First Jewish Wedding in Warsaw Synagogue Since Holocaust
WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Joy was tinged by the pain of memory Sunday as an American Jew and his Polish-born bride exchanged vows in the first wedding in a synagogue in Warsaw since World War II.
Beneath a marriage canopy that had to be borrowed from the state-run Jewish theater, Robert Blum of New York and Joanna Kan were married surrounded by their families, television cameras and a few remaining members of Warsaw’s once-thriving Jewish community.
The groom broke a glass and the Nozyk Synagogue filled with song, laughter and multilingual good wishes: ″Congratulations,″ ″Mazeltov″ and ″Wszystkiego najlepszego na nowej drodze zycia″ - or ″All the best on the new road of life″ in Polish.
But behind the festive cheer at Warsaw’s lone synagogue was the memory of the more than 3 million Polish Jews killed by the Nazis, and the destruction of part of the nation’s culture.
″There’s no heart left. There’s only one synagogue, a broken-down community, mostly of old people,″ said Blum, who lives in Manhattan.
″When we saw what was happening here, we thought this would be the greatest way to add meaning to our wedding. It came from our heart.″
Fewer than 300,000 Polish Jews survived the war, and emigration has reduced that number to less than 10,000, most of them elderly Jews.
In Warsaw alone, there were 380,000 Jews before the 1939 German occupation, more than in any other city except New York.
There were also 400 synagogues in the capital. The sole remaining one, used as a stable by the Nazis, was not rebuilt until 1983 and had not been used for a wedding since.
Nor had there been a rabbi until the arrival about six weeks ago of Menachen Joskowitz, a Polish concentration camp survivor who came from Israel for a two-year stay.
Ms. Kan was Catholic, like more than 93 percent of Poland’s population today, until she converted to Judaism after moving to the United States from Warsaw six years ago. She met Blum while working as a temporary employee at the New York firm of Fulbright, Jaworski & Reavis McGrath, where Blum practices corporate law.
Blum said the couple was saddened by the synagogue when they traveled to Poland last year to meet Ms. Kan’s family.
″All of my Jewish education did not prepare me for what you see here,″ he recalled. ″We thought, this is the last generation of Jews in Poland. Considering their history here, it is very sad.″
Blum said he hopes the wedding festivities will help rejuvenate the Jewish community in Poland. He said he had found that some younger Jews are ″coming out of the woodwork″ to rediscover their religious roots.
″It feels different here in the synagogue than it did six months ago,″ Blum said.
There is still much uncertainty about anti-Semitism in Poland, however.
An officially inspired anti-Semitic purge in 1968 following campus protests prompted most of the remaining Jews to leave. In recent years there has been official and private reflection on Poles’ attitudes toward Jews during and after the war.
″There is a certain amount of underlying tension,″ said Mitchell Blank, a boyhood friend of Blum from New York.
Prior to the wedding, there was a last-minute hunt for yarmulkes in a synagogue unaccustomed to a crowd of more than 200. It included two dozen family members and friends from the United States, more from Poland, several Jewish youth groups on tours from abroad and members of Warsaw’s Jewish community, which had received an open invitation.
″It was a beautiful cermony. I’ve never seen anything like it,″ said Dorota Mroziak, one of Ms. Kan’s three Polish Catholic bridesmaids.
Another guest, New York businessman and concentration camp survivor Jack Eisner, pointed to the balcony, where he sang in the choir as a boy in pre-war Warsaw.
″We used to have eight weddings every Sunday,″ he said.