Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of international Chabad-Lubavitch, on Friday issued a statement saying: “We are shocked by the forced closure of the historic Izaak Synagogue in Krakow where the local Jewish community and thousands of visitors come daily to prayer services, to join educational classes and programming, to buy kosher food, and to benefit from a host of community activities. This is an outrageous offense, a travesty of grave magnitude, and is the cause of a terrible disgrace and desecration of all that is sacred to Judaism, a Hillul HaShem (desecration of the Divine)!
According to a JTA report, on Thursday, Krakow Police arrested Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, after he had climbed the fence of the synagogue, after the congregation was evicted by heads of the local Jewish community. Apparently, the community group hired masked Polish guards to keep worshipers out of the synagogue.
The main target of the shutdown was Krakow’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Gurary, of Lubavitch, who been active in the synagogue for years. Now the Jewish Community of Krakow suggested that Gurary’s followers are causing damages to the synagogue. Rabbi Gurary denied the accusation.
The Jewish Community of Krakow association is run by Tadeusz Jakubowicz, 80, a Holocaust survivor who later graduated from the State Higher School of Music in Katowice. He has been the chairman of the Jewish Religious Community in Krakow since 1997. In 2002 he became a member of the board of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, and since 2007 he is a member of the board of the Jewish Community Center. He is also a member of the Social Committee for the Restoration of Krakow’s Monuments (SKOZK).
His daughter, Helena Jakubowicz, who is the vice president of the Jewish Community of Krakow, manages the community’s real-estate portfolio which is reportedly worth millions of dollars. Helena’s life partner, Kuba Lewinger, a businessman, runs the 17th-century Kupa Synagogue, which is richly decorated with paintings from the 1920s featured on walls, the ceiling and in the women’s section.
According to Ha’aretz, since the 1990s, Tadeusz and Helena Jakubowicz in their capacity as community leaders have come into possession of a number of restored properties seized from Jews during the Holocaust.
Rabbi Gurary replaced the former city chief rabbi, Rabbi Boaz Pash, in 2014, and apparently has been less open than his predecessor regarding accepting non-Jews into the community. But local Jews have suggested in interviews a few years ago that Rabbi Pash was forced to leave by the Jakubowicz group because he was bringing in too many “new faces,” possibly code for Poles discovering their Jewish past.
The Izaak Synagogue, formally known as the Isaak Jakubowicz Synagogue, was built in 1644 in the historic Kazimierz District of Krakow. The synagogue is named for its original donor, Izaak Jakubowicz (d. 1673), also called Isaac the Rich, a banker to King Władysław IV. The synagogue was designed by Italian architect Francesco Olivierri.
The Krakow struggle appears to be between the old guard, the Jakubowiczs and their relatively few supporters (about 150, according to media reports), and the newcomers, Chabad Lubavitch. Or, as Rabbi Krinsky stated from 770: “We strongly support the efforts of Rabbi Eliezer Gurary who has been working faithfully and successfully, in close cooperation with local and Jewish organizations, to serve the spiritual needs of Krakow’s Jewish community. That Jewish people should be barred by armed guards, from entering the synagogue, is an unforgivable violation of Jewish life. We implore you, do not stand by idly and allow this to continue. The synagogue should be opened immediately.”