Mexican TV anchor Zabludovsky, symbol of government spin, dies at 87


Influential Mexican journalist Jacobo Zabludovsky, seen for years by critics as an unofficial mouthpiece for the government, died on Thursday morning after suffering a stroke in hospital.

Zabludovsky was from 1971 to 1998 host of “24 Hours” a nightly news show on the dominant Televisa TV network, which had a cozy relationship with the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Ruling Mexico continuously from 1929 to 2000, the PRI became synonymous with vote-rigging, corruption and authoritarianism, but its many detractors said it could rely on Zabludovsky to deliver the government line, glossing over inconvenient truths.

Such was his notoriety that popular Mexican rock band Molotov even opened an 1997 album with a song called 'Que no te haga bobo Jacobo,' or 'Don't let Jacobo fool you.'

Born in Mexico City in 1928 to a family of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Zabludovsky left Televisa in 2000, complaining his son had been overlooked for the post of the network's leading nightly news anchor.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who returned the PRI to power in 2012, was among many prominent Mexicans to express their sadness over Zabludovsky's death. He was 87.

Zabludovsky, who continued interviewing top politicians and wrote a regular newspaper column until late June, was still sending out news bulletins on his Twitter account until he was hospitalized on Tuesday night with signs of dehydration.

Lies, silence surround flouting of Poland’s kosher slaughter ban


After a Polish court tossed out a government regulation permitting kosher slaughter in 2012, Poland’s $500 million ritual slaughter industry was expected to be brought to its knees.

Evidence shows, however, that not only was kosher slaughter still being performed in Poland as recently as this month, but also that kosher meat producers had help in skirting the law from a high-ranking official in the office of Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

JTA has obtained two letters signed by Michael Alper, a top aide to Schudrich, informing Polish officials that several hundred cattle would be slaughtered after being stunned with electric current — a requirement of Polish law that is inconsistent with kosher slaughter, which mandates that animals be killed without prior stunning.

Meat from the slaughterhouse where Alper said stunning would be used was subsequently certified  as kosher by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and several European certifiers before being exported abroad. The European certifiers declined JTA’s request for comment, but several knowledgeable insiders confirmed that the animals were not in fact stunned and that the meat was indeed kosher.

“If there were a kosher concern regarding one of our labels, we would have acted,” Maor Ziv, a spokesman for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, told JTA.

Under a 2002 amendment to the 1997 law on animal welfare, Poland required that all animals be stunned prior to slaughter. The law appeared to conflict with another measure passed that year guaranteeing religious minorities the right to perform ritual slaughter.

In 2004, the government issued a regulation that aimed to resolve the apparent conflict by exempting Jews and Muslims from the animal welfare law. But in 2012, a constitutional court scrapped the 2004 exemption, effectively banning what had been a $500 million ritual slaughter industry.

Several businesses registered heavy losses and laid off employees as they scrambled to convert their operations or reconfigure themselves as middlemen, purchasing kosher meat produced outside Poland and reselling it for export. But the Alper letters show that some businesses continued to produce kosher meat in Poland and had assistance from inside Schudrich’s office in concealing the operation from authorities.

Schudrich has denied prior knowledge of Alper’s activities and suspended his aide. Alper declined to comment.

In July, Alper sent a letter to a district veterinary inspector requesting permission to slaughter 250 heads of cattle after stunning them with electric current, a formality meant to inform authorities of slaughter activities. A second letter in November requested permission to slaughter an additional 310 cows. The letter is signed “rabbinate coordinator for kosher products in Poland.”

“I am writing to request to carry out the slaughter of 310 heads of cattle on Nov. 24, 2013, with use of electric current to render the animals unconscious,” Alper wrote in the November letter.

The animals mentioned in Alper’s letters were killed at the Biernacki slaughterhouse in Jarocin, 150 miles west of Warsaw. The slaughterhouse, which was one of Poland’s main facilities for kosher meat, included living quarters for the rabbis who performed the actual slaughter cuts.

Several sources who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity said kosher slaughter was taking place at Biernacki as recently as this month. A spokesman for the slaughterhouse declined to respond to JTA’s inquiries, but emphasized that the facility adheres to Polish and European law.

Only cows are slaughtered at Biernacki, while some labels carrying kosher certification from prominent rabbis are for kosher chicken produced in Poland last year. The labels do not carry the names of the slaughterhouses where the birds were slaughtered, but a well-placed source named two poultry meat producers, Brynek and Grzegorz Tuz, neither of which responded to repeated requests for comment.

Schudrich would not confirm whether commercial kosher slaughter continued in Poland after January 2013, but he called Alper’s letter “a very serious mistake.”

Schudrich also disputed the idea that an actual ban on ritual slaughter is in place, noting that a constitutional court has been reviewing a petition by Jews and Muslims arguing that the two 1997 laws are in conflict.

“The court’s ruling in 2012 is not a ban,” Schudrich said. “It is a case of conflicting legislation that is being reviewed by the Constitutional Tribunal.”

But some fear such nuances will be lost on the general public when Poland’s Channel 1 airs the results of its own investigation next month into the kosher slaughter in Poland. The report will harm efforts to resolve the matter and and become grist for the mill of anti-Semites, according to Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of Beit Polska, a national umbrella organization for Polish Reform and Progressive congregations.

“Clearly, there has not been a cessation of kosher slaughter,” Beliak told JTA. “Manipulation of the issue of kosher-halal slaughter for political purposes by Polish politicians or Jewish community officials or by various business interests reduces the respect that the practice of keeping kosher deserves. Lying about it erodes the community’s credibility and is quite simply playing with fire.”

Beliak said he fears the report will create the impression that Jews don’t respect Polish law, though he added that kosher slaughter could not have continued without Polish officials looking the other way.

“Ritual slaughter is too big a business for Poland to simply walk away from it,” he said.

Renata Kania, a press officer for Poland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said her office had no immediate comment.

Judaism in Poland: It’s Warsaw, Jake


You would think that when the Polish edition of Forbes, the internationally respected financial magazine, publishes a front-page exposé on the disappearance of tens of millions of dollars of Holocaust restitution funds, Jews everywhere would be outraged and demand an immediate, independent investigation.

You would be wrong.

Instead, the two main institutional Jewish reactions have been: 1. Hey, it’s Poland — what can you do? And 2. Those Forbes people — what a bunch of anti-Semites.

But if you talk to committed liberal Polish Jews and their supporters about the scandal, you get a different reaction — absolute outrage. 

“The Polish Jewish community is potentially the wealthiest Jewish community in the world, per capita,” Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak told me. “But instead, there’s no money.”

Rabbi Beliak, who lives in Los Angeles, has been a key figure in supporting various streams of Judaism in Poland. 

He said the loss of funds means that the estimated 80 percent of American Jewry who trace their history to Poland will see their patrimony sold off by the very people charged with protecting it. And it means that the revival of a vibrant, living, breathing Polish Jewish community will be, if not impossible, then impossibly difficult.

Last week, Rabbi Beliak came to my office with Piotr Stasiak, chair of Beit Polska, the umbrella organization for all progressive Jewish communities in Poland.

Stasiak is a solid, middle-aged man, a physicist-turned-businessman with a heavy brow over bright blue eyes. Like many Polish Jews, he discovered his identity from parents who had long kept it hidden. Thousands of Poles share similar stories. Poland is not just, as so many Israeli and American Jews would have it, a Jewish graveyard. It is also a Jewish opportunity.

But it seems what makes being a Jew so difficult in Poland these days is other Jews.

According to the Forbes article, titled “Kaddish for a Million Bucks,” a woman named Monika Krawczyk sits at the head of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which is charged with recovering the property of Jewish communities confiscated by Nazis and the communist regime.

Krawczyk also works for the Regulatory Commission for Jewish Communities, which distributes restitution funds. Krawczyk, Forbes said, personally benefits from the restitution decisions she makes. Forbes also accuses the president of the Union of Jewish Communities, Piotr Kadlcik, of personally taking money resulting from the sale of several Jewish communal properties.

Kadlcik controls some $310 million in communal restitution properties, Forbes reported. And where is that money? No one can say.

The Forbes story, bold as it is, is far from thorough and raises many unanswered questions.

The Polish Parliament adopted a “Restitution Law” in 1997 to return all the communal Jewish property that existed in Poland before World War II to Poland’s official Jewish community.

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) lent the indigent Polish community $800,000 to process the filings. In return, WJRO and WJC were meant to receive half the value of the properties recovered. 

According to Forbes, and confirmed by Stasiak, much of the money is completely unaccounted for.

“I am asking a very simple question,” Stasiak said. “Please explain to the community what happened to the money.”

If Stasiak and other Polish Jews are the victims of this scandal, its Zola is an L.A. Jew, Severyn Ashkenazy.

Ashkenazy has been the kol koreh bamidbar — the voice crying in the wilderness — for years. Tall, courtly and determined, Ashkenazy has for years maintained to Jewish leaders and journalists that something was rotten in Warsaw. 

Born in Poland, he survived much of the Holocaust by staying silent while hiding under a stranger’s floorboards. After becoming a successful businessman in Los Angeles, Ashkenazy has returned to Poland frequently over the years, almost singlehandedly founding and supporting the revival of the liberal, non-Orthodox Jewish life that flourished there before 1939. He witnessed the glorious synagogues and Jewish community centers of his past being sold off in Poland’s real estate boom, and the monies that should have been directed to all Jews disappearing into other pockets.

The Twarda, the officially recognized Orthodox community in Poland that has received the lion’s share of existing restitution funds, has called the Forbes editors anti-Semites on a witch hunt — never mind that the article was instigated, and reported, by Jews.

And in a press statement, Ronald Lauder, chairman of the New York-based WJRO, flatly repudiated Ashkenazy’s charges, and the article.

“To make it very clear,” Lauder said, “neither the WJC nor the WJRO, of which the WJC is a founding member, have ever sought or received money coming from the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, as the articles suggest.”

With all due respect to Lauder and the Polish Jewish leaders, their denials cannot be the final word. In the name of the Polish victims of the Holocaust, and on behalf of their heirs struggling to rebuild Jewish life there, and in recognition of the history and tradition so many of us share, an outside, independent forensic accounting firm must fully investigate the dispensation of every last dollar.

To read the Forbes article, visit forbes.pl.

It’s rabbi vs. rabbi in competing campaigns to overturn Poland’s shechitah ban


A few weeks before Poland’s parliament voted last month on whether to overturn a ban on ritual slaughter, Rabbi Menachem Margolin was scheduled to meet the Polish president in an effort to find a solution to the problem.

The ban had been imposed in January, when a Polish constitutional court outlawed Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter in response to a petition filed by animal welfare activists.

But shortly before Margolin’s meeting was to take place, President Bronislaw Komorowski’s office unexpectedly canceled.

Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association and the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, both based in Brussels, saw a reason for the cancellation: Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, whom Margolin accused of “torpedoing” the meeting.

Schudrich denied the charge, and one of his associates told JTA that the meeting was canceled after the president’s office learned Schudrich would not be attending the meeting with Margolin.

When parliament followed through with its 222-178 vote to uphold the ban on Jewish ritual slaughter, known as shechitah, Margolin again blamed Schudrich, calling him incompetent and demanding that he resign. Schudrich in turn accused Margolin of meddling and jeopardizing Polish Jewry’s coordinated campaign to overturn the ban.

To outsiders, the back-and-forth accusations might seem bizarre. Why would two rabbis who ostensibly share the same goal of reinstating the legality of shechitah in Poland go at each other’s throats? The spat goes to the heart of an issue that has bedeviled communities across Eastern Europe for more than two decades, ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain: control.

Schudrich, a U.S.-born rabbi who has lived in Poland almost uninterrupted since 1992, long has ruled the roost in Poland. He was named chief rabbi in 2004 and has close ties with Polish leaders.

Perhaps because Schudrich has been around almost since the fall of communism, Poland is one of the ex-communist countries where Jewish affairs are not dominated by Chabad, the hasidic Orthodox outreach movement.

Chabad operates only two centers in the country, compared to six serving the similarly sized Jewish community in Belarus and more than 30 each in Russia and Ukraine, where Chabad rabbis have laid claim to the title of chief rabbi — to the occasional consternation of non-Chabad colleagues. Chabad is eager to expand in Poland, says Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, the movement’s emissary in Warsaw.

Margolin, who was born in Israel, is affiliated with Chabad. One of the groups he heads, the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, has a 17-member rabbinical council that includes some of the leading Chabad rabbis in Europe. Among them are Rabbi Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, Hungary’s Baruch Oberlander and Binyomin Jacobs of the Netherlands.

The European Jewish Association, the other group headed by Margolin, also has Chabad ties.

Margolin sees Schudrich as more interested in preserving his own power and influence within Poland than in cooperating in a broad-based international effort to overturn the shechitah ban.

Schudrich acts “irresponsibly, as though Poland is his own fiefdom, while ignoring the need for coordinated action on an issue which affects all of European Jewry and beyond,” Margolin said. His “refusal to consult is the antithesis to how Holland’s Jewish community collaborated with international Jewish groups until the successful overturning of the shechitah ban passed in Dutch parliament in 2011.”

For his part, Schudrich says the issue is not about fiefdoms, noting that he has the backing of Poland’s Union of Jewish Communities and has been in contact with the European Jewish Congress and the Conference of European Rabbis. Rather, he says, the issue is avoiding disrupting the coordinated effort already underway to reverse the ban.

We “cannot risk that our efforts will be hindered by the actions of people who will not bear the consequences of their interference,” Schudrich said in a joint statement with the president of Poland’s Union of Jewish Communities, Piotr Kadlcik. The reference was to Margolin’s European Jewish Association. “This is the same organization that called for unity on one day only for it to issue an appallingly disrespectful and inaccurate attack on Poland’s Chief Rabbi Schudrich the next day.”

The European Jewish Association “has the right to protest,” said the statement, which was posted on the union’s website. “However, as the representatives of the Jews in Poland, we consider it unacceptable that any legal or policy initiatives from abroad are initiated without the coordination, or at least consultation, with us.”

Matters took a stranger turn when the European Jewish Association announced last week that it had hired a Polish nationalist lawyer — Roman Giertych, the one-time head of the now-disbanded League of Polish Families, a far-right political movement accused of anti-Semitism — to challenge the shechitah ban.

A spokesman for the European Jewish Association, Asher Gold, said Giertych was hired “because of his professional skills and connections in the Polish political scene.”

Until the ban, ritual slaughter was a $500-million-a-year industry in Poland, producing a large portion of the meat for export. After the ban was imposed in January, some kosher and halal slaughterhouses halted production while others continued, sources said, out of lack of clarity about the law.

Last week, Poland’s interior minister reportedly said that noncommercial ritual slaughter could continue pending a government petition.

For the time being, it seems that both Schudrich and Margolin are proceeding with their competing campaigns.

Give Polish Jewry a kosher choice


Remember “Had Gadya”? What satisfaction when, onto the scene of carnage, walks the Holy One of Blessing, and destroys the angel of death that slew the butcher that killed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid. And what relief! But only momentarily. For where are we in this lineup of violence? It is forever, for us, the question of what am I, now, an angel of death or the little white kid that daddy bought for two zuzim? And can I be both? And do I have to be either?

To be human is to be aware of one’s own morality. To be able to act morally, we must have the freedom to choose to do or not to do so, which demands we have the freedom to reject morality. Without that freedom, we are but tools in other people’s hands. 

In the recent debate on the Polish government’s decree de-legalizing shechitah, or kosher ritual slaughter, we hear strident voices from many sides. Some say the only motivation for the decision was to prevent needless animal suffering. Other voices argue that skillfully performed shechitah causes the animal less pain than all the other feasible methods of killing it. Others still express discontent, outrage or fear, due to the fact that discontinuing kosher slaughter effectively makes it impossible for observant Polish Jews to eat meat altogether.

I do not know which is worse: a shochet’s knife to the throat, or a killing machine in a meat plant. I know that, kosher or not, slaughterhouses are cruel places, where overworked butchers have to do their quota of killing, and helpless animals experience horror and pain. While I realize that Poland cannot, for reasons of its largely agriculture-based economy, its traditions and customs, opt out of mass production and consumption of meat, I would like government experts to conduct an inquiry into all killing of animals — not just the preparation of kosher meat — to ensure that animals’ deaths can become less traumatic than they are now. As important is an inquiry into how these animals live before they find their deaths in Polish slaughterhouses. I imagine a national commission, made up of Muslim leaders, Progressive Jewish leadership, Orthodox rabbinate, philosophers and ethicists, as well as animal behaviorists and farm engineers, working together to design ways to lessen the severity of pain we inflict on livestock as it is reared, handled and killed. 

Once a viable system is designed and a door is opened about kosher (and halal) slaughter, it may be easier to open it for all slaughter. So what I imagine as a solution now is a law that would keep wholesale butchering for export markets outlawed, but would ensure that Polish faith communities that require kosher (or halal) meat are enabled to butcher the chickens, the calves, the cows and the kids whose meat they want to eat. In other words, I want a law that, while keeping the ban on mass killing for foreign markets, would ensure the existence in Poland of slaughterhouses producing meats for local communities and provide for this meat’s fair distribution. 

My current choices don’t really give me a choice. Could the sages of our government work with our rabbis to devise a law that would return to Polish Jews the freedom currently enjoyed, at least potentially, by non-Jewish Poles, of pondering in meat shops the decision of whether to participate, with just a flick of my credit card, the animal hecatomb people have carried on since Noah and the flood, or refusing to do it? For Jews to be able to exercise such a choice, the meat bought or rejected must be kosher meat. 

We are a complex people. We embrace our diversity. Given the freedom to choose, some of us will want to go and butcher that kid that they can buy for two zuzim. Some will let it live. Some will focus on whether the kid can live a life where it is treated with care and regard for its needs, and whether it dies as painless and humane a death as possible. Some will flicker between choices, depending on a myriad of reasons why. Even though I hold with one of these choices only, I respect them all. After all, only the Knower of Secrets, the Holy One of Blessing, knows what lies deep at the root of our choices and how we arrive at our decisions. And it is only when He, the final player in the “Had Gadya” we sing here on Earth, says so, will the world break up the cycle of violence. In the meantime, each Polish Jew should be granted the freedom to choose for herself or himself whether they will or will not become, by virtue of buying their meat or refusing it, the halef — an instrument that transforms life into death.


Dr. Joanna Auron is a new board member of Beit Polska, the Poland-wide Progressive Jewish umbrella organization of Jews affiliated with the European Union for Progressive Judaism and the World Union for Progressive Judaism. She lives and works in Poland.

At last, Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews is dedicated


Krzysztof Sliwinski, a longtime Catholic activist in Jewish-Polish relations, gazed wide-eyed at the swooping interior of this city's Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Nearly two decades in the making, the more than $100 million institution officially opens to the public this week amid a month of high-profile, state-sponsored events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

“It’s incredible, incredible, incredible how things have changed,” Sliwinski told JTA. “I remember commemorations of the ghetto uprising under communism when only a few people showed up. How good it was that we were optimistic.”

Sliwinski organized Jewish cemetery cleanups and other pro-Jewish initiatives under communism, when Jewish practice and culture were suppressed by the regime.

In 1995, then-Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor, appointed him post-Communist Poland’s first official ambassador to the Jewish Diaspora, part of the state’s unprecedented outreach policy.

On Sunday, both Sliwinski, now 73, and Bartoszewski, 91, joined hundreds of local Jews and other VIPs as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, unveiled a mezuzah at the museum’s main entrance.

“This museum is in the heart of what was Jewish Warsaw,” Schudrich told JTA. “It is in the heart of what was the Warsaw Ghetto. Now it will be in the heart of what will be the future of Polish Jewry. It is a bridge from the past to the future.”

Reflecting this symbolism, the mezuzah was made from a brick from a building in Warsaw’s prewar Jewish quarter, the area that the Nazis turned into the notorious ghetto and where the museum now stands.

A huge flattened cube with a shimmering facade — broken by a dramatic gap that symbolizes both the biblical parting of the Red Sea and the rupture caused by the Holocaust — faces the monument to the heroes of the ghetto uprising.

“I am one of the few here who witnessed the unveiling of the ghetto monument in 1948,” Bartoszewski told guests following the mezuzah ceremony. “If anyone had told me then that this could be happening now, I would have said they were crazy.”

Designed by the Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamaki, the striking building with undulating interior walls is in fact still largely empty. The museum will inaugurate its cultural and educational programs on Friday, but its core exhibition — an interactive narration of 1,000 years of Polish Jewish life — will not be installed until next year.

“The museum is a part of the history that it tells,” Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett, the New York University professor who is overseeing the design of the core exhibition, told JTA. “It speaks to the renewal of Jewish life in Poland, to the enormous Jewish presence in Polish consciousness.”

On the eve of World War II, Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, with 3.3 million Jews making up one-tenth of the country’s population. More than 3 million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust; thousands more survivors left in the wake of postwar pogroms. Still more departed in the 1960s amid anti-Semitic campaigns by the Communist regime.

But with the fall of communism, there has been a revival of Jewish life in Poland and a movement by Jews and non-Jews to reclaim Jewish culture.

“Imagine, the idea for this museum arose in 1996, just a few years after the fall of communism,” Kirshenblatt Gimblett said. “The many efforts of the last two decades to renew Jewish life, to recover the Jewish past, and to foster open debate and dialogue about the most difficult moments in the history of Poland and Polish Jews have created the momentum and support for this initiative.”

The only permanent part of the exhibit installed to date is the dazzling reconstruction of the roof and painted ceiling of an 18th century wooden synagogue that once stood in Gwozdziec, now in Ukraine. So stunning that it has been compared to the Sistine Chapel, it features a wealth of brightly painted folk designs combined with Jewish symbolism: lions, griffins, Zodiac signs, birds, flowers, unicorns and much more.

Financed by the Polish state, the city of Warsaw and numerous Jewish and non-Jewish private donors, the development of the museum suffered setbacks and delays over the years due to political and organizational issues as well as funding shortfalls. The very idea of such a museum in Poland, which many Jews regard as a vast Jewish cemetery, was long a hard sell.

Over the past decade, however, Polish-born Jewish philanthropists such as Americans Sigmund Rolat and Tad Taube passionately took up the cause. Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation collaborated to provide the largest private commitment to the core exhibition of the museum, a total of $16 million since 2007.

“The Taube Foundation and the museum share a similar mission: to understand not only how European Jewry died in the Nazi genocide, but how European Jewry lived in Poland and created a prodigious civilization over many centuries,” Taube told JTA. “This knowledge is not a betrayal of Holocaust memory. In fact, we honor Holocaust memory by reclaiming our rich, long and varied existence in Poland.”

Taube and others say they are hopeful the museum and the story it tells can have a long-term impact: on local Jews, local non-Jews, and the Jews from the United States, Israel and elsewhere who are expected to visit.

“The idea of there being an authentic Jewish community in today’s Poland is notoriously met with bewilderment and often sheer disbelief,” said Katka Reszke, the author of “Return of the Jew,” a new book about young Jews in Poland today. “The museum — its staff, its narrative and its programming — must be prepared to confront this skepticism and the often difficult questions coming from foreign Jewish visitors.”     

Swiss diplomat Simon Geissbuehler, a historian who has written several books on Jewish history, called the museum and its mission “an important step forward.”

Still, he added, “We don’t have to have illusions. It will not change everything immediately. There are those who don’t want to recognize this part of their history. But I hope the museum will help.”

Polish court reportedly rules against allowing ritual slaughter


A constitutional court in Poland reportedly has ruled against allowing Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter in the country.

The Warsaw court’s ruling, which was made known on Tuesday, said the government had acted unconstitutionally when it exempted Jews and Muslims from stunning animals before slaughtering them as their faiths require, according to Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.

Kadlcik told JTA that in addition to the special exception announced by the Polish Ministry of Agriculture, Jewish ritual slaughter, or shechitah, is permissible under the 1997 Law on Regulating the Relations between the State and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.

“It appears there is a legal contradiction here and it is too early to tell what this means,” he said. “We are seeking legal advice on this right now.”

Poland has approximately 6,000 Jews, according to the European Jewish Congress.

According to Kadlcik, Poland has no kosher slaughterhouses but locally slaughtered kosher meat is nonetheless served at kosher cantines across the country.

“I’m not sure we will be able to keep serving meat there,” he said.

Poland honors Janusz Korczak on 70th anniversary of death


Polish government officials unveiled a memorial plaque in Warsaw in honor of Warsaw Ghetto hero Janusz Korczak.

Sunday’s unveiling took place exactly 70 years after German soldiers sent Korczak and 192 Jewish orphans to their deaths in Treblinka, a Nazi extermination camp.

Korczak, director of the Dom Sierot orphanage for Jewish children, declined help from friends in the Polish underground who offered to hide him. He insisted on staying with the children and orphanage staff.

During the ceremony, representatives of Poland’s Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture read aloud a letter written by Poland’s first lady, Anna Komorowska. They laid wreaths at a statue of Korczak situated near the plaque.

The plaque was installed on the site of the last location of Korczak’s orphanage, in the area that Nazi forces declared as the city’s Jewish ghetto.

Sunday’s ceremony was part of a series of commemorative events in the framework of Korczak Year, a government-sponsored campaign headed by Komorowska.

In addition to Korczak, the children and the orphanage staff, some 6,400 people were deported on Aug. 5, 1942 to Treblinka from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Romney tours site of future Polish Jewish museum


Mitt Romney toured the site of the future Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, completing the third leg of a three-country tour that also included Britain and Israel, on Tuesday met with museum chairman Piotr Wislicki, deputy chairman Marian Turski, interim director Waldemar Dabrowski, exhibition director Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and representatives of the museum’s two largest benefactors, the Taube Foundation and the Koret Foundation, Helise Lieberman and Yale Reisner.

Also present during the tour was Romney’s wife, Ann.

The museum, which is to open in 2013, is near the site of the city’s Holocaust-era ghetto.

Krakow waiters made anti-Semitic remarks, Jewish patrons allege


A group of Jews patronizing a restaurant in Krakow said they were verbally and physically attacked by waiters.

The anti-Semitic and racist comments allegedly were made over the weekend at the Moment restaurant during the Polish city’s Jewish Culture Festival. The group was from Poland, Israel and Germany.

Uwe von Seltmann said his group came to meet friends who were sitting at a table in front of the restaurant.

“Immediately after our arrival I heard the words ‘f***ing Jews’ and something like ‘we’ll not serve you’ spoken by a waiter,” von Seltmann said. “The four members of staff were in general very unfriendly, and their body language showed that they would not serve us.”

A member of the group went inside the restaurant to complain about the slurs, which led to a verbal confrontation, von Seltmann told JTA. Following the complaint, a waiter threw an object at a female member of the group.

The group then left the restaurant and, according to von Seltmann, someone told them to “Go back to Israel.”

Moment manager Sebastian Wojnar said he would punish the staff involved in the altercations.

“We are an open place that promotes dialogue between cultures and nations,” he said.

The incident was reported to the police.

Gunter Grass told to stay away from Polish synagogue


Gunter Grass, the Nobel Prize-winning poet banned from entering Israel, is being asked not to visit the Gdansk synagogue.

Grass, 85, will arrive on Friday in the Polish city of his birth to open an exhibition of his paintings.

“We wish to Gunter Grass very fruitful and pleasant stay in Gdansk,” Michal Samet, chairman of the Jewish Community in Gdansk, told the Gazeta Wyborcza. “There are so many wonderful places in Gdansk, the city has more than a 1,000-year history; certainly he will have a lot of things to see here. He was in our synagogue once, five years ago, and I think that would be enough.”

Earlier this year, Grass published in a German newspaper and other international publications his poem “What Must Be Said,” which condemns the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel for agreeing to subsidize the sale of additional submarines “from my country” to Israel “justified as reparations.”

Grass also said that his reluctance until now to speak out against Israel was due to his own sense of connection with the Jewish state and that “the charge of anti-Semitism” is easily flung at those who criticize Israel.

In 2006, Grass admitted in an interview that he had joined the Waffen-SS as a teenager at the end of World War II. He was accused at the time of having hidden the truth for decades while at the same time pointing the finger at others for hiding their Nazi past.

Obama meets with Polish Jewish leaders


President Obama met with Polish Jewish leaders and laid a wreath at the Warsaw Ghetto monument during his visit to Poland.

Obama began his May 27 visit to Poland by laying a wreath at the Warsaw Ghetto monument and by meeting two dozen leaders of the Jewish community including survivors and Righteous Among the Nations, as well as Polish government officials.

Obama was greeted by Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, who then introduced Wladislaw Bartoszewski, a minster in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister well as a Righteous Among the Nations who as a very young man helped to establish Zegota, the organization sponsored by the Polish government in exile to save Jews from the German death camps. Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Jewish Community of Poland, also greeted Obama.

“President Obama was talking so beautifully and warmly about Righteous Among the Nations and his words were spread all over the world,” said Anna Stupnicka-Bando, the chairman of Polish Society of Righteous Among the Nations, after she was asked by reporters about her conversation with Obama.

Jozef Walaszczyk, vice chairman of the Polish Society of the Righteous Among the Nations, underlined that Obama spoke kindly with each one of the guests.

“We took this with great respect,” Walaszczyk said. “The conversation was very warm and private, nothing was forced.”

Obama visited the Jewish Museum being built across the plaza from the Warsaw Ghetto monument. He received an update from the Minister of Culture Bogdan Zdrojewski, as well as Sigmund Rolat, chairman of the North American Council for the Jewish Museum; Marion Turski, a survivor who is heavily involved in the museum; and Piotr Wislicki, chairman of the Society for the Jewish Historical Institute.

Director of Polish Jewish theater is attacked


Bricks painted with swastikas and a firecracker were thrown through the window of the director of a Jewish theater in Poland.

The attack on the home of Thomas Pietrasiewicz, director of the NN Theater in Lublin, took place late at night on Dec. 17.  A bottle had been thrown at the house a month earlier but had been dismissed as a prank, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported.

The newspaper reported that the theater has been the victim of several anti-Semitic attacks in the past, including the painting of a Star of David on a gallows on the door, threatening letters and a container with a foul-smelling substance thrown in the building.

“When I looked at the brick, I felt the incredible aggression of the person who threw it,” Pietrasiewicz told Gazeta, saying that he felt powerless, like the Jews of Europe during the Nazi era. “But I’m not going to change anything in my life, put bars on the windows or move out because those who paint swastikas on these bricks, what is the point?”

The Anti-Defamation League on Wednesday called on the Polish government to take swift action in response to the attack.

“This anti-Semitic hate crime directly targeted Thomas Pietrasiewicz, but was also clearly intended to terrorize the broader Jewish community, of which Mr. Pietrasiewicz is a prominent member,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director.

In a letter to Robert Kupiecki, Poland’s ambassador to the United States, ADL urged the Polish government to consider the crime an attack against both an individual and against the Jewish community, and to ensure that the full resources of the police and other public authorities are dedicated to the case.

A Personal ‘Uprising’


“Uprising,” the TV miniseries about the Warsaw Resistance, is being released in theaters Dec. 7, and on DVD and VHS Dec. 18. Some actors shared with The Journal their personal experiences on the set.

Alexandra Holden (Frania Beatus)

People laugh when I tell them I played a Polish Jew in “Uprising.” I’m a blond, blue-eyed Minnesotan of Scandinavian descent; what was Jon Avnet thinking casting me? I was worried. I wasn’t sure I deserved the role. I thought it may be more relevant to a Jewish girl, that it would mean something more to her.

However, my biggest (and silliest) fear was that the viewers would spot me as an impostor.

Fortunately, the two-week rehearsal period created a sense of togetherness among the actors that became, to me, one of the most extraordinary aspects of the entire experience. From the very first day, the fears that had plagued me evaporated. I immediately felt a sense of equality that I’ve never experienced in a work situation. It soon didn’t matter who was or wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t think about it anymore. It didn’t matter what my background was, or what I looked like. What mattered was that we were all there “for one purpose” and we united over that purpose.

Some small part of the Jewish culture became a part of me, and my commitment to the group and the project grew and grew. I would have done just about anything for the film, and I am extremely proud to be a part of it. It’s an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Hank Azaria (Mordechai Anielewicz)

When you do any historical drama, especially one as accurate and devastating as “Uprising,” you get a tremendous history lesson. You also get the honor and excitement of applying that knowledge the best way an actor knows how: by portraying a role that helps tell the story.

One of our jobs as actors is to imagine: “What if we were really in these circumstances?” As a Jew, with a great uncle that died in Treblinka, this job was made much easier and at the same time, much more difficult to endure.

During a break in filming, I went to Prague for a few days. Amazingly, I ran into an old professor of mine from Tufts University, Sal Gittleman, who taught Yiddish literature and German expressionism. Back in college, he reminded all of his Jewish students — and there were a lot of us — that no matter how assimilated we are during times of persecution, it is our oppressors, not we, who decide how Jewish we are. It was a lesson I never forgot, and one that I was very proud to help bring to light in “Uprising.”

Mili Avital (Devorah)

I didn’t just want to be a part of “Uprising,” I insisted on it. As an Israeli actress working in Hollywood, I felt something after reading the script for the first time that I have never felt before. This was the story of a group of people fighting to exist as Jews in a world that doesn’t want them. Fighting to create a new type of Jew; a modern kind of Jew, who dreams to create a new society of people that are helping each other to exist freely and on their own. It was the story of the nation I come from, the origin of my blood, my spirit.

As we American and English actors were walking around the set and exploring its structure, I felt uncomfortable, as if they were studying my own body in a lab. Why is this the history of my nation? Why isn’t it like the one of the American actors who come from the country of Gold Rush and endless land, or the English actors of royals and teatime. I was furious.

When it was suggested during our rehearsal process that I sing Israel’s national anthem as part of the research, I suddenly felt different. I felt the joy and pride, as it was reminding me who I am: an Israeli Jewish actress that is here to tell this story of the amazing bravery, courage and faith of my people, as it is the story of all human beings fighting for life.

Stephen Moyer (Kazik)

From the moment I started reading the script of “Uprising,” I have been enthralled with it. My character in the film was not just one of the protagonists, but much of the script was based on his own experiences. Not only was it a true story, but I was to meet the man I was playing and spend time with him talking about his incredible experiences.

No amount of research and attempts to understand Jewish culture can quite prepare you for meeting the man you are playing. Kazik’s generosity of spirit is impossible to encapsulate in these short paragraphs, but to say that he made my job easier would be an understatement. He gave me complete free rein with his own life … only ever offering words of encouragement and never advice.

It was an extraordinary story that was being told, and I had been incredibly lucky to get the part. Jon Avnet’s casting of me in the part was all the more surprising. As a Jewish director tackling incredibly sensitive material, it was a bold step, and one that I am extremely grateful for.

Satan in the Shtetl


“Great-grandma was a naughty girl,” says British filmmaker Ben Hopkins, whose feature debut, “Simon Magus,” is the tale of a Polish shtetl in peril.

The iconoclastic director’s single Jewish ancestor was the Eastern European mistress of an English gentleman in Vienna; in the 1910s, she moved to England to live with him and bear him (and other men) children. Her convent-educated daughter did not learn she was Jewish until she planned to marry. “Great-grandma told her she couldn’t wed in church, because she was Jewish,” says the Oxford graduate, who was raised as an atheist.

Nevertheless, around 1990, Hopkins says, “the Jews sitting around the samovar in our collective DNA came to life.” Grandmother began referring to herself as a Jew; father, an ancient historian, immersed himself in studies about first- and second-century Judaism; and Hopkins made an unexpected entry in his journal: “Make ‘Simon Magus’ a Jewish story.” “It was obviously written when I was drunk, as it is very scribbly,”confides the irreverent, award-winning filmmaker.

“Simon Magus,” the tale of a visionary outcast (Noah Taylor) who becomes a pawn in an anti-Semitic plot against his Jewish community, has an eerie, magical atmosphere reminiscent of the works of Yiddish author I.B. Singer. The movie, which stars Rutger Hauer and Embeth Davidtz (“Schindler’s List”) was inspired by the early Christian legend of Simon Magus, the Samaritan magician who attempted to buy himself a place among Christ’s disciples after Judas’s death. Hopkins, the struggling director, identified with the failed magician: “It quite accurately described my life at the time,” he says.

A coup for the director was casting prominent British thespian Ian Holm as Satan, a part that was relatively simple to write, Hopkins says.

“The devil is a fantastic character,” he explains. “God is a bit boring.”

“Stuart Magus” opens today at the Nuart in Los Angeles.

Rediscovering His Jewish Roots


On a cold winter day in 1974, 13-year-old Tony Goldwyn stared, shocked, as his father said Kaddish over his grandfather’s grave.

Grandfather, of course, was the famed movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, a Polish immigrant who produced such classics as “Wuthering Heights,” “Stella Dallas” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Like the other moguls, Shmuel Gelbfisz, the son of a Talmud scholar and a moneylender, had been obsessed with erasing anything Jewish from his films and his life.

He changed his name, divorced his Jewish first wife and married a 21-year-old Catholic actress, Tony’s grandmother. He didn’t raise his kids Jewish. And on Christmas day, he had the entire family over for a Lucullan dinner at the “big house,” which was lavishly decorated for the holiday, recalls Tony, an actor best known for playing the evil yuppie in “Ghost.”

Every Saturday afternoon during the rest of 1974, a chauffeur named Hans picked Tony up in grandpa’s Cadillac and drove him to the Beverly Hills mansion, which was adorned with formal furnishings, a curved staircase and a manicured croquet court at the foot of sloping lawns.

“The identity my grandfather tried to cultivate was that of an English gentleman, though he had a Yiddish accent, a very strong one,” says Goldwyn, 38, whose directorial debut, “A Walk on the Moon,” starring Diane Lane and Oscar-winner Anna Paquin, opens today in Los Angeles.

The accent was about the only connection young Tony had to Judaism. So he was startled, on that cold February day in 1974, when his grandfather was buried as a Jew. “It was the first Jewish ceremony I had ever attended. It was the first time I had ever seen a rabbi,” says Tony, who is as blond and blue-eyed, his features as chiseled and handsome as a matinee idol in one of Sam’s movies.