Warsaw JCC Debuts
Hundreds of people packed Warsaw’s first modern Jewish Community Center (JCC) recently to celebrate the facility’s opening – a remarkable milestone in Poland’s astonishing Jewish renaissance.
Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht transformed Germany’s streets into a terrifying mosaic of broken glass, the country of about 250,000 Jews – the world’s eighth-largest Jewish population – has rebounded to become a haven for Jewish innovation and education.
The Shalom Sofia Fest – modeled after Budapest’s popular JDC-supported Judafest, which has drawn huge crowds for more than five years – is supported by JDC as part of a region-wide “Judaism Without Walls” initiative geared at bringing non-affiliated Jews into Jewish life through innovative programs that operate outside of traditional frameworks.
Traditionally, Jewish community professionals in Bucharest were responsible for decorating a sukkah for the approximately 3,500 Jews in Romania’s capital city, which is about the size of metropolitan Philadelphia.
Oleg Jonelis first attended JDC’s Olameinu summer camp in the Baltics in 2002, when his father sent him to enrich his Jewish cultural education. Eleven years later, Jonelis is the camp’s director, and he said supervising more than 200 kids aged seven to 12 each summer from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania couldn’t be more rewarding.
Some marriages are a match made in heaven. For Barbi Paszternak-Szendy and her husband Andras Paszternak, their June nuptials were a match made in Szarvas.
For one night a year, the city’s seven remaining synagogues open themselves up to the public and host everything from a poetry reading to a symbolic multimedia walk through the seven gates of Jerusalem, from a photography exhibition to an Israeli-inspired hummus and grilled vegetable feast in a synagogue courtyard.
“Judafest Juniors is a unique event where positive Jewish identity is created for families and young children through inventive activities,” explains Agi Kardos, a mother of two who grew up during the socialist regime in Hungary in a traditional Jewish family—something very unusual for her generation. “Many people who are not ready to attend other kinds of Jewish programs are warmly welcomed here; and it’s accessible to non-Jews, giving our community a chance to open up to Budapest’s larger society, too.”
Sasha, 24, is still glowing with enthusiasm, energized by the 800-person Havdallah ceremony—the biggest he’s ever seen in Poland—that culminated this October’s Limud learning fest in Warsaw. For a young man who grew up in a secular family in Dzierżoniów, a small Polish town with no Jewish community, seeing this convergence of Jewish life of all denominations and every corner of his country was an unparalleled experience.
Sarah Goldenstein, 25, never imagined she’d go from teaching Sunday school in her home state of North Carolina to helping build Jewish community among Russian immigrants in Germany, but that’s exactly what she’s been doing for the past two years as a Jewish Service Corps fellow through JDC’s Entwine initiative for inspired young Jews.