NEW YORK (Feb. 27)
The Judaism of their mothers’ generation may have been extinguished by the Nazis, but one couple in Poland has embarked on a mission to rekindle the flame.
They do not, however, want the fire to burn brightly enough for everyone to see.
Avraham and Margolit, children of Holocaust survivors, were recently married at the same Jewish educational retreat in Poland where they first met. While the site was chosen in celebration of the couple’s religious growth, it doubled as a place to hold the Jewish ceremony secretly, escaping feared reprisals from friends and co-workers who do not know they are Jewish.
“In a world where there’s still animosity, these people have decided they want to have a Jewish family,” said Jonah Bookstein, co-director of Jewish Outreach Programs in Poland for the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.
The couple, who asked to be referred to only by their Hebrew names, first met at the Lauder Educational Retreat and Summer Camp in Rychwald, Poland, four years ago. The retreat, established more than 10 years ago to provide Polish Jews with a place to learn about their culture and religion, served as a meeting place for the couple throughout their courtship as they lived almost 250 miles apart.
“It’s difficult to express in words how I felt about Margolit when we first met,” said Avraham, who spoke to JTA in Polish — his wife interpreted. “It wasn’t love at first, first it was friendship and then these real feelings struck us.”
The couple first decided to attend the retreat to enhance their knowledge of Judaism. Both are children of Jewish mothers who survived the Holocaust and Polish fathers. Their upbringing included minor references to Judaism, but these were never coupled with explanations.
“My grandmother lit candles on Friday night, but that was it,” said Margolit, who added that her husband’s background was even less religious than hers.
“I always wanted to have some connections to the Jewish people,” said Avraham, who said that he had only had Polish friends before visiting the retreat.
Margolit likened the camp to “a small yeshiva with a lot of discipline,” and said it inspired the couple to learn more about their religion and “expand their horizon” further than their parents’ Jewish practices.
“It’s a fantastic circle,” said Bookstein of the couple’s marriage. “They wanted a personal and communal celebration with the Jewish community.”
Fear of anti-Semitism inspired them to have a private wedding and keep their religious convictions a secret from their friends and neighbors in Warsaw, where the couple now lives.
“Even some of our closest friends don’t know that we are Jewish,” Margolit said. “Attitudes change when they find out — you never know to what extent.”
Avraham and Margolit now consider themselves Orthodox but admit their observance is “not as good as it should be.”
“We want to be more Orthodox but it’s not possible perhaps in Poland,” Margolit said. “Your bosses want you to work on Shabbat and the university where my husband studies politics only has classes on Saturday and Sunday.”
“Jewish life is very complicated,” Avraham said. “I feel like I live three different lives — one at work, one at university with friends, and my Jewish life.”
The couple is enjoying married life, three weeks after the wedding, and is considering plans for the future.
Margolit is thinking about attending a yeshiva to strengthen her Judaism even more.
Avraham, however, is setting his sights on emigration from Poland.
“How can we raise a child in the Polish community?” he asked. He would like to move to the United States eventually, but will have to convince Margolit, who said she is “quite cautious” about that.
“He’s worrying about the future,” she said. “He’s a real husband already.”