The Polish city of Lodz over the Jewish holiday of Shavuot hosted its first-ever Jewish celebration since the mass annihilation of 3 million Polish Jews in ghettos and death camps on Polish soil.
The festival was aptly named The Festival of Tranquility (also ran: Festival of Deadly Silence). It was organized by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, in collaboration with Shavei Israel emissary to Lodz Rabbi David Szychowski, and connected art and spirituality, featuring films, Torah study, workshops in calligraphy and cooking, and a concert.
Born in Biała Podlaska, Poland, Rabbi Szychowski, 37, moved to Jerusalem to continue his rabbinic studies at the Machon Meir yeshiva. He received his rabbinic ordination in 2015, first from Rabbi Yakov Peretz of the Beit Midrash Sefardi and then from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat.
“In order to listen to yourself and reflect on the reality around us, you need time and space,” Rabbi Szychowski introduced the festival. “The residents of Lodz joined us to take pause, open up to one another, and learn about the contemporary life of the Polish Jewish community.”
The Festival of Tranquility began on Saturday night, with Torah study in honor of Shavuot.
The following day featured a tour of Lodz and its historical landmarks.
On Tuesday, the Jewish Community Center commemorated the life of Maurycy Gutentag, the Jewish chief of the First Department of the city’s Fire Brigade, and unveiled his tombstone in a ceremony led by Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich.
“Despite the fact that thousands of young Poles have parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents who had to hide their Jewish identity for decades, Judaism has witnessed a revival in Poland since the downfall of Communism and we are happy that we can celebrate it,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund.
Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews officially registered as living in Poland, but according to some sources, there are tens of thousands of people throughout the country whose forbears chose to hide their Jewish identity for obvious reasons, seeing as they are living in Poland.
Maurycy Gutentag was the owner of a jewelry factory who on April 24, 1877 joined the Lodz Fire Guard volunteers (established on May 14, 1876) as a volunteer fireman. In 1893 he became the head of the city’s first fire department and remained in office until 1908, when he was removed by local German firemen for issuing commands in Polish to his subordinates.
The official reason for depriving him of his position was his deteriorating health. The Board of the Guard appointed him an honorary member with the right to wear a uniform until his death – which he did. At the end of his life he served as the treasurer of the Jewish Craft Club in Lodz.
In recent years, a growing number of these individuals, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have begun to explore their connections to Judaism and the Jewish people – and many have returned to Judaism.
They still live in Poland, though, which could prove dangerous to their health.