yona Metzger, signed a special scroll together with Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich and other community rabbis serving in Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw and Lodz, declaring the formal re-establishment of the group. Today there are close to 10 Orthodox rabbis serving Poland including two Chabad Shluchim, who did not participate in the event. Their activities range from running day schools, teaching Bar Mitzvah boys and couples preparing for marriage, kosher supervision, dealing with Holocaust related issues to dealing with the government.


         The re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim took place at the initiative of Rabbi Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, based in Israel. It is an organization, active around the world, which seeks out “Hidden Jews” and helps them return to Judaism. The event last week was originally trumpeted as the second annual seminar of Shavei Israel in Poland. But when Rabbi Freund saw the list of possible attendees he realized that it was time to organize all the rabbis in Poland.


         Though the initiative was originally his Rabbi Freund said his organization, except for the two Rabbis in Poland who are from Shavei Israel, will have no say in the new association. Rabbi Yitzchak Rapaport is working in Wroclaw and Rabbi Boaz Pasz in Krakow, as representatives of Shavei Israel.


         The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, has been in Poland since 1989 under different titles and has seen the Jewish community grow from being invisible to the most visible and active minority group in Poland.



Signatories of the re-establishment of the Agudat HaRabonim of Poland.

Seated (L-R) Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Rabbi Yonah Metzger.



         The most famous story of a returning Jew in Poland today, is that of Pinchas Zlotosvsky. He is often the first Jew one sees upon entering the Jewish community center, which includes the Nozyk synagogue, in Warsaw.


         It was only a few short years ago that Pinchas roamed the city as a skinhead. Then his mother told him that he couldn’t hate Jews because he himself was Jewish. She had been hidden in a monastery during the Shoah, which enabled her to survive.


         His transformation was complete. ‘”He went from skinhead to covered head,” Rabbi Schudrich likes to say.


         Pinchas and his wife and children are involved in every aspect of the Orthodox community. He studies in the Kollel with Rabbi Meisels, works as the mashgiach and shochet and is often the first to come to davening in the morning. It frequently surprises visitors to Warsaw when they meet a Chassidic Jew in complete traditional chassidic garb. Everybody thinks he is a visitor and starts talking to him in English or Yiddish, but Pinchas smiles at their reaction, when he explains that he is only fluent in Polish.


         There was a time not to long ago when there was not one recognizable Jew on the streets in Poland but today you have Jews proudly wearing kippot, hats, beards, peyot and even kapotehs (frock coats). They still stand out but they stand proud.


         This year’s Shavei Israel Conference was held in Lodz where the community has no rabbi but is led by Simcha Keller, a very efficient layman, who became religious at the age of 16 while studying with his grandfather. He studied in Israel and is a member of the Alexander Chassidic group.


         He proudly shows off the Linat Orchim (guest house) with a mezuzah on every door, the soon-to-be-completed mikveh, kosher dairy restaurant, meat catering facilities, as well as the many social activities that the community runs.


         Rabbi Freund of Shavei Israel said that they are looking into the possibility of sending a qualified rabbi to assist the community in its religious needs.  

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/agudat-harabonim-of-poland-re-established-after-70-years/2008/03/05/

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