Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, said he doesn’t know how many Jews there are in Poland today.
“Nobody knows,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Warsaw, Poland. “The number keeps growing. But I know tomorrow, the number will be more.”
Schudrich will discuss “The Renaissance of Jewish Life in Poland Today” as the keynote speaker at the annual Yom Hashoah V’Hagvura, or Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, commemoration from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at Park Synagogue Main at 3300 Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights.
Hundreds of local Holocaust survivors, their families and community members are expected to gather there to honor the 6 million Jews who died during the Holocaust. The free event is coordinated by the Kol Israel Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
The program will also recognize the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the 1943 act of Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during World War II.
Stories from six Holocaust survivors will be shared as they light memorial candles with the families. A World War II combat veteran will light another candle.
There also will be a March of the Generations, with children of all ages from area youth groups and schools carrying candles to signify that Jewish life continues after the Holocaust.
As a visiting scholar, Schudrich will also speak at other venues in Greater Cleveland between Friday, April 5, and Monday, April 8.
As a rabbi serving Poland since 1990 and as chief rabbi since 2004, Schudrich said he has witnessed the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland firsthand.
“The Jewish population is growing, as a new generation embraces its Jewish heritage in a country that has become a stable democracy in the heart of Europe,” he said. “We are indeed experiencing a historic period of rebirth in the history of the Jewish people.”
There were about 3.5 million Jews in Poland when World War II began Sept. 1, 1939, Schudrich said.
During the war, there was a nearly complete genocide of the Polish Jewish community by Nazi Germany, resulting from the German occupation of Poland from 1939 to 1945 and the Holocaust.
“By the end of 1944, 90 percent of the Jews in Poland were murdered by the Germans and their accomplices,” Schudrich said. “That left about 350,000 Jews, and the overwhelming majority of them left Poland.”
Since the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, the country has seen a Jewish revival, Schudrich said. It has been spurred by the annual Jewish Culture Festival, new study programs at Polish high schools and universities, the work of synagogues and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
“Thousands of Poles have decided they have to return,” he said. “We’re here to welcome them, educate them and give them the opportunity to return to Jewish life.”
The son of a rabbi, Schudrich was born in New York and educated in Jewish day schools there. His grandparents immigrated to the United States from Poland after World War I.
But he said that family history did not play a major role in his decision to work in Poland.
“It was my personal visits here that really made the difference,” he said. “I started traveling to Poland in 1973, when I was 18 years old, with a Jewish youth group, and I was fascinated by what I saw.
“I came back to Poland half a dozen times in the 1970s and early 1980s.”
After serving as rabbi for the Jewish community in Japan from 1983 to 1989, Schudrich moved to Poland in 1990 and worked for the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation until 1998. He became rabbi of Warsaw and Lodz in 2000.
In his role as chief rabbi of Poland, Schudrich serves on behalf of Poland’s Jewish community as the official intermediary with both the Polish government and the Catholic Church. He also works to protect and preserve the many sites in Poland that are relevant to the Jews.
“My goal for the future is more of the same: to give people (in Poland) a chance to learn what it means to be Jewish,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
Schudrich, 57, earned a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a master’s degree from Columbia University. He received a Conservative rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and later obtained an Orthodox one through Yeshiva University, both in New York.
His brother, Nathaniel, is the cantor at the Tifereth Israel synagogue in New Bedford, Mass.
Yom Hashoah v’Hagvurah Holocaust and Heroism Commemoration
WHAT: To honor 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, sponsored by the Kol Israel Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland
WHO: Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland
WHEN: 2 to 3:30 p.m., Sunday, April 7
WHERE: Park Synagogue Main, 3300 Mayfield Road, Cleveland Heights
SCHEDULE: Candlelighting by Holocaust survivors, their families and a World War II veteran; March of Generations with students from youth groups and schools, including The Agnon School, Gross Schechter Day School and Fuchs Mizrachi School; HaZamir Choir and Creative Arts Contets awards.
INFO: 216-593-2900, ext. 271 or firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT: Visiting scholar Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, in Cleveland
WHEN: Friday, April 5, through Monday, April 8
KEY EVENTS: April 5: noon at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, 25701 Science Park Drive, Beachwood, “From the Chief Rabbi’s Diary: Relationships with World Leaders,” $36 (includes lunch), sponsored by the Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at Case Western Reserve University.
• April 6: 9 a.m. at Green Road Synagogue, 2437
S. Green Road, Beachwood, “Poland Then and Now.”
• April 7: 9:30 a.m. at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, 27501 Fairmount Blvd., Pepper Pike, “Jews of Poland Today – Fact or Fiction,” continental breakfast at 9 a.m.
• April 7: 2 p.m. at Park Synagogue Main, 3300 Mayfield Road, Cleveland Heights, “The Renaissance of Jewish Life in Poland Today” as part of Yom Hashoah V’Hagvura commemoration, free, sponsored by the Kol Israel Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
• April 8: 11:30 a.m. at Siegal facility, 16500 Shaker Blvd., Beachwood, “Jews of Japan: How and Why,” $36 (includes lunch), sponsored by the Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at CWRU.
• April 8: 3 p.m. at Cleveland State University’s Fenn Tower, 1983 E. 24th St., Cleveland, “The Improving State(s) of Catholic-Jewish Relations in Today’s Poland,” sponsored by CSU’s Polish Studies Initiative.
INFO: Reservations required for all events with cost. Call 216-368-2091.