Jewish life is returning to Poland.
Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I found this to be so when we spent time there in 2007 doing interviews for our book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. Much of this revival of Jewish life was done by non-Jews for non-Jews in restaurants, festivals and theater. But some Jews, too, were finding their way into a renewed Jewish life there.
When World War II began, about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland -- roughly 10 percent of the population. In the Holocaust, the Germans (with help from some Poles) murdered more than 90 percent of them. Most of the few remaining were driven underground or out of the country by the antisemitic Soviet-dominated rulers after the war.
But now Jewish life is slowly on the rise there, and this good BBC piece will put you up to speed on this phenomenon, especially in Krakow (not far from Auschwitz) and especially what this revival has to do with religion, if anything.
Some of the people turning back to Judaism come from families who were forced for various reasons to convert to Christianity in the past. Many such families from Europe moved to Central and South America.
And today, through his organization called Brit Braja, Rabbi Jacques is reintroducing people there to Judaism and doing conversions.
Recently National Public Radio's "Here and Now" show did an interview with Jacques about this. You can hear it here.
The relgious journey some people take is astonishing and endlessly fascinating, at least to me.
(The photo here today is one I took in a Jewish cemetery in Krakow. Most Jewish cemeteries in Poland were desecrated in World War II or have been left to decay in the post-war years.)
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A STEM CELL BREAKTHROUGH?
One of the objections to research using early, or embryonic, stem cells is that extracting the stem cells requires the destruction of what some people consider to be early human life. Now what appears to be a remarkable and remarkably easy way of producing stem cells without that problem has been reported. I continue to be amazed by human curiosity and ingenuity.