A Jewish kindergarten is set to open next month in Lodz for the first time since the Holocaust. Yerushalayim-based Shavei Israel announced Monday that 10 children have enrolled in the first class.
“There is a growing Jewish community in Lodz, as well as many Poles with Jewish roots who are becoming more and more interested in reconnecting with their heritage,” said Michael Freund, a New Yorker who founded Shavei Israel in 2002 after immigrating to Israel, as quoted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“Not only will this kindergarten provide an essential community service, but it will also serve as a symbol of Jewish revival in Lodz. The fact that Jewish children in Lodz will be singing Shabbat songs, learning about the Avot and celebrating the chagim is perhaps the best possible revenge for what was done to our people there during the dark days of the Holocaust.”
According to Rabbi Simcha Keller, the Rav of the Lodz Jewish community, there were 40,000 Jews in the city after the Holocaust, but most “went into hiding” when the Communists took over.
“Our job is to get them to come out of hiding and to learn more about their Judaism,” Rabbi Keller told Hamodia in a telephone interview yesterday.
While the community officially numbers some 300, Rabbi Keller, who was born in Lodz and lived in Israel and the United States before returning in 1993, is convinced that there are at least 2,000 Jews.
Lodz has a Sunday school with 25 students ranging in age from six to 15 that offers classes in Gemara, parashas hashavua and Hebrew, as well as field trips and activities related to the Yamim Tovim. It has a minyan on Shabbos only and two kosher restaurants.
“I grew up here and know everyone,” Rabbi Keller says. “We’re reaching out to people to be mekarev them, with classes and activities, including a tisch at the shul on Shabbos. As people get more and more frum, we recommend that they move to Israel.”
Lodz, about 77.5 miles south of Warsaw, was home to one of the country’s most vibrant Jewish communities until World War II. It housed one of the largest ghettos, and nearly all of its 164,000 residents were murdered, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Yerushalayim, along with 90 percent of Poland’s pre-Holocaust Jewish community.