Poland’s Largest Jewish Gathering is Youth Inspired and Volunteer Led

November 8, 2011

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Anna is a poster child for her community’s campaign about Jews in Poland. With a Jewish mother who knew little about her roots (she had no one to learn from) and a non-Jewish father, Judaism was not a part of Anna’s family life when she was a child.

But around the time she turned 16 something changed. Her mom met a friend who introduced her to the growing Polish Jewish community, which she was surprised—and very pleased—to discover. Soon she started taking Yiddish classes and coming to events and holidays at the Jewish Community Center. And Anna, excited to connect with her mom and reconnect with their ancestry, came along, too.

Anna joined the Jewish student organization and soon found herself on a Taglit trip to Israel. “For me, that was transformative. I felt grateful for the experience and wanted to do something in the community to show my appreciation,” said Anna. “I became a volunteer and started to feel needed and useful. I found the place where I felt at home.”

So when JDC brought Limmud—a pluralistic, volunteer-organized learning initiative that’s active today in over 50 countries—to Poland four years ago, Anna was among the first to get involved. And it didn’t take long for her mother to join her and become a Limmud volunteer herself.

For three years running, Limmud Keszet Poland has been the largest gathering of Polish Jews in the country since the late 1960s. Over 600 participants took part last year and this year the same number of spaces sold out within 24 hours of the event’s announcement.

But what makes LimmudKeszet significant is more than just numbers; it is the fact that this volunteer-led event draws Jews of all ages (from 6 months to 90 years old), of all denominations and traditions (from Orthodox to Progressive), and from a variety of linguistic backgrounds (Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish, and English) together for a weekend of fun and learning. In short, there’s simply nothing else like it on the Polish-Jewish calendar.

Volunteers organize over 100 lectures and workshops led by world-famous scholars, artists, rabbis, and fellow community members. There is something for everybody: arts and crafts workshops for children, cooking classes, dance lessons, discussions on Jewish philosophy and the Torah. At Limmud, everyone shares his or her areas of expertise with the community.

For Anna, volunteering at Limmud is very special because it connects such an eclectic group of people. “Nowhere else in Poland can you meet so many Jews in one place. Nowhere else will you find everyone—Orthodox, Reform, professors and ‘beginner Jews”—coming to celebrate Shabbat together.“

Monika, the event’s organizer, says Limmud is chiefly about “breaking barriers by bringing elements of the entire community together”—something that is particularly hard to do given the history of Polish Jewry, in which barriers often formed important protections but also kept the community fragmented. “Limmud is our ideal vision of what we as a Jewish community would like to be: united and sharing in the joys of practicing and learning about our tradition…and planning for a better future.”

Through events like Limmud, young Jews from across Poland are getting involved and ensuring the focus of Jewish life in their country remains modern and forward-looking. Anna, who is a Jewish professional today, is proud to play an active role in her community’s growth and evolution. “My peers are choosing to raise their children Jewish. That’s already a step that will pay off in the future!”

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