JTA — The city of Lodz, once a major Jewish hub in Poland, hosted its first Jewish festival in decades.
Hundreds attended the Festival of Tranquility last week in the central city over the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
Drawing on similar events in Krakow, Warsaw, Budapest and other cities throughout Central and Eastern Europe, the Lodz festival featured films, Torah study sessions, workshops in calligraphy and cooking, and a concert.
The event was organized by Rabbi Dawid Szychowski, the envoy of the Shavei Israel group from Israel, which facilitates the return to Judaism of descendants of Jews, among other activities.
Lodz, about 80 miles from Warsaw, was historically home to one of the country’s most vibrant Jewish communities – and one of the largest ghettos during the Holocaust. But Jewish life all but disappeared there in 1944.
Nearly all of the ghetto’s 164,000 residents were murdered in the Holocaust, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, along with 90 percent of Poland’s pre-Holocaust Jewish population of 3 million.
Many survivors who stayed in Poland hid their Jewish roots to the best of their ability, including from their children, according to Michael Freund, the founder of Shavei Israel.
“Despite the fact that thousands of young Poles had parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents who had to hide their Jewish identity for decades, Judaism has witnessed a revival in Poland since the downfall of communism and we are happy that we can celebrate it,” Freund said.