Limud Polska II

Time warp at Limud Polska.

We remember the faces of teenagers 15 years ago who we pulled aside at a snowy winter retreat in Rychwald, Poland for interviews: When did you discover that you are Jewish? Who told you? What did you feel? What do you feel now?

The first documentary our organization JEMGLO produced called “Poland: Creating a New Jewish Heritage,” which splashed across PBS screens in 1997, presented many of these young people’s responses. They lived in communities across the country, from Wroclaw and Katowice to Gdansk and Lodz; from big cities like Warsaw and tourist favorites like Krakow to small centers like Legnica.  Each person’s story was different and life-changing for them. They changed our lives too.

We saw many of these faces again and again over the years, at various Polish Jewish community events, sometimes at their homes, once at a hospital visit, and in 2000, at our wedding, which we decided to have in Wroclaw to give recognition to this amazing community of builders. (I almost wrote “rebuilders,” but in fact they were building something new, rooted in hundreds of years of history but with a wholly reworked present.)

This evening after Havdalah — the short service that separates the Shabbat day of rest from the beginning of the new week – an Israeli singer belted out a range of dance melodies that would give pause to the highest paid Bar Mitzvah group back at home. The energy in the room was so joyously overwhelming – imagine hundreds of people jumping and dancing at breakneck pace and singing until their voices dimmed – that he finally yelled into the microphone, seemingly unconsciously awed by the scene: “Kol hakavod Polska!” (“All the strength to you, Poland!”).

Among the group of merrymakers were some of the teenage and other faces we remembered from a decade and a half ago. There was Kamila, now a lawyer in Gdansk, who leans toward a more progressive Jewish practice. When we first interviewed her, she told us that three years earlier, at the age of 17 (four years after the oppressive communist system collapsed), her father had shared the family secret: she was Jewish. There was the Czestochowa mother of the eight year old who was the star of that year’s Purim play; the last few years he studied to be an Orthodox rabbi in New York. And there was Karolina from Wroclaw, a young assistant in the community office. I spent hours today with her and entourage: her husband Robert and their gorgeous three year old Lea. They are all here, at Limud Polska.

Dear naysayer acquaintances: Please come and meet members of the Jewish community of Poland! They are not a fad. They are now generations old. And they are as comfortable with their Jewish heritage as their Polish roots!

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