With the opening of a Chabad House in Warsaw, the city’s Jewish community will finally enjoy the full range of Jewish communal services offered by Chabad.
The opening of the first full-time center in Poland under the direction of Rabbi Shalom Ber and Dina Stambler was made official at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim last Sunday.
Until now, Chabad served Poland’s Jewish community through its rabbinical students who came at regular intervals throughout the year under the Lubavitch Jewish Community Enrichment Program. “Our rabbinical students—who had begun to visit Poland with the Rebbe’s blessing back in 1990,” says Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, “provided a critical service to the county’s Jews.” But a variety of factors, not least of which is the growth of Poland’s Jewish population placed at 10,000 according to census figures, and double that according to Stambler—have contributed to the decision by Lubavitch to step up its activities there: Poland joined the European Union last year; the country has become increasingly open to Western trade and influences; Jewish traffic has swelled; and a new generation of Polish Jewry is beginning to face their Jewish roots with curiosity and interest.
The board at Lubavitch Headquarters has “carefully considered the Rebbe’s instructions in this regard,” said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of the Lubavitch educational and social services divisions. Rabbi Krinsky was referring to the Rebbe’s advice to several activists who met with him in 1990 regarding Poland’s Jewish population, advocating sending “instructors, teachers and leaders” to educate Jews in Poland, and to provide them with “opportunities for Jewish life.” The Rebbe reiterated this in a public address on June 1, 1991, saying the peaceful climate in Poland should be utilized for the benefit of the local Jewish community, by providing “rabbis and teachers for the purpose of drawing Jews in Poland back to their roots.”
The new Chabad representatives and the 10 rabbinical students who will be studying at the newly formed Lubavitch yeshiva in Warsaw, will help fill the roles of “instructors, teachers and leaders” to answer the Rebbe’s call. Building on the groundwork laid by Chabad’s visiting rabbinical students who, over the years, developed a large database with names of Jews scattered across Poland’s cities, towns and small villages, explained Rabbi Stambler, “Chabad’s newly arrived Yeshiva students will be spending Shabbat in different locations each week, meeting people and organizing services and Shabbat celebrations.”
Stambler and his wife are at the heart of a Jewish renaissance in Poland, managing an already thriving Chabad operation that includes a full schedule of Torah study classes, large Shabbat celebrations, a Sunday school, kindergarten, weekly social gatherings for various age groups, and more. Organizations such as the Lauder Foundation have been operating extensively over several years in the region, working to wake the remnants of Polish Jewry from their slumber following the Holocaust.
According to Meir Stambler, a Chabad businessman who travels to Warsaw frequently with his father and partner, Zalman, the need for Jewish activity keeps growing. The Stamblers, along with the younger brother—Shalom Ber, began meeting and studying with people on their trips to Warsaw in recent years and hosted several Shabbat and holiday celebrations. Their activities, starting on a small scale, have become increasingly popular with growing numbers of locals and traveling businesspeople asking for more.
“In many ways Polish Jewry is still in hiding,” says David Tennenbaum, a Holocaust survivor from Poland currently living in Queens, New York. Tennenbaum describes himself as a lone-ranger whose mission to bring Polish Jews back to their roots has brought him to Poland several times a year since the 1970’s. “Many Jews here, still fearing anti-Semitism, want to be Polish, and nothing more. Others have tried to revive Jewish life and not succeeded. But Chabad’s activities are unique. I have not seen any kind of Jewish movement like this here since the war.”
With the generous support of the Rohr Family Foundation, Mr. Joseph Neumann of New York, and the Stamblers, Chabad’s will offer Poland’s Jews all the opportunities for Jewish growth. The new center includes a library, study rooms and kosher restaurant–a particularly welcome development for Jewish businessmen and travelers, who number well over 20,000 each year.
“The most incredible thing is meeting Jews who have lived their entire lives unaware of, or carefully hiding, their Judaism,” says Stambler. He points to notable examples such as Poland’s former foreign minister and the wife of Warsaw’s former mayor, whom he recently discovered were Jewish. “As Jewish awareness grows, many have begun to come out of the closet, as it were, and allow the joy of Judaism to become a part of their lives,” he says.
Chabad of Warsaw is located at Slominskiego 19-508. For more information, contact Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler at: 48 603 200 485.