A Weekend of Remembrance and Dedication Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin
9-11 February 2007/ 22-23 Shevat 5767
חנוכת ישיבת חכמי לובלין המחודשת
By Adv. Michael H. Traison
Sent: Fri Feb 09 10:20:23 2007
As I write this, sitting in the Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin, it is 4:10 p.m., about 4 minutes before candle lighting time here in Eastern Poland in the heart of the City of Lublin, not more than a few kilometers away from Majdanek concentration camp. The building in which I sit was built in the year 1930 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro and was one of the foremost Yeshiva (Talmudical College) of the Jewish civilization that is no more. This building was occupied as a medical school for many years until its recent return to the Jewish community of Warsaw, which takes responsibility for this sector of Poland.
Gathered here even now are several hundred people, mostly Jews and some Poles, from all over the country and from Israel, France, America and elsewhere for a full Shabbat and including a Shabbat dinner. We will begin Kabalat Shabbat services in a few moments in the massive synagogue room on the upper floors. Following Shabbat tomorrow night and after Havdala, there will be a concert. On Sunday will be the full ceremonies of the rededication of this building.
As Shabbat is
now upon us, I will continue this message after Shabbat tomorrow night.
Sent: Sat Feb 10 16:15:08 2007
Shabbat ended with a beautiful Havdala ceremony. At its end, 30 women stood in each of the front facade windows of the Yeshiva building with tall candles alight, making a photo opportunity from the street to say "Am Yisrael Chai" עם ישראל חי!, the people of Israel yet live.
Now we are gathered together in a "club" about 50 meters from the Yeshiva. About 200 people waiting for tonight's performance of klezmer music preceded by a play in Polish of Jewish life. But the story of the Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin is not confined to this small group.
Today's "Gazeta Wyborcza", Poland's largest newspaper, prominently carried the story of this weekend's events, including a photo of the lighting of the Shabbat candles. In their local edition, which covers the entire Lublin region, was a 24-page insert carrying a detailed story of the history of the Yeshiva and the weekend's events. Tomorrow's ceremonies will be covered live on television.
Shabbat was filled with celebration, memory and kavana (devotion), spirit. We assembled in this city, the capital of the Jewish People for nearly 200 years (1580-1764), the seat of the Va'ad Arba' Aratzot ("Council of Four Lands). We were gathered as one, mostly Polish Jews, but also from other nations. On one level we enjoyed this Shabbat as any Shabbaton. In another sense, we co-mingled with the souls and memory of the Yeshiva's founder R' Shapiro and his students, and with all our people who were so brutally murdered in the sudden terror of the Holocaust which incinerated not only the Jewish people but the Jewish civilization that lived here for seven hundred years.
Here one is able to meet Jews who have lived their entire lives in hiding, at least as to their Jewishness. One man was born in close by Wladowa, four years after the war ended when his parents returned from their "lucky" exile in the Soviet Union. By 1951 he and his parents moved to Lublin, the big city. Now he dons a kippah and his son proudly proclaims his Jewishness. Another is Halachic Jewish and speaks of his mothers birth, also to parents returning after the war. But whom, unlike hundreds of thousands of others, remained here. Virtually, Jewish, "frozen in time, till this time of miracles. Never has the belief in the resurrection of the dead, of m'chayeh maytim" had more meaning to me.
Sent: Sun Feb 11 04:36:49 2007
Sunday morning services in the large prayer all of the Yeshiva commenced at 8:30 a.m. in a building, by now, full of press: live TV which is broadcasting nationally throughout the country, as well as media with still cameras. Also here are reporters from AP and Haaretz and JTA.
The prayer hall has been rebuilt with parquet floor and fresh paint, a Bima and Aron Hakodesh (the Holy Ark). The pews are also freshly crafted from pine. It all looks new and fresh, even if the "restoration" is not particularly loyal to the original plans, look or feel. But one must remember that in 1930 this building also appeared quite modern for its time and use. Rather than an old fashioned shtibl appearance as one might imagine from 17th century Vilna, this building is a modern urban structure, much like you would find on Dexter or Linwood in Detroit, where in fact the remnants of this Yeshiva can also be found.
The south end of the main floor and first floor (2d fl) above it are renovated. The entire basement is still quite an unfinished mess but the organized Warsaw Jewish community was anxious to show what it could do, as Lublin is an affiliate of that community.
Today the building is adorned with works of art, historical exhibits and a few mezuzot here and there, prior to this afternoon's dedication ceremony when a large mezuzah will be placed at the front door. Included in the exhibition are super-enlarged photos of the original dedication ceremonies 77 years ago, a few years before the young Rabbi Meir Shapiro died.
Yet looking around, the most significant sight is this building full of Jews, people with a Jewish parent or grandparent and some non-Jewish Polish people sharing in this occasion. As was the case in Pińczów, Przemyśl, Wysokie Mazowieckie , Kraków, Rózań and elsewhere, the Polish press covers the story for a Polish public who views these events as celebrating their own history. There's a strange sense of "intimacy" with these occasions for the non-Jewish public that I've never seen elsewhere in Europe or America. One could conclude that this unique symbiosis between the Polish and Jewish nations may help understand the unique tension between them and the powerful feelings of each toward the other.
Sent: Sun Feb 11 08:39:23 2007
By 1:00 p.m., 1500 people were assembled on the steps and gardens before the building in a pose that somewhat recaptured the same photo taken 70 years ago. The loud speakers played an inspiring hymn of triumphal music. As the crowd shivered in the bitter cold, a hydraulic lift raised three rabbis from the lower platform to the mantle of the building where they pulled on the ropes affixed to the covering and unveiled the Hebrew letters proclaiming Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin. The crowd of Jews and Poles applauded enthusiastically as a procession led by a Sefer Torah (The Scrolls of the Law) and followed by the Israeli ambassador, rabbis and priests and the mayor of the city proceeded into the building, only to pause at the portals to affix the first mezuzah since the Germans destroyed the Jewish world of Lublin, and hundreds of other cities, towns and villages of this country.
The crowd followed this procession to the first floor where, again another mezuzah was attached to the portals of the synagogue.
Instead dancing with the Torahs, singing and the speeches which are normal on such occasions. Among the speakers was the Mayor of Lublin, who delivered a brief but scholarly history of Jewish Lublin, the president of the Polish union of Jewish communities and Rabbi Michael Schudrich whose heroic work over decades made Jewish life possible as much or more than any other factor.
Sent: Sun Feb 11 10:21:27 2007
Among the speeches was the archbishop of Lublin, calling us his older brothers. Referring to the Yeshiva as a Lublin Oxford, he asked that the spirituality would radiate throughout Lublin. Watching intently, the archbishop adorned with a large cross, was the Rabbi Avi Kaufman from New York who earlier praised the Poles presenting here for honoring Polish history. Both spoke of the one G-d we all worship.
Then, in a dramatic moment, ascending the Bima, was Father Wexler who only a few years ago discovered he was born a Jew to two Jewish parents who placed him in the arms of a Polish catholic woman before his parents perished in the Shoah. Always feeling somehow he was different, he was raised as a religious Catholic, studied for the priesthood and today he is a respected Catholic priest in Lublin.
Father Wexler spoke of this last Shabbat, the dancing and singing and the ghosts of the Jews who were not there. He thought of the seer of Lublin. He spoke of the natural and the supernatural aspects of this weekend's ceremonies.
The room was hushed and all eyes were on the Bima and this priest with Jewish eyes and all thoughts were on his history and how it represents so many more thousands of hidden children. "I carry the love of both my Jewish and Polish parents. We will do all necessary to make this a living house. This is not a phantom synagogue. We hear the words of John Paul II: `There is no place for anti-Semitism. It is a sin which must be cut out,' said the Pope. "
As he descended from the Bima he was embraced tenderly by the rabbis. You could feel our brother being brought into the arms of his family.
The historic events occurring in Poland since the fall of communism and especially in the last few years and months have tremendous impact on world Jewry generally and Detroit is directly connected to many of the developments in multiple ways. First, many members of the Detroit Jewish community have their roots in the very places which are subject of so much attention in Poland. Reading the names of people in the annual Detroit Federation report is similar to reading the place names off a map of Poland. Our families are descended most directly from those villages and towns and cities.
For six decades the Polish nation suffered under a glacier of ice created during the cold war and the socialist totalitarian oppressors who rewrote the Jewish history of those same places and with the fall of the iron curtain, the glacier is melting. On the weekend of February 9 2007, the Jewish community of Warsaw will rededicate the famous Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin as a study center and gathering place. Most people know that this Yeshiva was one of the great rabbinic academies of the world and was built in Lublin Poland by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, z"l, in 1930. By 1939 the Germans had attacked from the west and the soviets from the east. Less than two years later, in June 1941, the Germans attacked the soviets and invaded the Lublin district. The students who were not killed ultimately found their way to Shanghai and it was these stragglers who were welcomed at the Michigan central as pictured in the Detroit Jewish News October 11, 1946. (the day of my brit). The article noted that the remaining few students would leave Shanghai the next day.
The Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin was located on the northwest corner of Linwood and Elmhurst. Ultimately in the mid 1960's it was removed to the state of Israel. But all those years the original Yeshiva building stood in Lublin as a sad reminder to us of the exterminated Jewish world that existed no more, gone forever. A few visitors stopped by from abroad from time to time and when the soviets hegemony was removed the local medical school which used the building also housed a small Beth Midrash for visitors to use for davening and saying Tehilim (the Psalms).
But now the building is back in Jewish hands. It represents one more piece of the ongoing process of restitution of communal property which I had the privilege of being part of at its inception when the Foundation for The Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland was formed in response to the Polish legislation which provided for return of church/synagogue/mosque communal property to the respective religious groups. One sees gathered at such events a variety of people including members of the local Polish Jewish community, few in number compared to what once was, but survivors and remnants of our people whom we embrace. One also sees people who have wish roots, though not Jewish themselves and many more people of good will from the broader general community who have strong feelings for events like these as being part of the Polish national heritage.
Adv. Michael Harmon Traison
traison "at" millercanfield.com (replace "at" by @)
Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC
150 W. Jefferson, Suite 2500
Detroit, MI 48226
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The opening ceremony of the Lublin Synagogue. 11.II.2007 - part 1 (shown on Polish TV) (at "youtube")
The opening ceremony of the Lublin Synagogue 11.II.2007 - part 2 (shown on Polish TV) (at "youtube")
Polish Jews to Reopen Synagogue in Prewar Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin
By The Associated Press "Haaretz" 11/02/2007
רוח "חכמי לובלין" קמה לתחייה (The Spirit of The Sages of Lublin Revived ("Maariv" 11.2.2007
יאיר אטינגר: אולי יהיה מניין לשבת " May be There Will Be Minyan to Sabbath "Haaretz 15.2.2007
Dedication of Renovated Yeshiva is Spiritual Beacon for Polish Jews (JTA 13.2.2007)
Lublin - To Tell... To Internalize... To Remember... (Lublin Organization Web Site)
Last updated April 8th, 2007