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New Warsaw community group hopes to attract younger Jews

ROME, Oct. 26 (JTA) – Warsaw’s Jews have formally established an organized Jewish religious community, electing a board that for the first time in Poland includes women. Five out of seven of the new board members were born after World War II, marking a significant change in the local Jewish leadership profile. Prior to its creation this month, there was no official Jewish community operating in Warsaw. Warsaw Jews instead came under the Warsaw-based Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, the umbrella organization of the country’s Jewish groups. The new Warsaw community plans to broaden its scope of activities so that local operations will no longer be identified only with synagogue service and charity. This, founding members say, is aimed at attracting membership, particularly among young people. Hundreds – possibly thousands – of Jews are believed to live in Warsaw, but religious activities previously drew mainly elderly Holocaust survivors. Educational programs run by organizations such as the U.S.-based Ronald Lauder Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee attract hundreds of younger people, but most have no official affiliation. “I hope the new bylaws, the new faces at the meeting, the new board, all mark a new beginning,” Stanislaw Krajewski, the American Jewish Committee’s Poland consultant and a member of the board of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, said in a telephone interview from Warsaw. “We hope that a new profile of the [community] will be forged, so that educated Polish Jews will join. If we fail to attract more of the assimilated Jews we will not survive,” he said. Leszek Piszewski, who works for the Warsaw office of the Lauder Foundation, was elected board president at a meeting last week. Helena Datner, who directs an educational center sponsored by the JDC, was elected vice president. Another woman, Rysia Zachariasz, also became a board member. Jewish sources in Warsaw said the inclusion of women on the board was particularly significant. Until only a few months ago, the sources said, all the Jewish religious communities in Poland acted according to bylaws that denied voting rights to women. The Warsaw community will also have jurisdiction over Jews in most of Poland to the east of Warsaw. “This is of importance because the process of restitution of former property of Jewish communities has begun, and the towns where now no Jewish community exists will be represented by the existing ones,” Krajewski said. Earlier this month, he said, the Regulative Commission, a joint body of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities and the Polish government, was formally established to work on restitution issues.

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