Poland’s Jewish Revival Marred by Anti-Semitism of All Stripes

Shiny Warsaw JCC Can't Cover Up Signs of Trouble

Best of Times? Guests eat kosher snacks at the opening ceremony of a new JCC in Warsaw. The festive mood comes amid some troubling signs for Polish Jews.
Best of Times? Guests eat kosher snacks at the opening ceremony of a new JCC in Warsaw. The festive mood comes amid some troubling signs for Polish Jews.

By Liam Hoare

Published November 07, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The Jewish community in Poland, which stood at 3.3 million before the Holocaust, today numbers 25,000, according to statistics produced by the JDC — though less than a third of this number register as Jewish on Poland’s official government census. After World War II, with the advent of officially atheist Communist rule, many of those relative few who survived hid their Jewishness from others, including their own children. But since the fall of communism in the late 1980s, the growth of those who self-identify as Jewish has been remarkable. Even in Poland’s census, with its more conservative figures, the trend is clear. In 2002, some 1,100 people identified as Jewish. By the next census, in 2012, that number had increased to around 7,000.

Warsaw is home to the largest community of Jews in Poland and to the ambitious new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened unofficially in April of this year.

Amid this sometimes conflicting environment of fledgling renewal and sporadic outbursts of hatred against Jews, the JCC, for many, “will be the first step into being Jewish,” Schudrich said. It is, he explained, for people who are “not actively Jewish but want to do something Jewish.” Going to the JCC will be part of a “process of discovery” for them, he said.

In terms of sustaining Jewish religious life in Poland, the shechita ban remains the primary issue. But whether the parliament’s recent vote was anti-Semitic in intent remains a subject of debate. One senior Polish Jewish activist told the Forward that, in fact, the discouraging vote on religious slaughter should be seen more as a political problem than as anything to do with anti-Semitism. He declined to be identified by name, because he remains involved in ongoing efforts to overturn the ban.

The parliamentary vote on shechita, explained this activist, was simply an opportunity for the opposition and 38 rebellious members of the ruling Civic Platform party to embarrass the government. The activist added that concern over animal rights should also be considered as a possibly sincere, non-anti-Semitic motive for some of those who voted against the measure.

The JCC will bring together under one roof activities and initiatives that were, for the most part, already taking place in Warsaw — including Jewish street festivals, artistic sukkah installations and cafe educational programs — under a program called JCC Without Walls.

“The JCC is for people looking for ways into the Jewish community but for whom religion is not the way,” said Karina Sokolowska, the JDC’s country director for Poland. “It is for those looking for the educational and cultural aspects of Jewish life and intellectual Jewish subjects.”

The JDC, among others, previously supported the construction of a much bigger $3 million JCC in Krakow, which opened in April 2008. That JCC’s director, Jonathan Ornstein, told the Forward that before the center’s opening, “nobody was talking about a Jewish future” in Krakow. But in the past few years, he said, “the rate of change is phenomenal.” Ornstein said the Krakow center was particularly popular among young people who had not known they were Jewish.

Moreover, notwithstanding the embarrassment of the shechita vote, the government of Poland has been generous in its support of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, whose construction has been financed by the City of Warsaw and the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and private donors at a cost of more than $60 million. The state also currently covers the majority of the museum’s operating budget. The core exhibition within the museum is funded through private donations.

For Piotr Kadlik, President of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, this paints a picture of steady overall progress in a project of Jewish rebirth despite undoubted redoubts of hostility. The ban on shechita, the “cloud of anti-Semitic statements,” and the damage to Jewish cemeteries and buildings are “obstacles to Jewish development in Poland,” he acknowledged. The JCC, by contrast, is an example of the “positive change” that has taken place in Poland since the fall of communism, a building which “adds to the map of Jewish Warsaw.”

Contact Liam Hoare at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.