Timeline

Today, the Jewish Community of Warsaw has about 700 members. It maintains three synagogues: the Nożyk Orthodox Synagogue, the Ec Chaim Reform Synagogue in Warsaw and the Chachmei Yeshiva Synagogue in Lublin. It hires four rabbis, including Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland since 2004, Stas Wojciechowicz (since 2010) and Małgorzata Kordowicz (since 2016) and Oriel Zaretsky (since 2017).

The community has an operating mikveh, a Chevra Kadisha, a cheder and a Shabbat school, a kosher store, a kosher kitchen and canteen, a Jewish day-care center”Drejdel” and a Club for Seniors.

But in the first place the Jewish Community of Warsaw is a community serving its members.

Elected in June 2018, the current Community’s Board is chaired by Lesław Piszewski with Anna Chipczyńska and Paweł Passini as Vice-Chairmen, Anna Bakuła as Treasurer and the remaining Board Members including: Anna Dodziuk, Elżbieta Magenheim and Grażyna Majer.

The Jewish Community of Warsaw was reactivated under provisions of the Act of 20 February, 1997 on Relations Between the State and Jewish Religious Communities in the Republic of Poland (effective as of 11 May, 1997). In 2006 the Jewish community in Poland adopted its internal law. Both documents constitute the legal basis on which the Jewish communities function in the modern-day Poland. These community structures constitute the moral and legal legacy of the pre-war Jewish communities.

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Though Jews had been present in the region of Mazovia since 11th century, the oldest document confirming their presence in Warsaw dates back to 1414. However, the history of Jewish self-government in Warsaw begins at the end of the 18th century only. A law enacted as late as in 1775 encouraged Jews to settle throughout the Mazovian Province, excluding Warsaw, hence the early Warsaw vicinity communities developed in Praga, which at that time still remained outside the administrative boundaries of Warsaw proper. It was in Praga, in 1780, that Szmul Zbytkower obtained a permission to establish a Jewish cemetery. Later, under the Prussian rule, the Jewish community was able to establish own self-government: at the turn of the 18th century, Jews were granted the right to settle in Warsaw and to establish two communities, of Warsaw and Praga. In the 19th century, Warsaw’s Jewish population reached the height of its development; when Dov Ber Meisels was appointed the chief rabbi of the Warsaw Jewish Community in 1856, Jews represented 26.5% of the capital city’s total population.

In 1914, Warsaw’s Jewish population reached 337,000 (or 38.1% of its inhabitants), and formed Europe’s largest local community of the inter-war period. In the twenty-year period between the world wars, the Jewish communities throughout Poland reported to the Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment. They were the organisers of religious life: they funded the rabbinate, the synagogues and prayer houses, the mikvehs and cemeteries; they supervised the ritual slaughter, education and welfare institutions. The democratically elected 50-member Council of the Warsaw Jewish Community of the time appointed from among its members the Board composed of 15 members.

The last President of the Warsaw Jewish Community before the Shoah was Adam Czerniaków, appointed to that position by the President of the Municipality of Warsaw Stefan Starzyński on 23 September 1939, this in order to fill the position vacated by Maurycy Mayzel, who had just left the country. On 6 October 1939, when the city was occupied by the Germans, Czerniaków consented to head the Judenrat. He acted in that capacity until 1942, when in opposition to the so-called Large Liquidation Operation, he committed suicide on 23 July 1942, his ultimate act of desperation and resistance.

In 1946, the Jewish population of Warsaw stood at 18,000. The post-war organisation vested with the mission of addressing the religious needs of Polish Jews was the Religious Union of the Mosaic Faith in Poland, established in August 1949. The Union reported to the Office for Religious Denominations of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Union was gradually curtailed in the activities it was allowed to pursue while its membership decreased through the respective waves of emigration: in the early 1970s, this number decreased from five to two thousand. In spite of this, the communities struggled to maintain conditions conducive to the cultivation of religious life, to provide their social assistance services and to preserve their material cultural heritage.