Poland’s chief rabbi lashed out at the Krakow Jewish community on Tuesday, following a standoff between armed men and worshipers outside a local house of worship.
On Monday, guards from a private security firm hired by the Gmina, Krakow’s Jewish representative body, physically blocked prayer-goers associated with the Chabad Hasidic movement from entering the city’s Izaak Synagogue, in the latest escalation of an ongoing financial dispute.
The Chabad community has been leasing the building from the Gmina since 2008. A representative of the Chabad congregation told Polish media that it has a valid lease on the building. During the standoff, the regular worshipers prayed outside the blocked-off synagogue and called police, who arrived at the scene.
In a letter to Gmina President Tadeusz Jakubowicz published on Facebook, New York-born Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich castigated the local communal body and its leadership for failing to discharge the “essential responsibility of every Jewish community” to “protect, enhance and deepen Jewish life.”
“We have a situation in Kraków in which the Gmina has become the heir of Jewish communal property and therefore is responsible and obligated to use these properties to enrich Jewish life and observance in Kraków and not to treat them as private properties, only concerned with maximizing profit,” he wrote.
“I call upon the Gmina to fulfill the most elemental responsibility of every Jewish community —open the doors of the synagogue and allow Jews to pray to God.”
According to a witness report published on The Times of Israel, one of those locked out of the synagogue was 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Dov Landau, who compared the situation to his experience dealing with German guards during World War II.
The Jewish Community of Krakow — which last month faced protests for its leasing of a former synagogue to serve as a bar cafe — denied being contractually obligated to allow use of the synagogue. It said the congregation that used the building had damaged it, including by allowing mold to grow on some walls and rewiring electricity without a permit.