Poland Invites Jewish Educators to Teach Catholics About Judaism

American rabbis and other Jewish educators hope to travel to Poland by the end of the year to teach Polish Catholic clergy about Judaism, in response to an invitation extended by the Polish Catholic Church.

Bishop Henryk Muszynski, chairman of the Polish Episcopate Commission for Dialogue With Judaism, asked the Synagogue Council of America at a meeting here last week to send rabbis and educators to assist in an intensive education and dialogue campaign to teach Polish Catholics about the relations between Catholics and Jews.

His invitation follows the reading of a pastoral letter in Poland’s Catholic churches on Jan. 20 that denounced anti-Semitism and expressed “sincere regret for all incidents” of anti-Semitism by Poles.

The trip is being seen as an opportunity to act on the principles set forth in a declaration signed last September in Prague by Catholic and Jewish religious leaders. The declaration defined anti-Semitism as a sin and called for enhanced communication between Catholics and Jews.

The invitation to Poland is “a very clear and immediate fulfillment of Prague,” according to Rabbi Jack Bemporad, chairman of the Synagogue Council’s Interreligious Affairs Committee. It is “the first and most important link.”

Poland is estimated to have no more than 10,000 Jews remaining from what, at its prewar peak, was a culturally and religiously vibrant community of 3.5 million souls. Just 2,000 members of the small surviving community affiliate with organized Jewish life, according to Muszynski.

‘DEALING WITH JEWS AS AN ABSTRACTION’

The contribution of Jews to “Polish history must be preserved and transmitted by Jews who are willing to visit,” Bemporad said.

Polish intellectuals and theologians have a “genuine, but almost macabre moral and intellectual interest” in the Jews, according to Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, a member of the Synagogue Council representing the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

They have been devoting an increasing number of seminars and conferences to the subject of Polish Jewish history, and “they found that they were running a number of these without any Jews present,” Tanenbaum said. “They were dealing with Jews as an abstraction, almost a caricature.”

The new invitation to visit grew out of a realization among Polish theologians that “they need to have communication with living Jews,” said Tanenbaum. “The Poles know almost nothing about world Jewry.”

During his meeting at Synagogue Council headquarters here March 6, Bishop Muszynski also spoke of efforts to reorganize the museum at Auschwitz as a state-sponsored museum to “reflect the grim history” and “the tragic role that Jews played in it and its deep meaning for the Jewish people.

“Until now, it has been a museum of anti-Nazi, communist and atheistic propaganda, rather than a museum of the true Auschwitz history,” he explained.

Muszynski expressed hope that the new center would become a vehicle for reconciliation, education and understanding.

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