New Yorker to serve as Poland's first progressive rabbi since Holocaust
By The Associated Press
WARSAW - Poland's first progressive rabbi since World War II was inducted Friday in a ceremony filled with lively music and solemn remembrance of those who perished in the Holocaust.
The arrival of Rabbi Burt Schuman, a New Yorker whose family roots are in Poland, represents another milestone in the revival of the Jewish life nearly extinguished by Adolf Hitler. The community's members said Schuman would help them revive the liberal, modern branch of Judaism that flourished alongside Orthodox Judaism in Poland before the Holocaust.
"Tonight is the realization of a dream, of serving a community in my ancestral homeland," said Schuman, a charismatic and lively 58-year-old. "I think it's a tremendous watershed for the liberal movement. We are on the map in Poland."
"We are a presence that no one can deny, and I truly believe that we are the future of Jewish Poland because of the mix of tradition and modernity that we uphold."
Schuman was inducted at Beit Warszawa, home to Warsaw's Progressive community, in a ceremony presided over by Rabbi Uri Regev, the president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
In a congregation hall filled with bright abstract paintings, Schuman held Torah scrolls as Regev blessed him and hailed him as "the first full-time permanent rabbi since the Holocaust."
Regev also commented on the formative influence that Poland's Jews - who settled in this eastern European land 1,000 years ago - had in shaping modern Jewish life.
"One may think that they can live a full Jewish life in New York or Jerusalem," Regev told the congregation of nearly 100 people. "But without you, we are not complete."
Until the war, Poland was home to a Jewish community of nearly 3.5 million, most of whom perished in the Holocaust. Of those who survived, many ended up settling in the United States and Israel. Today many Jews in both countries have Polish ancestry.
Those Jews who remained in Poland after the war suffered a further tragedy during the repression of communist times, most notably in 1968 when thousands were expelled from the country.
Since the fall of communism in 1989, the Jewish community has grown slowly throughout eastern Europe, but has been by and large dominated by the Orthodox movement.
Some estimates put the numbers of Jews in Poland today at around 30,000 - out of a population of 38 million.
The Progressive movement is one of three major branches of Judaism and is equivalent to the Reform movement in North America. The other two movements are Orthodox and Conservative Judaism.