Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 2005 /15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5766
A tearful rebirth in Krakow
By Michael Freund
RAKOW This past Sabbath, Benjamin Klein had every reason to let the tears flow freely.
ON FRIDAY evening, I met several of these heroic returnees, three young women who have chosen to defy societal pressure along with deep-seated anti-Semitism in order to embrace Judaism and return to the faith of their forefathers.
It was nearing the end of the Sabbath meal when I went over to their table to introduce myself. Noticing that they were in the middle of saying the Grace After Meals, I sat down quietly and patiently waited for them to finish.
With deep concentration, they carefully recited each sentence, taking well over 10 minutes to complete the relatively short prayer, thanking the Creator for the food and nourishment that He provides. While doing so, they slowly rocked back and forth in their seats, as though their souls were dancing in tandem with the words.
"There were all kinds of hints in my family that we were Jewish, but everyone was afraid to talk about it," said one, whom we'll call Anna. "I have no proof, I have no papers. I always felt a pull to things Jewish, but I never understood why," she said. Until, that is, when she uncovered her family's most carefully-guarded secret.
"Immediately after the war, my great-grandfather changed his family name from a Jewish name to a Polish one. As soon as I discovered that," said Anna, "I knew I had to come back to my roots."
Asked where she sees herself in 10 years‚ time, Anna blushes before letting out a nervous chuckle. "Married, with children," she says, quickly adding, "Jewish children, of course. I want my kids to grow up as proud, Halachic [religiously observant] Jews."
After getting up from the table, I notice a young bearded man wearing a yarmulke, speaking in Polish with one of the waiters. Later, when I asked Rabbi Schudrich about him, he proceeded to tell me the young man's remarkable story.
As a youth, the boy had a girlfriend. Both were fervently anti-Semitic skinheads, who later married each other. Shortly thereafter, the wife discovered that she had paternal Jewish roots. Her interest in Judaism deepened, and she began making special meals to mark the Sabbath each week. Though shocked, the young man went along because he loved his wife.
But his parents were nonetheless upset, and insisted that he put an end to his wife's burgeoning interest in Judaism. When he confronted them about the intensity of their opposition, his parents broke down and revealed to him that they both, in fact, were Jews, and that for decades, they had sought to hide their identity for fear of the consequences.
Now, several years later, that young couple, who began their married life as anti-Jewish skinheads, are now living as Torah-observant Jews.
ON SABBATH, as the Torah was being taken from the Ark during the morning service in the synagogue, the voices of the Israeli high-school students rose up in a crescendo, their crisp and clear Israeli-accented Hebrew echoing throughout the small sanctuary, and doubtless beyond to the heavens above.
"To You, O L-rd, is the greatness, the power and the glory..." all those present sang in unison.
I turned to see Benjamin Klein's reaction and to gauge whether he found the moment as moving as I.
When I did, I noticed that the tears in this holy place were once again flowing freely. Only this time, they were my own.
JWR contributor Michael Freund is chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. Comment by clicking here.
© 2005, Michael Freund