Uahc’s Polish Judaica Agreement Seen As Model for Action by Soviet Bloc on Cultural Exchange
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Uahc’s Polish Judaica Agreement Seen As Model for Action by Soviet Bloc on Cultural Exchange

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The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) launched a $5 million drive here this week to rescue, restore and reacquire long-last documents and artifacts representing 1,000 years of Polish-Jewish history.

The funds will go toward the UAHC’s Polish Judaica project, initiated last year following the signing of a unique cultural exchange agreement between the Reform Jewish group and the University of Warsaw.

Dr. Armand Hammer, president of Occidental Petroleum Corp., served as chairman of the $500-a-plate dinner in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel attended by 600 guests Monday night. Hammer called the UAHC-Polish agreement “a breakthrough because for the first time a Communist nation, Poland, has agreed contractually with an American Jewish organization to provide Judaic objects, manuscripts and art, much of which has been inaccessible to Western scholarship.” He continued:

“The agreement will serve also as a model to other nations, particularly those within the Communist sphere, hopefully engendering additional religious and cultural exchange and significant humanitarian gestures.”


Dr. Moury Leibovitz of New York, president of the Knoedler Galleries and co-chairman of the dinner with Guilford Glazer, announced that the UAHC would issue a limited edition of 300 full-size, full-color facsimile reproductions of the Kalonymus Codex, an illuminated Bible manuscript in Hebrew and Aramaic dating from the year 1238 that is regarded as one of the oldest and most beautiful treasures of Jewish religious art. A limited edition of 300 copies at $5,000 each will be published.

The Kalonymus Codex was one of 20 works of rare Jewish art from Poland on exhibit at the dinner. It will move to the Skirball Museum of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, where more than 100 articles of Polish Jewish art, on loan from various Polish institutions to the UAHC, will be on display through December.

Many of the works of Polish Judaica were thought lost or destroyed in the Holocaust. Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the UAHC, told the dinner guests:

“We cannot bring back the martyrs of our people, or restore the burned scrolls and precious manuscripts that have been lost forever. But through this historic agreement we can and will carry out our proud obligation to preserve, for today and for the years to come, the precious fragments of a vanished world. In doing so, we will more vividly remember, more fully comprehend and more nobly honor the vitality and genius of one of the great communities in our people’s history.”


Since the agreement was signed, Schindler reported, the project has been broadened to include the restoration and reconsecration by the UAHC of Jewish cemeteries in some 400 cities and towns in Poland, as well as the restoration of several synagogues, the furnishing of a new synagogue in Lublin and the construction of a Jewish chapel at the site of the Maidenek concentration camp.

Rabbi Philip Hiat, assistant to the president of the UAHC, negotiated the agreement with Polish church, governmental and university officials during several trips to Poland. He pointed out that while the UAHC is a Reform Jewish group, it has invited Conservative and Orthodox rabbis and scholars to join in the work of “rescuing and restoring the art, artifacts, historic documents and treasures of Polish Jewry for the entire Jewish people.”

The exhibition, which goes on view in Los Angeles tomorrow will be returned to Warsaw for the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising next April. Later, the collection will be sent to Israel, where it will be on view at Bet Hatefutsot, the Museum of the Diaspora, in Tel Aviv.

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