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“To persuade the court that Poland does not need a second Jewish community, Twarda has created an implant congregation called Ec Chaim” that is Reform in name only and in fact is controlled by the union’s Orthodox rabbis, charges Lesley Bergman, president of the European Union for Progressive Judaism.
This month, a Warsaw administrative court will rule on whether to annul Beit Polska’s registration.
For now, the total amount of money at stake is relatively small. But a much larger prize hovers in the background: the potential windfall for the Jewish community if Poland ever makes good on its pledges to offer Holocaust restitution for real estate and other Jewish assets seized during World War II.
The Reform movement’s legal struggles in Europe “start by being a principled issue that concern equality, but it’s also a money issue,” Bergman said.
Bergman’s movement does not recognize Ec Chaim as Reform at all. Beit Polska, which has a few hundred members, is the only Progressive community that the European Union for Progressive Judaism recognizes in Poland.
But Poland’s American-born chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, who is Orthodox and employed by the Union of Jewish Religious Communities, says Ec Chaim is a legitimate, independent Reform congregation that “can do as they please according to their interpretation” of Judaism. He notes that Twarda paid for a Progressive rabbi to lead it.
“Despite the lies, the Jewish Community of Warsaw is simply not an Orthodox community,” said Piotr Kadlcik, the president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities.
His claim is backed up by Ec Chaim’s rabbi, Stas Wojciechowicz.
“The allegations of Leslie Bergman and Haim Beliak derive from the complete lack of understanding of local Jewish reality with all its complexity,” Wojciechowicz told JTA.
Insiders say long-simmering personal rivalries between the rabbis of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities, Ec Chaim and Beit Polska play a role in the dispute.