WARSAW, Poland — A major Jewish organization opened its first chapter in Poland on Monday, the most recent sign of a Jewish revival in the Central European nation that comes even as Jews have been recently fleeing Western European nations hit by Islamic violence.
Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish student organization, celebrated the opening of a branch at a ceremony in Warsaw on Monday. It is now present in 18 countries.
Leaders of Hillel and members of Poland’s Jewish community hailed the group’s expansion, saying support for young college-age adults would help the further growth of Jewish life in Poland, connect them to other Jews worldwide and nurture a connection to Israel. Poland was the center of Jewish life in Europe before World War II, with a population of 3.3 million that was almost completely decimated by Nazi Germany.
“We are celebrating today the renaissance of Jewish life in Poland, for Hillel is the future of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Yossie Goldman, Hillel’s director of global expansion.
Though still very small, Poland’s community has been growing since the country threw off communism in 1989, with families increasing revealing the secret of hidden Jewish roots to children and grandchildren, prompting some to return to the faith of their ancestors.
The center’s Warsaw founding director is Magda Dorosz, a 31-year-old who only discovered her own Jewish roots when she was 16.
Despite years of progress, some Polish Jews now feel unsettled by the rise to power last year of a conservative and nationalistic party, Law and Justice. While the party doesn’t promote anti-Semitism, some Jews fear its nationalistic ideology and that its backsliding on the rule of law leave them more vulnerable.
Official speeches didn’t touch on that matter. But after the ceremony, Hillel International’s director and CEO, Eric Fingerhut, told The Associated Press that “the best antidote to any concerns is a stronger and more vibrant Jewish life.”
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.