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Shabbat in Cracow

Posted on 04/26/2014 @ 10:00 PM

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On Friday evening we walked to Kaszimierz, the old Jewish Quarter of Cracow, where we joined other delegations in prayer and song at the Tempel, the only reform synagogue in Cracow, built in 1860 and completed in 1862. It was a wondrous sight to see the packed sanctuary with boys and men singing and dancing downstairs and the girls doing the same in the balcony. To know that we were able to walk freely through the streets of Cracow and pray in a once vibrant community was a memory that we will all remember. Returning to the hotel for our Shabbat dinner and Oneg Shabbat ended our first evening in Poland on a strong feeling of community.

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On Saturday afternoon, we toured Kaszimierz and discussed the vibrant Jewish community that existed there for hundreds of years. It was the center of strong Jewish learning and culture, Zionism, and the first Jewish publishing house. When Germany invaded Poland, there were 60,000 Jews living in Cracow, almost one-fourth of the total population of the city. Because the Nazis set their headquarters in Cracow, the city was not destroyed and many of the original Jewish sites remain today.

From Kaszimierz, we walked the same route by foot that the Jews were taken and confined to a Ghetto in the Podgorze district in 1941. We saw the exact site of where Jews lived and the place they gathered for transport to various camps, Belzec, Auschwitz and Plaszow.

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We heard the story of the pharmacy at the border of the ghetto that was run by a non-Jewish man (Tadeusz Pankiewicz) and his two assistants. The Germans wanted to close the pharmacy when the ghetto was formed, but, Tadeusz was forced to bribe them continuously to keep it open. The back door of the pharmacy became a secret passage and hideaway for Ghetto Jews. Tadeusz and his assistants helped smuggle food, medicines and necessary items to the people in the ghetto and he was ultimately responsible for saving hundreds of Jews with forged documents. In recognition of his actions, he was recognized in 1983 as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Saturday evening, a wonderful Havdallah service was led by some of our teens that also included our survivor, Trudy Album, who told some of her story of life in Cracow before she lit and held the Havdallah candle. It was especially poignant for Trudy, as her granddaughter Zoe was in attendance, having travelled from school in Spain. When the service was over, the teens broke into song and the hotel was filled with Ruach.

At the conclusion of Shabbat, we welcomed several Jewish teens from Poland to share their experiences and talk about life in Poland today as a Jewish teen. Our teens had great questions for our guests and the rapport was a pleasure to see.

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