LODZ, Poland, January 21 – A group of Poles who have recently discovered their Jewish roots gathered yesterday with members of the Jewish community of Lodz to celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shevat with a special Seder organized by the Jerusalem-based organization Shavei Israel.
Approximately 25 people attended the event, including local Jews and other Lodz residents who say they feel connected to the Jewish community and seek opportunities to visit the synagogue for cultural and religious Jewish experiences. Lodz is located approximately 75 miles southwest of Warsaw.
Tu B’Shevat, which is mentioned in the Talmud, is considered to be the Jewish New Year for Trees and underscores the bond between Jews and the Land of Israel. In the 16th century, a custom developed by Rabbi Isaac Luria and his students to hold a Seder, or festive meal, on Tu B’Shevat, and the practice was later adopted throughout the Jewish world.
Rabbi David Szychowski, Shavei Israel’s emissary to Lodz, delivered a presentation during the Tu B’Shevat Seder explaining the significance of each blessing and the symbolic importance of the fruits of Israel.
During the Holocaust, more than 68,000 Jews were murdered in the Lodz Ghetto by the Germans and their accomplices. About 100 Jews currently live in Lodz, but according to Shavei Israel, there are large numbers of Poles in and around the city with Jewish roots dating back to the Holocaust.
“Tu B’Shevat is a celebration of reconnecting with one’s national and historical roots,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund, “It is therefore especially poignant that young Poles who have recently discovered their Jewish ancestry came to take part in the Tu B’Shevat Seder in Lodz, thereby demonstrating the power and resilience of Jewish identity.”
There are an estimated 4,000 Jews officially registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of other Poles with Jewish roots whose families, to this day, are either hiding their identities or are unaware of their Jewish heritage. Shavei Israel has been active in Poland for over a decade, working closely with Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and these “Hidden Jews.”