The Jewish Community of Poland
Most of the country’s Jews live in Warsaw, the capital, but there are also communities in Krakow, Lodz, Szczecin, Gdansk, and in several cities in Upper and Lower Silesia, notably in Katowice and Wroclaw. In the last few years, there has been a reawakening of Jewish consciousness. Young people of Jewish origin who had no Jewish knowledge are joining the community.
Jewish settlements in Poland can be traced back more than 1,000 years. Fleeing persecution in western and central Europe, Jews found sanctuary in Poland. By the middle of the 16th century, about 80% of world Jewry lived on Polish lands. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, Jews enjoyed a unique form of self-government called the Council of Four Lands (Va’ad Arba Aratsot), which functioned as a Jewish parliament. However, from 1648 to 1649, Cossack hordes led by Bogdan Chmielnicki massacred the Jews of eastern Poland (present-day Ukraine). It is estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 Jews perished. Much of Polish Jewry was impoverished, and Poland became fertile ground for messianic leaders such as Shabbtai Tzvi and Jacob Frank. Later it gave birth to the Chassidic movement.
Toward the end of the 19th century, when much of Poland was a part of anti-Semitic Czarist Russia, a great wave of emigration began, and Polish Jews went to the United States, Canada, Argentina, Germany, France, and the Land of Israel.
In the inter-war period, despite the government’s often hostile policies, Polish Jewry represented one of the most creative communities in the Diaspora.
On the eve of the Shoah, 20 years after Poland regained independence, some 3,300,000 Jews lived in the country, constituting the second-largest Jewish community in the world. Warsaw alone had over 300,000 Jews. About 85% of Polish Jewry was wiped out in the Holocaust, and many Jews from other countries were deported to Poland and killed in the German extermination centers situated there.
After the war, most of the survivors refused to return to (or remain in) Poland, which was rocked by civil war and anti-Semitic outrages. Emigration accelerated after the pogrom in Kielce in July 1946, which claimed the lives of over 40 Jews. Although the situation eventually stabilized, the Jewish population continued to shrink through successive waves of emigration.
The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland (UJRCP) is an organization uniting all Jewish Communities. It represents the voice of Polish Jews in relations with the state authorities and other organizations at home and abroad.
The Union is the heir and continuator of a long tradition of Jewish Communities in Poland.
UJRCP’s main objective is to help and support the Communities and its branches that do not have their own property and have considerable needs connected with the everyday life of their members. Social aid for the Holocaust survivors living in solitude, operating kosher cafeterias, renovating the derelict buildings, maintaining cemeteries are the activities that use up most of the financial resources.
Above that, UJRCP carries out varied educational activities – lectures, discussion sessions and meetings all over Poland. The main subjects are Jewish history and tradition and the contemporary life. On an everyday basis, the Communities and UJRCP branches serve the local community as an information centre and knowledge base on Judaism and Jewish culture.
Frequently, community members voluntarily conduct classes at schools and culture centers. Education is the priority objective for this coming year.
High on the community’s agenda is the preservation of the large number of Jewish historical sites (including cemeteries and synagogues) that cover the length and breadth of the country. Anti-Semitism remains a problem, but none of the political parties that ran on an openly anti-Jewish platform passed the electoral threshold for either Sejm or Senate representation.
There are synagogues in most of the towns mentioned above. Some of these are historic edifices, such as the Remu Synagogue and the Templum in Krakow, and the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw. Poland has a chief rabbi whose seat is in Warsaw and a second rabbi who caters to the needs of the youth. The JDC maintains kosher cafeterias in the largest Jewish centers. Private kosher restaurants can be found in Warsaw and Krakow. Kosher meat and other foodstuffs are available, and in recent years, Poland has become an important center for the production of kosher spirits.
Israel and Poland resumed full diplomatic relations in 1990 after a hiatus of 23 years. Aliya : Since 1948, 171,471 Polish Jews have emigrated to Israel, 106,414 of them between 1948 and 1951.
Poland, particularly in its central and eastern parts, contains numerous places of interest for the Jewish visitor. In Warsaw there are a number of sites connected with the ghetto uprising and the life of the city’s once vibrant community. These include the central ghetto monument, designed by Natan Rapoport and the exhibition at the Jewish Historical Institute, which also houses a collection of paintings by Polish-Jewish artists. In Krakow, which was spared the destruction to which the capital was subjected, there are a number of old synagogues which can still be visited, among them the Remu and the 14th-century Stara Synagoga (the oldest in Poland), which today houses a Jewish museum. Lodz is the site of one of the largest Jewish burial grounds in Europe. Of particular interest are the mausoleums of the city’s great textile magnates. Many of the smaller towns contain remnants of the Jewish presence.
Among the most noteworthy is the town of Tykocin (near Bialystok), which has a magnificent 17th-century synagogue recently restored to its former grandeur. Another such synagogue can be found in Lancut. There are also many historic cemeteries, some containing the graves of famous Chassidic rabbis, such as those in Gora Kalwaria (Ger) and Lezajsk (Lezensk). The sites of former death and concentration camps are a magnet for Jewish visitors. These include Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and Treblinka. Of the last, no trace remains, and the grounds are the site of a powerful monument consisting of thousands of shards of broken stone.
The Jewish Community of Warsaw
The Jewish Community of Warsaw, with a branch in Lublin, is one of seven organisations forming the The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland. Anyone, with at least one Jewish grandparent, can become a member, based on the so-called “Law of Return”.
Members of community are young and elderly, professionals and seniors – everyone, who wants to be a part of the Community and work towards its success, can join. Everyone can find their own space, regardless of their level of religious observance. The Community is not an orthodox organisation and its members practice both traditional and liberal Judaism.
The Community serves as an organizer of events for the local Jewish population which aims at creating a wider range of social, educational and cultural activities. We also offer help and social support for people in need.
The Prof. Moses Schorr Foundation – affiliated to the Jewish Community - runs an educational centre for secular and religious Jewish studies and the largest Hebrew language school in Poland. Inspired by the teachings of rabbi Moses Schorr the Foundation opens its doors to all students eager to dive into Judaism and Jewish learning in a contemporary context respectful of tradition. The programs aim to deepen the understanding of Jewish values irrespective of religious affiliation.
Something for everyone
The Community runs the Senior Club, the Club for Jewish Children and Youth, religious classes, a kosher canteen, as well as a gym and a kosher shop. There are introductory and advanced lectures for adults, youths and children organised regularly. All activities are open for everyone.
The Community also runs projects created with a wider audience in mind, such as festival “Open Twarda Street”, educational programs for Warsaw schools, lectures and workshops dedicated to Jewish tradition, art, music, exhibitions and concerts.
In the festival “Open Twarda Street”, which takes place in May and brings together the whole cultural and educational program, with almost 10 thousand people participate!
Religion in the Community
There is a place for every Jew within the Community. We try to combine tradition and creativity, modernity and continuity, supporting everyone in their search for a suitable and unique expression of their Jewish identity. In our Community we have people with different views and lifestyles and therefore we try to offer as wide a range of opportunities as possible.
The Community enables the maintaining of tradition without imposing any worldview or trying to convert anyone. We employ spiritual leaders from different factions of Judaism and both religious and secular educators.
The Jewish Community of Warsaw gathers for prayers and study with Rabbi Michael Schudrich. Those who feel closer to Progressive Judaism can find their spiritual leader in Rabbi Stas Wojciechowicz. Pluralistic approach to religion and worldview enables everyone, who uses our services (regardless of their membership in the Community), to find their place and to participate in Judaism in the way which is the most suitable for them at the moment.
The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland
Gmina Wyznaniowa Zydowska w Warszawie/the Jewish Community of Warsaw
PRESIDENT: Piotr Kadlčik
ul. Twarda 6, 00-950 Warszawa
Tel : +48 22 620 06 76
Fax : 48 22 620 05 59
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
The Progressive Center of the Jewish Community of Warsaw
Al. Jerozolimskie 53, 00-697 Warsaw
Tel. +48 22 356 25 31
The Prof. Moses Schorr Foundation
ul. Twarda 6, 00-950 Warsaw
Tel. +48 620 34 96