(JTA) – President Andrzej Duda of Poland said it is “important” to him that Jews “feel at home” in his country after he accepted a Hanukkah menorah from Chabad’s emissary to Poland.
On Thursday, Duda received Rabbi Szalom Ber Stambler at his official residence for a Hanukkah menorah lighting one day after a similar ceremony took place in the Polish parliament. Stambler gave the head of state a gold-colored menorah with a relief of Jerusalem on it.
Poland is one of Israel’s staunchest allies in the European Union. Unlike leaders in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and many other EU member states, Poland’s leaders have refrained from criticizing President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 declaration that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Several prominent Polish Jews have called on Poland to follow the example of the Czech Republic, whose president openly supported Trump’s move.
“The Maccabees are a symbol to people the world over,” Duda said at the ceremony in reference to the leaders of the second-century rebellion against the Greeks whose actions are celebrated during Hanukkah.
On Tuesday, Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki said during his inaugural address in parliament that non-Jewish Poles who saved their “Jewish brothers” during the Holocaust represent the “essence of what it means to be Polish.” Morawiecki was appointed last month in a surprise Cabinet reshuffle.
In September, Morawiecki in a speech about the Holocaust said he had two Jewish aunts.
But in an interview with RMF radio, the prime minister’s father said “I don’t know about his Jewish roots.” Kornel Morawiecki said one of the aunts cited by his son was a family friend and he did not elaborate about the other one.
The issue of anti-Semitism in Poland — where a massive nationalist march last month featured anti-Semitic chants — is a contentious one among its Jews and led to a public row among community leaders in August.