NEW YORK (Jun. 22)
Twenty-two members of Robert Blum’s family are flying from New York to Warsaw for his wedding there to Joanna Kan on July 2.
Blum, a lawyer from New York’s Upper East Side, is marrying a Polish convert to Judaism in historic circumstances that seem to have taken even the couple themselves by surprise.
Blum, 29, and Kan, 22, had intended to marry in New York. But following an unexpectedly emotional trip to Warsaw last October, the couple decided to be wed in the sole synagogue still functioning in the Polish capital.
Their wedding is to be a gift to the elderly Jews who still live in that city, once a flourishing center of Judaism which has not seen a traditional Jewish wedding performed in some 40 years.
The wedding invitation is written in three languages, English, Hebrew and Polish.
For their Polish nuptials, the couple are making some personal compromises, taking steps they might not have thought necessary in New York.
Although their union most probably would have been consecrated in a Conservative ceremony in New York, in Warsaw their wedding will be strictly Orthodox. They have followed requests to adhere to tradition to the extent that the bride will travel three hours each way to be immersed in the old mikveh (ritual bath) in Krakow.
"We were going to get married in your standard New York wedding," said Blum. "But when we went to Warsaw to see her family, we visited the synagogue. It was really sad visiting these people. Their lives are pretty bad.
‘THIS IS ALL THAT’S LEFT’
"As well-read as you are on what happened to that community, it doesn’t prepare you for seeing these people and thinking, ‘This is all that’s left of Polish Judaism,’ " said Blum, a third-generation American.
When the couple visited the Nozyk Synagogue, the only one left of what were about 400 synagogues in Warsaw before the war, "everyone at the synagogue was telling us there hadn’t been a wedding there in so many years."
In fact, many told them they had not had a wedding in Warsaw since the war. And members of the local community had not been invited to the bar mitzvah that an American boy had in Krakow four years ago, they claimed.
That bar mitzvah caused a trans-Atlantic furor, when an American Orthodox rabbi who did not know the bar mitzvah boy flew to Warsaw to prevent a Reform woman rabbi from performing the ceremony, which he claimed would violate Polish Jewish religious tradition.
The rabbi who was instrumental in that decision has held sway this time. Rabbi Chaskell Besser, who is in charge of Polish Jewish matters for the Ronald Lauder Foundation, advised the couple to marry in an Orthodox wedding.
The ceremony will be performed by a rabbi just recently arrived in Warsaw. Rabbi Menachem Joskowitz of Jerusalem was born in Lodz, Poland.
Joskowitz, who visited New York briefly this week, said he returned to Poland to "rekindle the spark of Judaism" in a country where Hitler thought he would eradicate it and annihilate all its people.
The rabbi said he had gone through all the steps necessary to ensure that all documents for the wedding were in order. This included, he said, verification the couple had not been married before and the confirmation of Kan’s conversion.
Kan, who in Poland was a national track star, was raised in a home of Catholics who practiced no religion.
GRANDFATHER SENT TO AUSCHWITZ
Her mother’s father looks so Jewish that the Nazis picked him up twice on the streets of Warsaw and, the second time, sent him to Auschwitz. He is still alive and still looks Jewish, said Blum.
Kan "was always interested in the Holocaust as a uniquely Jewish experience."
When her parents divorced, her mother met and married an American who took them to live in Connecticut, where she was surrounded by Jewish friends. She "admired Jewish family life."
Kan converted twice, the first time with a Conservative rabbi, in accordance with her fiance’s Conservative orientation. As the wedding plans became more real, she elected to undertake a second, Orthodox conversion.
Kan said a wedding in Warsaw was her idea, because "I saw these old people and it broke my heart."
When they visited the synagogue, she told her fiance, "It would bring such meaning to our wedding. And it would also be a mitzvah to bring such joy to the community of Warsaw."
Upon their return to New York, said Blum, "We just looked at each other and said, ‘We should do this.’ It was a way of putting a little extra meaning into our lives."
Following the wedding, the couple will do something a bit different for their honeymoon. They will act as guides for their family and friends through parts of Poland, and the tour will include a stop at Auschwitz.
Alone, they will honeymoon in Israel, because, said Blum, "it was the easiest thing to get a direct flight from Warsaw to Tel Aviv."