web analytics
April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Simcha Keller’


Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

         Of all the formerly large Jewish communities in Poland, Lodz is one of the best organized today. The community’s activities center around a complex at number 18 Pomorska Street and include a daily minyan, very nice hotel, a dairy restaurant, senior center, a meat catering service, and this week they are inaugurating a new mikveh, the first one built in the city since the Shoah.


         The idea for building the mikveh was realized last year when the Alexander Rebbe came to Poland to visit his ancestral home and the graves of his forefathers. He, and a large number of his followers, spent Shabbat in Lodz at the guesthouse of the Jewish community, which made every effort to make his stay as comfortable as possible.


         Simcha Keller, the head of the community and an Alexander Chassid, made sure all the food met the requirements of the Rebbe. They also opened up the rarely used, but beautiful, Reich Synagogue for the davening.


         All was going smoothly when an additional request came in before the trip.


         The Rebbe needed the use of a mikveh. As is the custom with many chassidim the Rebbe goes to the mikveh every day and especially on Shabbat. The problem was that the nearest mikveh, at the time, was in Warsaw. Arrangements were made, though, for the Rebbe to use a local swimming pool and this met with everyone’s satisfaction.


         During the many discussions that the Rebbe had with the community it was suggested that a proper mikveh be built in Lodz, not just for the tourists, but so that the local community would be able to practice this important mitzvah without having to travel a couple of hours to Warsaw to do so.



Simcha Keller at the pouring of the foundation of the mikveh.



         The project was started immediately even without all the necessary funds. Mr. Keller said, “If we start the project we will find the money to finish it. If we don’t start it we will never find the money.” This is typical of the attitude of Simcha Keller.


         Lodz, a small community, has many activities and does tremendous work – way beyond what one would expect from its size.


         One of the most impressive operations of the community is the work it has done in the Jewish cemetery. The Lodz cemetery is one of the largest in Poland and over the past 10 years, since I have been traveling to Lodz, I have seen constant work on the preservation and restoration of this historically significant site.


         What had been an overgrown forest with tombstones sticking out between the bushes is now a cemetery with clearly marked paths where most of the stones are accessible and readable. The ghetto field, where the people that died during the Shoah in the Lodz Ghetto were buried, is now cleared and each grave has a marker with the name of the person interred.


         The funeral hall is now a museum with exhibits about the different aspects of the cemetery: the important people buried within, both rabbinic and secular, the interesting monuments, as well as the important ceremonies that had taken place at the site.


         The community has also catalogued most of the graves in the cemetery and has established an impressive website for anyone interested in the cemetery, http://www.jewishlodzcemetery.org/.


         Mr. Keller, a very knowledgeable layperson, consults with Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, on all issues of Halachah – Jewish Law.  Last year during the crisis over the Old Jewish Cemetery in Lodz, when part of the cemetery was inadvertently uncovered during roadwork, all work was stopped until a Halachic solution to the problem was found.


         The community has also organized the preservation and restoration of many Holocaust -related memorial sites in the Lodz area, including the Radegast Station, from where the Jews in Lodz were sent to their deaths at Chelmno or Auschwitz.


    The community is supported by many people from all over the world that can trace their roots back to the city of Lodz.


         Besides the work that is done in Lodz the community also works with many nearby towns and cities that have little or no Jewish presence today. Next week there will be a Shabbaton in the city of Piotrkow Trybunalski,where last year there was a dedication of three Ohalim (burial chambers) of famous rabbis that are buried there.   

Back To Poland

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

        On Yom Kippur, I was in Kiev after having participated in the commemorations at Babi Yar. Subsequently, I decided to make a side trip to Poland before returning home to New York.


         The train ride from Kiev to Warsaw cost about 60 dollars and lasts about 20 hours, with a four hour stop at the border for visa and customs control. Arriving in Warsaw, I went directly to the Nozyck synagogue to daven and was greeted as an old friend.


         After talking with the young leaders of the congregation (Rabbi Schudrich was not in town at the time) I went to Lodz to meet with my old friend Jarek Novak. Jarek was excited to see me and started to show me all the changes that had taken place in Lodz since I was last there.


         The Jewish community now has a guest house, as well as a kosher dairy restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal. The guest house where I stayed is an old renovated building that belonged to the Jewish community before the war and had only recently been returned to the community. At first glance, it looks somewhat dingy with what appears to be black stains on the walls. On further examination, the stains are the remains of frescoes (paintings on the wall) that at one time had made the building a magnificent piece of art.


         The renovators decided to leave the frescoes in order to show the glory that once was and the destruction that had taken place. The garden area of the community center – that was a mess when I last saw it – is now a true garden with flowers and seating areas. As I was sitting there, a sukkah was in the process of being built, as preparations for the upcoming holiday were in full swing. The great surprise was when Simcha Keller walked in and joined us for the meal and asked me, “Will you be joining us for our minyan in the morning? It starts at 9:00.”


The garden of the Jewish community with the newly built Sukkah as seen from my hotel room.



         How different it was since I was last in Lodz. At that time there was no place to eat other than the free lunch service provided by the community to the elderly. There was no minyan and no place to stay with a Jewish sense of hospitality.


         After lunch Jarek Novak took me to the Pozanski factory. When I was last there, it was an abandoned factory complex. It had recently been turned into the largest shopping mall in all of Poland. All the major shops are represented and there is nothing you can’t buy. There is also a gym, a multiplex theater and many restaurants and cafes.


         Novak then told me about some of the projects involving the Jewish community. Besides the community center, there is also the Radagast station; the former Umschlagplatz of Lodz; and a park developed as a Holocaust memorial in honor of the survivors.


         When I was last there the Radagast station was a wood shop and plans were only in the dreaming stage of developing the site. Today it is a memorial on a world class level and visited on a regular basis by people of all ages from all over the world – and especially by school children from Lodz.


         The Survivor Park is located in the middle of the former ghetto area and is still in the development stage. But much work has already been done. During the ceremony, in recognition of the 60th anniversary of the destruction of the ghetto, 484 trees were planted by survivors from Lodz.


         I was then taken on a quick tour of the former ghetto and was shown some of the 83 plaques placed on various buildings with significant Holocaust history, as well as the signs on the pavement showing the ghetto boundaries.


         Each of these subjects deserve a column of their own and I will write about them in more detail when I get back to N.Y. after Simchat Torah.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/back-to-poland/2006/10/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: