Reporter who exposed fake Polish rabbi says he’s getting heat from Jewish leader

Poland’s chief Chabad rabbi calls the Catholic imposter fiasco ‘a cosmic embarrassment to the Polish Rabbinate’

Rabbi Jacoob Ben Nistell, from Haifa, Israel, who is actually Jacek Niszczota, from Poland (Facebook)
Rabbi Jacoob Ben Nistell, from Haifa, Israel, who is actually Jacek Niszczota, from Poland (Facebook)

The Polish reporter who revealed that an imposter rabbi was serving in the city of Poznan said the Jewish community’s leader has insisted he stop writing about the case.

In a report published Monday, Glos Wielkopolski said Alicja Kobus, head of the Poznan Jewish community and vice president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, “threatened” the newspaper over the report several days earlier by Krzysztof Kazmierczak exposing Jacoob Ben Nistell, who claimed to be a rabbi from Haifa, Israel, but in fact was a Catholic ex-cook from the Polish city of Ciechanow named Jacek Niszczota.

Kobus reportedly has tried in recent days to intimidate Kazmierczak, demanding that he stop writing about Nistell.

According to the Glos Wielkopolski report, Nistell, who served the community for several years, is not Jewish, does not know Hebrew and is not familiar with Jewish customs.

In Poznan, Nistell ran a kosher kitchen for tourists from Israel and guests of the Jewish community, according to Glos Wielkopolski.

Alicia Kobus (YouTube screenshot)
Alicja Kobus (screenshot: YouTube)

“He served food for our guests, but so what. Everyone has such a right,” Kobus, also vice president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, told the newspaper. “And he did everything from cooking to taking out the garbage.”

The restaurant’s menu, posted on Facebook, included falafel, stuffed grape leaves, cholent and kreplach.

Nistell reportedly has disappeared from the community. He has deleted his Facebook page.

Kazmierczak said he has not met with any other negative reactions from Jews.

“True Jews and people interested in Judaism say it is very good that I revealed the sham,” he told JTA.

Kazmierczak said he believes Kobus knew for a long time that Nistell did not come from Haifa, especially since the imposter rabbi read Hebrew prayers in Polish transliteration.

Meanwhile, leaders of Polish Jewry have criticized the Poznan community’s lack of knowledge about the rabbi.

“It is said that the wild animals come where there is an empty space,” Shalom Ber Stambler, chief Chabad rabbi in Poland, told Glos Wielkopolski. “That’s what happened in Poznan; it shows that in a place where there is no real Jewry, bad things happen.”

Stambler called the revelation “a cosmic embarrassment to the Polish Rabbinate.”

“I knew from the start that this guy was in disguise. But the rabbinate for so long did not attempt to find out who is the man claiming to be a rabbi and taking part in community celebrations,” he said.

Warsaw Jewish leader Przemyslaw Szpilman told JTA: “The Polish Rabbinate should read Glos Wielkopolski; many of them will learn something new.”

Szpilman said he was speaking publicly on the issue as an individual member of the Polish Jewish community and not on behalf of either the board of the Jewish community in Warsaw on which he serves or as the director of the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.

Leslaw Piszewski, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, and Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich declined to comment to JTA on the matter.

Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich (photo credit: YouTube screen shot)
Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich (screenshot: YouTube)

Taking a glass half-full approach to the saga, Schudrich noted endearingly last week that nobody in Poland would have pretended to be a Jewish religious leader just a few decades ago.

The deception achieved by Niszczota is indicative of a growing interest within Poland in its once-large Jewish community, which was almost completely destroyed in the Holocaust, Schudrich said. “Who, 30 years ago in this country, would have pretended to be a rabbi, to say nothing of 70 years ago?” Schudrich asked.

Schudrich added that he had met Niszczota/Nistell a few times, and always found him to be “very sweet and smiley.” Still, he stressed, it was not good that the man misrepresented himself.

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