What Is Unusual about the Chief Rabbi of Poland? Originally Published December 6-7, 2019.

Many countries have a Chief Rabbi, though the United States does not.  Poland’s current Chief Rabbi is Michael Joseph Schudrich, born June 15, 1955, in New York City, where he was raised.  Rabbi Schudrich seems to have made it his mission to revive Jewish life in Poland, a monumental task.

Rabbi Schudrich served with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Warsaw in the 1990s, and became Rabbi of Warsaw and Łódź in 2000.  He was named Chief Rabbi in 2004.  His job is not an easy one, as it not only includes a severely decimated population of Polish Jews but also large numbers of mass graves and cemeteries as well as death camps from the Holocaust, and interesting global sentiment toward the Polish people despite the large number of non-Jewish Poles who have been recognized as Righteous in terms of their aid to Jews during the Holocaust.

This year on July 4th Rabbi Schudrich was involved along with Krakow JCC head Jonathan Ornstein in climbing over the locked fence of the historic Izaak Synagogue in Kraków.  The Board of the Union of Jewish Religious Congregations in Poland, according to The Jerusalem Post, “fiercely criticized” him.  But the case was not so cut and dried.  Apparently after a decade of being back to praying in and reviving and restoring the shul, the Jewish residents of Kraków were evicted overnight at the end of the Jewish Culture Festival.  This was an official act by the Jewish Community of Kraków.  The men had entered the synagogue, they put forth, to get out personal items which had been suddenly locked inside. This synagogue had survived through pogroms, Nazi occupation and subsequent socialism, and now this past summer the Izaak Synagogue became a worldwide cause.  (The synagogue was built in 1644, and we’d like to think  our grandmother Nettie Beldengreen may have visited at least once - it was once apparently quite beautiful.  It was named for the founder and donor, Izaak Jekelish, also called Isaac the Rich, a banker to King Władysław IV.)  The eviction has not been sufficiently explained.

Rabbi Schudrich also has suffered one direct anti-Semitic attack.  And he had been invited to travel on the flight on April 10, 2010, which crashed, killing 96 persons include the president of Poland.  He demurred because the flight was on Shabbat.

And what is unusual about Rabbi Schudrich, besides all that we reported above, you ask?  That he is the only Chief Rabbi who was ordained a Conservative rabbi, with semikha from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.  He was later also ordained through Yeshiva University as an Orthodox rabbi, but we may wish to “claim” him first.