WARSAW, Poland — A Polish “rabbi,” who served a local Jewish community for several years until he was recently exposed as not being a rabbi, not being born in Israel as claimed, not being too familiar with Jewish customs, and not understanding Hebrew, turns out to be Catholic. And he’s disappeared.
Jacoob Ben Nistell, aka Yaakav – he used different forms of this name — claimed he was from Haifa in northern Israel. Members of the Poznan Jewish community believed him and decided to embrace him as a community rabbi, where he served for several years.
Until last week, he maintained a Facebook page under the name Yaakav Ben Nistell, which also said he was from Haifa and featured numerous photographs of his community activities. It has now been taken down.
He admitted three weeks ago during an interview that he is not in fact a rabbi. Krzysztof M. Kazmierczak, a reporter for “Glos Wielkopolski” or “The Voice of Wielkopolska,” discovered (Polish link) that the alleged rabbi in fact is Jacek Niszczota and comes from Ciechanow, a town in north-central Poland.
Now, Alicja Kobus, the head of the Poznan Jewish community, has established that Niszczota is Catholic, that he previously worked as a cook, and that he learned what he passed off as Hebrew and Jewish prayer by listening to Israeli radio. He has also now disappeared, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.
Kobus acknowledged last week that Niszczota fooled the local Jewish community. It was the sight of him on television taking part in ecumenical observances with Catholic and Muslim religious leaders, Kobus told AP, that first led local Jews to start asking questions about him.
“I never checked his identity document,” Kobus said last week. “He said he comes from Haifa, his mother still lives there, and he has an Israeli passport and a son in the army. I believed that he is who he says he is because of how he looked and that he was able to pray in Hebrew and knew Jewish customs,” Kobus, who is also vice president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, told Glos Wielkopolski.