Keshet Yonatan Shul Inaugurated in Poland, in Memory of Yonatan Malka, Hy”d, for Israeli Medical Students

By Hamodia Staff

On the outskirts of the Polish city of Katowice, near the medical school where some 80 Israelis are studying, a new shul was inaugurated this week. The synagogue was named Keshet Yonatan in honor and in memory of Yonatan “Yoni” Malka, Hy”d, a paratrooper who fell in the current Gaza war.

At the event, Yoni’s parents and siblings were present — born as triplets, only two of them remain to their parents — and dozens of students. Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Michael Shudrich, a member of the permanent committee of the Conference of European Rabbis, who is supporting and assisting the entire process of bringing Jewish students closer to Yiddishkeit, gave an emotional speech. He emphasized that this was a historic event of great significance. “After years in which only shuls were destroyed and Jews were expelled, and the remaining few shuls closed their doors due to lack of mispallelim, a new shul and a place for Torah and Yiddishkeit has now been founded on Polish soil,” he said. He also stressed that “the fact that the shul is named after a soldier who fell in the mission of defending Jews is the closing of a circle that never ceases to revolve because ‘Netzach Yisrael lo yeshaker.'”

The establishment of the shul is the culmination of an ongoing process of building a Jewish student community. It began when Ephraim Avichi and his wife Rina, who studies medicine at the local university, arrived in Katowice. He understood well the significance and implications of students who are far from their homes and whose religious roots are not deep, and decided to capture them in a trend to strengthen their Jewish identity and prevent their integration into the local population.

Immediately upon his arrival on the first Shabbos, he began to invite a group of students to his Shabbos table, and very quickly it became apparent that their thirst was strong and the spark of Yiddishkeit has not been extinguished. On the first Shabbos, 10 students came, and on the following Shabbos the number doubled. Very quickly, the number of students grew, and the “community” that emerged now includes about 80 medical students.

Ephraim Avichi also took advantage of Shabbos to unite brothers. Despite the differences among the students and their opinions, he united them in Torah lessons and conversations about Jewish identity. Around the table, there were heated political debates, mainly as Israel was in turmoil against the backdrop of reforms and protest demonstrations. “Even when we were the ‘October 6 people’ and the land was in turmoil, debates that aroused and great disputes arose among us – everything was always around the same table, and with a friendly attitude even to those you so disagree with. And then the war came that shook all the cards both in the country and with us. Simchat Torah and the war that began on October 7 solidified the group.”

“To tell the truth,” Ephraim said at the opening of the shul and in the presence of the grieving parents and his brothers, who spoke of Yoni’s dedication to uniting people, “even before October 7, we became different people, and G-d willing, we will return to another land because we had a year of listening, absorbing, sitting around a table with people whom without the meetings here in Katowice, it is reasonable to assume we would never have met like this for deep conversations,” he said.

However, the real turnaround occurred in the spiritual realm. As the group grew and Torah lessons increased and their participants multiplied, it was decided that there was a need for a designated place both for tefillos, meals, and social gatherings aimed at uniting Jewish students when they are separated from the locals and other medical students during leisure time. The couples decided to open a real shul in their home. A need for a sefer Torah arose, and Rabbi Shudrich came to the rescue. “And when we thought about whom to name it after, the story of the wonderful Malka family came to us,” Ephraim Avichi said.

It was after Ephraim Avichi’s cousins told him about a neighbor who fell in battle. From a distance, he watched the broadcast from the levayah and listened to the heart-wrenching eulogy of the parents. The story of Yoni Malka, who fell in battle against Hamas murderers, touched him, especially since he himself was an orphan whose father was murdered by the hands of evildoers on his way to Chevron. The parents are amazing people who, at the most difficult moment imaginable, chose to speak about uniting rather than about despair. They told how their Yoni, Hy”d, who fell less than three months ago, always looked at the heart and not at the definitions or the external. “I knew these were people we wanted to be part of ‘the Jewish home’ we are founding in Katowice. We decided to name the shul ‘Keshet Yonatan,’ because just as the rainbow has many colors, so is our ‘Jewish home’ full of colors of the Jewish people, and when we are united under the common Jewish denominator, it is so beautiful.”

“Also,” Ephraim Avichi added, “the rainbow is, of course, a weapon leading to victory, and our unity today is our weapon of war, which G-d willing will also lead to great victory! Yonatan Malka was a fighter and a man of unity, and ‘Keshet Yonatan’ will not retreat, and Shaul’s sword will not return empty.”

“The impossible becomes very possible when you have the right people like Avichi and Rina,” concluded Poland’s Chief Rabbi Shudrich.

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