NEW YORK (Aug. 21)
On September 7, the Jews of Cracow, Poland, will celebrate their first bar mitzvah in 35 years. The bar mitzvah boy will be Eric Strom, an eighth-grader from Stamford, Conn. Eric, his family, and their rabbi will make the journey to Cracow because of a request from the leader of the Jewish community there: “Send us a bar mitzvah, Send us life,” the Cracow Jewish leader said.
That was in April, when a group of Federation of Jewish Philanthropies trustees and leaders visited Cracow on a UJA-Federation Compaign of New York trip. “I asked what we could do for the community,” says Lester Pollack, of Rye, N.Y., vice president of the Federation and chairman of the mission. “I thought we would be asked for money or food.”
But the Cracow Jewish leader asked for a bar mitzvah, so Eric will read the Haftorah in the 15th Century Remu Synagogue, the oldest in use in Poland and the only one in operation in Cracow.
ONLY SOME 200 JEWS LEFT IN CRACOW
There are only about 200 Jews in Cracow now, the remnant of a pre-war community of 60,000. it is an aging population, overaging 73, and a needy one. There is no rabbi, no religlous education. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), provides food and other necessities for the people, but they haven’t for years had a birth or a wedding to celebrate.
To partly meet that need, the mission participants got together upon their return to the New York area, and found Eric, For Eric, who will become 13 on September 7, the rite of passage to manhood and responsibility offers both an unexpected adventure and extra work. His family came to this country from Poland, several generations ago. “I never thought I’c have my bar mitzvah in Poland, just like my ancestors,” he said.
To prepare for the bar mitzvah in the Remu Synagogue, Eric has had to study an extra portion of the Prophets for a half-hour each day. He will read one Haftorah in a service in Stamford a week earlier, and the added Haftorah in Cracow, before the Polish congregants. Also making the trip are his parents, Marjorie and Barry Strom; his sister, Holy, 9; and his two grandmothers and one grandfather.
There will be one other rarity for the members of the Cracow synagogue: a woman, Rabbl Emily Korzenick, spiritual leader of The Fellowship for Jewish Learning In Stamford, will make the trip with her husband, Korzenick lives in Scarsdale, N.Y. Edward Blonder, of Stamford, and his two daughters will also make the journey. Blonder is a native of Poland and a Holocaust survivor. He will serve as interpreter.
A SPIRITUAL UPLIFT
It shapes up as a spiritual uplift for the people in Cracow and a thrill for Eric, according to his mother, “Mostly,” she said, “Eric realizes he is in for a week of head-patting and cheek-pinching.” Eric’s father, she continued, “can barely remember his own bar mitzvah, but we know for sure Eric will never forget His.”
Eric has invited the Cracow Jewish community to a birthday party after the ceremony. He and his party of 12 will lunch at the JDC kosher kitchen in Cracow. They will visit the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps sites. They will joumey to Warsaw and see a performance of the Yiddish Theater there, and the group will visit the towns from which came the ancestors of Eric and other members of the party.