«Jewish Observer»
September 2002
5763 Tishrei

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The 13th annual seminar on Yiddish and culture of the East-European Jewry was held in the town of Otvotsk (not far from Warsaw) on July 9-30. The seminar was organized in collaboration with a social and cultural association of Jews in Poland "Shrudborovyanka". 65 participants attended it. 29 were representatives of Poland, 36 - came from Ukraine, Russia and Israel. One participant was a citizen of Great Britain studying in Poland. One more was a citizen of Japan.

The participants were divided into four groups by their knowledge of Yiddish: two initial groups, one - advanced and one group for teachers. The lecturers were mainly from Israel - professors of world acclaim Dov Khoi (folklore), Volf Moskovich (lexicology), Doctors Mordehai Yushkovsky (literature in Yiddish), and Sarra Lapitskaya (Yiddish). Much praise was said about music teachers Yasha and Bella Ainshtain, Andreya Fudermuts from Austria (Yiddish), as well as about a young Rabbi Gregory Kotlyar (basics of Jewish traditions) who works now in Moscow. The oldest Yiddish writer in Israel Avram Karpinovish shared his interesting reminiscences with the audience, whereas professor Naomi Fogelman spoke about the history of the Jewish community in the Polish town of Katovits. She was born in this town and her father was the last Rabbi of Katovits. Already in Israel, the Fogelmans brought up a boy, Lyolek, their relative. He became an orphan during the war. Now, he is one of the most popular persons in the Jewish world. He is the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel. His name is Israel-Meir Lau.

The participants visited the places of Jewish culture in Warsaw. The district of the former Warsaw ghetto made a deep impression on them. The participants will remember for a long time the speech of Rabbi Mikhael Shudrikh in the only acting synagogue in the capital of Poland. Rabbi's main idea is that though there are few Jews left in Poland (from 4 to 10 thousands), their life, by all means, should be organized according to the Jewish tradition. To the credit of the organizers of the seminar is a visit to the musical "Skshipek na dakhu" ("Violinist on the roof") at the State Jewish theatre named after Ida Kaminska. The Polish actor Kshishtof Goshtyla was at his best in playing Tevje-milkman.

Almost every day there were meetings in "Shrudborovyanka" with the guests from Warsaw. A well-known Polish publicist, member of the editorial board of the Jewish magazine "Midrash" Konstant Gebert spoke about horrible events that took place on July 10, 1941 in the town of Edvabno when Poles killed many Jews.

Two young employers of the Warsaw Jewish museum project described gigantic plans of the future museum and showed slides. Yan Yadelsky, a prominent Polish specialist, spoke with inspiration about the documentation of Jewish culture monuments. It was a great pleasure to listen to the best expert in Poland of Yiddish and Jewish literature, pedagogue and translator Mikhail Fridman. Director Shimon Shurmei in brilliant Russian spoke about the history, present and future work of the Jewish theatre named after Ida Fridman. The participants of the seminar had a unique chance to visit the Ministry of Culture and speak to a recently appointed minister with the sonorous name of Dombrovsky. The Ambassador of Israel professor Shevakh Vais spent half a day in "Shrudborovyanka". During the Second World War Poles and Ukrainians rescued the whole family of Vais in Eastern Galicia. Professor Vais is fluent in Polish and speaks Yiddish. Once he was the Chairman of Knesset.

The educational part of the seminar ended in the concert participants had been rehearsing since the first days they arrived in Poland.

The program included the reciting of Jewish poems, choral singing of songs in Yiddish, as well as scenes from everyday Jewish life. All together it was a literary and musical composition. One of its parts was a mini-play "Bai a glezl tei" ("At a cup of tea"). The play was based on the poem of the distinguished Jewish poet and composer Mordkhe Gebirtik who died in the Krakow ghetto 60 years ago. I was playing the role of Berele there.

Three last days the participants spent visiting the Jewish places in Poland - Kelts, Krakow, Lyublin, Guru-Kalvaria and others.

On July 4, 1946 there was a horrible pogrom in the town of Kelts against Jews who had survived the flames of the Catastrophe. The pogrom with many victims was held with the connivance of local authorities. One of the badly injured that day was Rafael Blumenfeld, a member of the Organizing Committee of the seminar, who now resides in Israel. He is a descendant of Gursky Hasids. Their center was Gura-Kalavaria, once called Erushalaim de-Polognia. At present, there is only one Jew in this locality, and one acting synagogue!

In the town of Petrkuwe Trybunalsk, there is a unique cemetery with different Jewish symbols on ancient monuments. In 2000 the last local religious Jew was buried there. The community of the city of Lodz buried her.

The representatives of the Polish youth also participated in the work of the seminar "Yiddish un Yiddishkait". In Poland there are many streets named after Jews - writers, scientists and public leaders. The following words are written on the title page of the manual on national minorities residing in Poland "Nekh inni ne bendon obtsimi" ("Let others be not strangers").

Before the seminar, in Odessa, I saw a book on the history and culture of Polish Jewry published in the collection "A to Polska vlashne" ("This is what Poland is"). Jews and everything related to them in Poland are not any more looked upon as strange, harmful and useless.

Will a many-century-old history of Polish Jewry remain only the sacred memory or it will continue to live? Time will show. I hope for the better.


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