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From left to right - rear: Belle Jarniewski, Chair of the Holocaust Education Centre, Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, Rabbi, Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue, Ran Ukashi, Manitoba Regional Director, B'nai Brith Canada John Young, CEO, Canadian Museum for Human Rights From left to right - front: Cary Rubenfeld, Jeff Morry, Senior Program Officer, The Asper Foundation

From Darkness to Light: Chief Rabbi of Poland speaks of Jewish Renewal and Renaissance In Contemporary Poland

Ran Ukashi Regional Director, Manitoba - B’nai Brith Canada Nov 3 2017


In the minds of many, Poland is associated with one of the darkest chapters of Jewish history. It is a country that saw nearly a millenium of Jewish civilization and history wiped away in an instant during the Holocaust by the Nazis and their accomplices. Rabbi Michael Shudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, considers the magnitude of this loss to be so great that it too often overshadows another important fact: ten per cent of the original 3.5 million pre-Holocaust Jewish population survived the war. What happened to these Jews, where are they and their descendants today, and how are they faring? 


From Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, Rabbi Shudrich visited Winnipeg to talk about his groundbreaking work in the Jewish community of contemporary Poland, and to answer this very question. The rabbi is a born and bred New Yorker, who received rabbinical ordination at both the Jewish Theological Seminary and then subsequently Yeshiva University. After serving as a rabbi in Japan for over six years, Rabbi Shudrich embarked on a new challenge when he moved to Poland to work for the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, an organization that provides Jewish education in central and Eastern Europe.


In 2000, Rabbi Shudrich became the official rabbi of Warsaw and Lodz before taking on the role as Poland’s Chief Rabbi in 2004. Over the years, he has worked tirelessly to improve Jewish education and religious literacy in the country, helping Jews rediscover and reconnect with their roots. The rabbi has also worked with the Polish government and different faith and grassroots advocacy organizations to identify mass execution sites and have proper headstones placed in order to afford Jewish victims of the Holocaust with the dignity they deserve in death, of which they were not afforded in life.


The rabbi spoke to Gray Academy students, as well as to a packed audience at the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue, about his work with Polish Jews, the challenges they face, and most importantly, the relatively bright and hopeful future they have today compared to their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, which lived under communist rule and Nazi tyranny. Rabbi Shudrich shared his work and personal story with Holocaust survivors and their children at a Congregation Etz Chayim luncheon, and gave an interview to Regine Frankel of the The Jewish Hour Radio Program on CKJS – 810 AM, which will air on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017 from 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.


The rabbi sought to impart a message that, while that past cannot be changed, nor should it be forgotten, and that the Poland of today is a very different place than what many Jews remember. Of course, much work needs to be done to rebuild Jewish life and to reconcile with the past. However, Poland’s Jewish community has indeed been reemerging and reasserting itself to a degree unseen since before the Holocaust. This will surely offer Jewish people around the world hope and inspiration to be able to see our strength and resilience in the face of tremendous historical adversity.


Rabbi Michael Shudrich’s visit was made possible by the generous support and dedication of many organizations and individuals, including: The Asper Foundation, Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue, Congregation Etz Chayim, Jewish Child and Family Services, B’nai Brith Canada, The Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre, Gray Academy of Jewish Education, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Marni Hellner, Faye and Harvey Rosenberg-Cohen, Ahava Halpern, and Cary Rubenfeld.


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