Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Dozens of rabbis from across Europe have gathered in Warsaw for the largest meeting of Jewish religious leaders in Poland since the community was virtually wiped out during World War II.
This year's Conference of European Rabbis will focus on a range of issues affecting European and global Jewry, including attempts in Europe to ban the Jewish method of religious slaughter of animals.
But, the rabbis will also discuss the problem of validating the Jewish identity of people who have not practiced Judaism in two or three generations. This has become an issue in countries like Poland, where many people with Jewish ancestry were so traumatized by the Holocaust and postwar anti-Semitism that they lived secular or Christian lives for decades and are only now again embracing a Jewish life.
Over the last 30 years, the Jewish population in Poland has grown from just a few thousand to over 20,000, the conference said.
Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich called the three-day gathering of about 150 rabbis "a real testament to the revival of Jewish life in Poland."
The meeting began Monday, when several of the representatives met with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. On Wednesday, the rabbis are to meet with Polish "righteous gentiles" — Christians who risked their lives to save Jews during the war.
The meeting comes after Dutch parliament passed a bill banning the slaughter of livestock without stunning it first, removing an exemption that has allowed Jews and Muslims to butcher animals according to their centuries-old dietary rules. The bill must still pass the Senate.
It would be the second country after New Zealand to do so in recent years, joining Switzerland, and the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, whose bans are mostly traceable to pre-World War II anti-Semitism.
"This has become an issue of the utmost concern to European Jewry," the Conference of European rabbis said in a statement, noting the Dutch vote and criticism from activists at the European parliament.
Since overthrowing communism in 1989, Poland has evolved into a thriving democracy, and those with Jewish roots feel increasingly secure about living openly as Jews again — at least in the cities.
The fact that Warsaw was chosen as the spot for the 27th conference of European rabbis "is a tribute to what Poland has become," Schudrich said.
Poland was home to Europe's largest Jewish community before the war, numbering nearly 3.5 million. Most were murdered in ghettos and death camps that Germany built after invading and occupying Poland in 1939.
"The convention ... is a testament to the resurgence of the remarkable Jewish community in Poland which was all but wiped out during the Holocaust, having previously been the epicenter of the Jewish world," the conference statement said.
The Conference of European Rabbis takes place every two years.
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