Polish Language Blog

Young Polish Jews leading the way! Posted by on Jul 16, 2013 in Culture

22 years after the fall of communism and more than 70 years after the Nazis annihilated three million Polish Jews (of the 6 million total Jews murdered), Polish Jews are embracing their identity and faith in inspiring and frankly unbelievable ways.

Image by Jacek.NL on Flickr.com

Image by Jacek.NL on Flickr.com

And that’s not just because there is a laudable Museum of the History of Polish Jews that opened with fanfare last May or a moving tribute to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that brought international attention to the bravery of the Ghetto fighters so many years after their heroic actions.

It’s because the country’s 25,000 Jews – though a far cry from the millions that built a robust Jewish civilization throughout pre-war Poland – are eager to innovate Jewish life through street festivals, educational and religious programs, and by investigating their family’s past, despite the pain.

And this is extraordinary in a country whose Communist-led post-1967 “anti-Zionist” purges forced many Jews to either emigrate from Poland or head underground, hiding their identities for many decades to come. And yet after Communism fell, some Jews – like their Catholic neighbors who enthusiastically clung to their faith – were able to explore what it meant to be a Jew in a place where for the better part of 50 years it was unthinkable. And in many ways it was because a parent or grandparent shockingly revealed their Jewish heritage on their deathbeds.

Quietly and effectively, local and international Jewish organizations, philanthropists, and advocates – running the pluralistic gamut of religious movements and cultural options – have invested in both Jewish people (some who proudly identified as such and others who have since “come out”) and in synagogues, community-wide Sabbath dinners, camping experiences, Jewish learning conferences, Jewish Community Centers and youth clubs, urban holiday events, study groups, and even Jewish cooking classes.

Today in Warsaw and Kraków, centers of Jewish life, one can take a Hebrew class in the morning, learn how to make latkes at lunchtime, and meet with other people who are exploring their Jewish heritage – in some cases long hidden by their families for fear of persecution – at night.

Young Polish Jews are also leading the way. In many ways they have inherited a tremendous historical legacy, but are remaking it in their own image.

And the picture would not be complete without mentioning Jewish heritage tours around the country, family genealogy research in corners of Poland where there are no Jews left, and a trend among some Jews to acquire a EU passport and embrace the country their parents and grandparents left behind.

Add to this a growing number of Jewish expats living and breathing Polish culture and language and you have an enigmatic phenomenon that is bolstering a local community’s confidence in itself and its identity.

Today, in tens of thousands of Jewish faces and lives, in song and prayer, and even in new forms of Jewish self-expression, Jewish life in Poland is blossoming. And that is cause for celebration.


Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.