In an especially powerful ingathering of the exiles, 15 young Polish Jews arrived in Israel on Monday, just in time to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim. This inspiring feat was accomplished through Shavei Israel, an organization dedicated to finding lost Jews all over the world and helping them to rediscover their roots.
This special group only recently discovered their Jewish identity and their first contact with the Holy Land will be a powerful part of their journey home.
Before World War II, Poland boasted over three million Jews, the largest Jewish population in the world at that time. With a 700 year history, it was the center of Ashkenazi Judaism. Sadly, 90% of Poland’s Jews perished in the Holocaust and subsequent communist oppression forced most of the remaining Jews to flee for their lives. Many Jews placed their children in Christian orphanages or with sympathetic neighbors in order to save them from Nazi persecution. The majority of these children grew up with no knowledge of their true families. Meanwhile, the few remaining Jews often had to hide or deny their Jewish roots.
Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of others throughout the country. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Democracy in Poland, many have begun to investigate their family’s Jewish origins.
Shavei Israel has held two-week summer seminars for the “Hidden Jews of Poland”, but this is the first time the participants will get a taste of Purim in Israel. It is timed so the participants can celebrate two days of the joyous holiday, since an additional day is celebrated in Jerusalem, known as Shushan Purim. This is a uniquely Israeli aspect of the holiday, only celebrated in Jerusalem.
“The story of Purim revolves around the heroism of the Biblical Queen Esther, who was forced to conceal her Jewish identity for many years before proudly reasserting it,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund, adding that, “This makes Purim especially meaningful to these young Poles, who have shown great courage and determination in embracing their Jewishness publicly and reaffirming their connection with Israel and the Jewish people.”
The trip will be led by Shavei Israel’s former emissary to Poland Rabbi Yitzchak Rapoport, who is also a licensed tour guide in Israel.
The group will visit all the highlights Israel has to offer, including Haifa, Rosh Hanikra and Acre, and will spend Purim in Tel Aviv with Chabad and at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.