Poland Selects New Chief
Special to the Jewish Times
January 08, 2005
The Polish Jewish community has
turned to an American as its new spiritual leader, filling
a post left empty since 1999.
The Union of Jewish Religious
Communities in Poland appointed New York-born Michael
Schudrich as chief rabbi of Poland last week.
Schudrich would become the first
person to hold Poland's top rabbinic position since
the resignation of Menachem Joskowicz some five years
Asked about the significance
of an American rabbi assuming Poland's highest title,
Piotr Kadlcik, the union's acting president, expressed
"We have no Polish rabbis
now, though we hope within two years to graduate two
rabbis from the yeshiva," he said. "We've
known Rabbi Schudrich for years, and he knows Poland."
Schudrich, an energetic, bearded
man with a perpetual smile, first came to Poland in
1973 as part of a United Synagogue Youth program that
traveled throughout what was then Communist Eastern
Intrigued by what he had seen, Schudrich - who has four
Polish grandparents - returned to Poland in 1976. He
found cemeteries, shuls and, most importantly, Jews
his own age who were working to create Jewish identities
under the oppressive Communist regime.
"I realized then that the
only difference between us was a decision our grandparents
had made," Schudrich said.
In 1990 Schudrich returned again
to Poland, this time as a rabbi with the Ronald S. Lauder
Foundation, an organization committed to rebuilding
Jewish life in Eastern Europe and providing Jewish education
in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
Since 2000, Schudrich has served
as chief rabbi of Warsaw and Lodz, two of Poland's largest
Kadlcik said that the union,
an umbrella organization, had been considering appointing
a chief rabbi for some time.
"We felt all our communities
needed proper rabbinic supervision," he said. Schudrich
will "cover the needs of the religious communities
throughout Poland and act as a help in resolving issues
between community members."
Joskowicz, Schudrich's predecessor,
is a survivor of the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz, and
was a controversial figure who clashed with the younger
generation of Polish Jews who were discovering and rediscovering
their Jewish roots. He had held the chief rabbi position
since the fall of communism.
Because of the displacement of
Jews during World War II and the subsequent Communist
regime - under which it was difficult to be a practicing
Jew - it's difficult to count the number of Jews in
Schudrich, though, estimated
that the country that was once home to 3.5 million Jews
now has more than 20,000. The number is growing, he
But Poland's burgeoning Jewish
communities sorely lack supervision and guidance.
The Jewish community in Krakow
has been served by Rabbi Sasha Pecaric, who is leaving
Poland this year after translating the Torah into Polish
and guiding young members of the community in their
quest for Jewish learning.
Rabbi Ivan Caine, a retired Conservative
Rabbi from Philadelphia, served the Jewish community
in Wroclaw in western Poland for a time, but no longer
holds that position following a series of internal conflicts
in the community.
"We need someone who can
be responsible for helping all aspects of Jewish life
here, from cemeteries to synagogues to soup kitchens,"
said Simcha Keller, head of the Jewish community of
Lodz and vice president of the union.
"Rabbi Schudrich has been
here for 15 years, so we feel he's not an American rabbi,
Schudrich, who speaks Polish
and is often described as a mediator between differing
factions, feels his appointment comes at an important
time in the development of Poland's Jewish community.
This story reprinted courtesy
of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
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