Hundreds Of Polish Jews — including elderly Holocaust survivors and younger people just discovering their Jewish identity — celebrated Passover this year with nearly a score of community seders in more than half-a-dozen cities throughout Poland.
In Warsaw alone, Jews attended five community seders during the first two nights of the holiday. One of them was attended by Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor and Righteous Gentile.
“Bartoszewski’s presence gave the small but struggling community a shot in the arm,” said Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the Polish director of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which sponsors Jewish youth clubs and education programs in Poland and elsewhere in central Europe.
In addition to Warsaw, seders were held in Lodz, Wroclaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Walbrzych and Katowice.
As in earlier years, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee provided Passover supplies for seders at the kosher canteens in a number of Jewish community centers, where seders are aimed primarily at elderly Jews.
In addition, the Lauder Foundation sponsored seders aimed at younger Jews just learning about their Jewish identity and heritage.
In several cities, seders for young and old were combined.
“Though not exclusive, our overall attitude was to encourage younger and new Jews to attend,” Schudrich said in a telephone interview. “The seder is a good entry point into Jewish life.”
Schudrich said the number of seders sponsored this year by the Lauder Foundation doubled since last year.
He also said a number of non-Jewish community business provided support for the Passover observances.
In Warsaw, he said, more than 200 people attended the Lauder Foundation seder on the first night, and 170 — including Bartoszewski and his wife — attended on the second night.
Both seders, which were co-sponsored by the Social and Cultural Association Of Polish Jews, were held at Warsaw’s Forum Hotel, which donated banquet space. There was also a seder for 80 at the Lauder Morasha Jewish elementary school.
Kosher food for the seders was flown in by LOT Polish Airlines, and several local businesses made cash contributions for the events.
“I was very moved,” Schudrich said. “It is a certain turning point when the general community participates in Jewish events.”
Schudrich said the Lauder Foundation seders were for the most part led by younger Jews.
“We are beginning to see younger people taking leadership roles in ritual activities,” he said.
“These are homegrown people, many of whom did not know they were Jewish a few years ago,” he added.
What was also heartening, he said, was that in a few cases parents of some of the younger participants came to the seder, marking the first time they had been to a seder for as long as 50 years.
“We are beginning to see a ripple effect,” he said.
More than 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland before World War II. Three million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Today, there are about 10,000 Jews in Poland. Since the fall of communism five years ago, hundreds of younger people have discovered or rediscovered their Jewish identity and have begun learning about Jewish religion and tradition.