Warsaw rabbis quits, highlighting Jewish growing pains

WARSAW, Nov. 17 (JTA) — Citing irreconcilable differences with the lay leaders who hired him, Rabbi Baruch Rabinowicz has tendered his resignation as rabbi of Warsaw only six months into his two-year contract.

His decision focuses light on tensions within the emerging Jewish community in Poland and demonstrates the growing pains of the Jewish revival in post-Communist Europe.

“He resigned and we accepted the terms of the resignation, so the crisis has been overcome in a dignified way,” said Stanislaw Krajewski, a Polish Jewish leader. “We gained experience rather than suffered a blow.” He called Rabinowicz’s resignation “a reason for relief and hope that no further damage will be done. At this stage we can do better without him than with him.”

Still, said one community insider, “I feel that we have wasted time, energy and emotion.”

An Orthodox rabbi in his mid-20s, Rabinowicz was the first rabbi hired by the community in at least four decades. The move was hailed an important landmark in Jewish revival, both by community leaders and by outside observers.

Since the late 1980s, Poland had been served by one chief rabbi, Menachem Joskowicz, an elderly Chasid who spent much of his time in Israel and was criticized as being out of touch with the reviving Polish Jewry.

Joskowicz retired in June.

Insiders say a variety of tensions emerged between lay leaders and Rabinowicz — regarding both style and substance — from the beginning, which eventually led to personal animosities.

“It was a shiduch that didn’t work,” said one community insider, using the Yiddish word for a match, after Rabinowicz handed in a letter of resignation Wednesday. “Love comes from giving, not taking. Neither the rabbi” nor the community was “prepared to give enough. Both sides had unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, and both sides are guilty.”

Community leaders had hoped Rabinowicz would be a strong leader and effective public face for the community, a forceful figure who could solve internal disputes and attract Jews around him.

In this sense, they looked to him to fill the spiritual shoes of American Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who had recently left Poland after nearly a decade as director of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and its program of Jewish education and religious revival.

Schudrich had combined religious observance with a compelling contemporary personal style and had become a high-profile figure outside the Jewish community, too.

Most younger members of the Warsaw community, including its leadership, are Jews with a secular or liberal orientation, and they were put off by Rabinowicz’s Orthodoxy, as well as by his apparent timidity.

Community leaders also said the rabbi was not “reliable” in keeping appointments, including meetings with official visitors to the community.

The fact that the rabbi gathered a small group of Orthodox followers around him caused further friction — Rabinowicz said, in fact, that he was considering staying in Warsaw despite his resignation to work with these people outside community auspices.

He complained that the community was fragmented and factionalized and also that there were no organized provisions to support a rabbi and other synagogue workers in the traditional fashion. “I had to be rabbi, shamash and gabbai all in one,” he said, referring to three synagogue positions.

He said community leaders failed to provide decent housing and ensure the physical and material well-being of himself and his family.

He also was the target of taunts by local children near his home, and on one or two occasions had tomatoes thrown at him.

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