Saturday, October 25, 2014

Poland – My Special Synagogue Experience

On my last morning in Warsaw, I wanted to visit the Nożyk Synagogue. I packed my suitcase and ate my breakfast by 8:15am. I set out on foot to find the Nożyk Synagogue which I had seen six days earlier. I passed the Palace of Science and Culture and then Prozna Street (the only standing street from Warsaw Ghetto.) I took a hard left and made my way through an ally of sorts. There it was: the yellow building. I made my way up the stairs hoping the door would open. It did. It was 8:30am.
I passed by this small Jewish Community Center. 
The Ester Rachel Kamińska and Ida Kamińska State Jewish Theater where all performances are in Yiddish! 
I was relieved to see the Nożyk Synagogue through the trees.
The backdoor I entered. No entry through front door is allowed due to security precautions.
The same gruff security guard who refused us entrance the previous Saturday was there. I politely inquired if I could enter. He said I could enter at 9am because services were in progress. I informed him I was Jewish and could I please enter. He asked me “Will you Pray?” I replied, “Yes.”

The guard checked inside my purse and led me through a door. He tells me “women’s section” and points to a staircase. I was not surprised as women are separated from men in an Orthodox Synagogue. I made my way up the stairs and sat to peer over the balcony wall. The Rabbi was concluding the morning service with about twelve men – enough for a minyan. All the men wore a kippah on their heads, most wore tallit over their shoulders (prayer shawl) and some had tzitzit hanging down each leg. After the service ended, they gathered at a table to share a morning meal. I could not understand the Polish of course but the talk sounded friendly and all interacted in an easy manner.
The view from the women’s section.
Women's seating on upper balcony.
I made my way around the top level and found a box of what appeared to be trash. It had books. I looked through them and found a 1946 book published in Palestine. It was plain brown paper and had penciled writing with a name, London, England and Hebrew writing. I also found a 1956 book printed in Israel. I think they are Haggadahs but written in Hebrew so not sure. I wondered if I could have them? I was tempted to just take them but did not feel that was the right thing to do.
The box on the left that I sorted through to find the Jewish books. 
Finally it was 9am. I went back to the security guard to ask permission to enter the main area of the synagogue. He mumbled with an affirmative nod of the head. One of the Polish worshipers said welcome to me in English. I am not sure how he knew to greet me in English.
The entry to the main area of synagogue.
Precious relics of Jewish life found in the synagogue.
Jewish children play here ... what could be better?
I wondered up some back stairs of the synagogue where I could see women entering for work. I approached one to ask about the box of books. She was not too helpful. I persisted and asked the next woman I saw. I was fortunate indeed! She was not only very friendly but also the Rabbi’s assistant!! She walked back with me to the women’s section so I could show her the mysterious box. I explained I was a Jew from Dallas, Texas and showed her the two books I wanted. She pulled out her mobile phone and called the Rabbi. He said “Yes and any books from the box.” I do not know why tears welled up as I thanked the kind woman. Just as tears are streaming down my cheeks as I write of this experience.
The 1946 Jewish Book printed in Palestine that appears to have come from London to Warsaw. It is now part of my 2014 Jewish home in Dallas, Texas.
The first page
Who is Shula Amin? Is she from London, England?
I cannot help but feel heartbroken for the three million Jews who were murdered in Poland during the German occupation in WWII. The fact that this one synagogue survived destruction is a miracle. The Rabbi’s assistant told me there were 500 official members of the synagogue and other nonmembers using it too. This too is a miracle to me. This functioning Jewish community in Warsaw is heroic. It is a testament to the undeniable spirit of Jews in the diaspora. Just like Auschwitz and Birkenau, it is important to visit Nożyk Synagogue where survival and faith are visibly present and alive.

And this is where my first journey to Poland concludes.

Oddly enough after I wrote this account, I read this article about Polish Jewish life in a documentary "The Return" opening this week ... and I understand. 

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