Victor Markowicz, a Siberian-born philanthropist who grew up in Poland and later moved to the United States, spends much of his time these days asking fellow Jewish philanthropists in the U.S. to contribute to a Jewish museum to be built in Warsaw in the next few years.
Markowicz's friends, in turn, ask him something: "Why in Warsaw? Why in Poland?"
Many American Jews (born here or in the Old Country) support the idea of a museum devoted to Jews from Poland, to which a majority of American Jewry can trace their roots.
Warsaw — Since he first came here from Israel 14 years ago to help rebuild Jewish life here in the Polish capital, Yossi Erez has threatened that his retirement, and his return to Israel, was imminent. A Polish-born Jew who made aliyah with his family in 1947 and served as an Israeli Army psychiatrist, Erez served as the Polish representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, training young community leaders and coordinating educational programs and waiting until he wasn’t needed on a daily basis anymore.
That day came two weeks ago.
Lublin, Poland — On the first two nights of Passover, the ground floor of a former medical academy near Lublin’s historic Old City was crowded by early evening with members of the Jewish community. Children played for hours in the hallways while senior citizens schmoozed in a small office. After sundown, joined by other members of the community and a Jewish choir from Warsaw, they filed into a social hall for the seders; afterward, they stayed to play and shmooze some more.
Are you familiar with the Haggadah commentary of Rabbi Benjamin David Rabinowitz, an 18th-century scholar in Warsaw? Or of Rabbi Ya’akov Lorberbaum, a Polish rosh yeshiva in the late 1700s and early 1800s? Or of Rabbi David Dov Meisels, a chasidic rebbe in Poland 150 years ago?
Probably not. Unless you are a member of the Oceanside Jewish Center.
Each year the 12th-grade students of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester spend a week in Poland, on the way to Israel, learning about Jewish history at the site of death camps, synagogues and forests.
This year their most poignant lesson came at an antiques shop on a Warsaw side street.
They discovered a Torah scroll there.
During a trip in Poland in the mid-1920s, Jacob Kret, a teenage yeshiva student from the northeast part of the country, found himself in the town of Radin, home of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, an aged Talmudic authority who was known as the Chofetz Chaim and was regarded as the Torah leader of his generation.
Unable to get home in time for Shabbat, the young man stayed in the home of the Chofetz Chaim, sleeping on a straw bed, eating and praying and discussing religious topics with the sage.
Finally, a fund-raising idea that’s not half-baked.
Students from a small day school in western Massachusetts this week made a challah that will go on display at an agricultural festival, then enter the Guinness Book of World Records.
The “Challah of Fame” is 40 feet long and weighs 120 pounds.
Military service is in the Perl family’s blood.
Pvt. Otto Perl spent nearly a year in the Austrian army from 1937 to 1938. His father had been an officer in that same army in World War I, and two of his uncles had served in WWI.
Perl, a tailor, was 22 in early 1938 when he was discharged a few months before his homeland was annexed by Nazi Germany. A Jew, he was arrested and sent to the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps for a year. He survived the forced labor and beatings and frigid weather.
The best advice I ever received about a forthcoming interview concerned a septuagenarian cardiologist in Warsaw. I was about to interview Dr. Marek Edelman, the last-surviving commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in 1993 for a series of stories commemorating the event’s 50th anniversary. A Polish Jew who knew him told me what to expect: Dr. Edelman would give me some time, but if he felt bored he’d probably walk away without warning.