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  • Warsaw Jewish Cemetery

    My last day in Poland was a day of celebration and commemoration elsewhere in Europe. In Germany, crowds were gathering in front of the Brandenburg Gate to mark 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, while across the world Jewish communities were preparing to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht. It was a rainy… More ▸

  • Gloom

    For nearly the whole of the six days I spent in Warsaw, a cold, wet blanket was wrapped around the city. Each night, a damp fog obscured the tops of the skyscrapers near the railway station, casting an eerie glow over the city. The weather has been terrible for much of my time in Europe,… More ▸

  • Hail to the Chief

    Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, has the air of someone who enjoys being a little unorthodox. I suppose you have to be to leave behind a comfortable Upper West Side upbringing, spend six years leading a community in Japan, and after that set up shop in post-Communist Poland. He’s an Orthodox rabbi who was originally ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a vegetarian in a meat-and-potatoes country, and seemed to relish telling me about seeing the Grateful Dead perform at Nassau Coliseum in 1973. 
    For the better part of 20 years, Schudrich has been working to revive Jewish life in Poland. And judging from his schedule over the past 10 days, which he struggled to recall over Shabbat dinner at the Nozyk Synagogue — the only remaining one in Warsaw — he’s got his plate full. Among his activities in recent days were numerous visits to supervise the kashrut of food production facilities around the country, inspecting several of the country’s 1,200 Jewish cemeteries, putting out various communal fires, lecturing to Polish students, and greeting VIce President Joe Biden during his visit to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial. 
    Interacting with heads of state is par for the course for Schudrich, who seems to enjoy an influence unwarranted by the comparatively small community over which he presides. Several times in our discussion he mentioned Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski, making me wonder whether he has the head of state on speed dial. And recently he was at the center of a British political row when comments he made about a controversial Polish politician were used to beat up on the leader of the Tories, David Cameron. Schudrich told me his comments were grossly misinterpreted. 
    Other than Britain’s top rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, I can scarcely think of another chief rabbi who is quoted as frequently and enjoys that kind of access. Come to think of it, other than Schudrich and Sacks, I can barely even name another chief rabbi.  More ▸

  • Warsaw!

    As a habitual orderer of the kosher option on airplanes, I’ve grown accustomed to watching in envy as my fellow passengers devour a nice hot meal while I’m stuck with some dry, overcooked, soulless option prepared in a factory in Queens. So I was more than a little shocked when, after distributing shrink-wrapped mystery meat… More ▸