Warsaw center aims to be ‘neutral ground’ for divided Jewish community

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) – The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee announced plans for a new cultural center in Warsaw that it hopes will help unite Polish Jewry.

“I hope it will be a place where everybody feels safe and gives everyone the opportunity to practice their kind of Judaism and answer the needs of some very different people,” Karina Sokolowska, the committee’s country director for Poland, told JTA about the 3,000-square-foot space that her organization plans to dedicate on Oct. 27.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

The opening ceremony will be attended by representatives from several groups that are part of a protracted legal fight for state recognition and resources: The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland; the Progressive Judaism movement Beit Polska and the competing Progressive community Ec Chaim.

The Union, an umbrella group which includes the Ec Chaim Progressive community as well as Orthodox groups, has petitioned a Polish court to revoke state recognition of Beit Polska as a religious association. The case, which yielded a number of appeals and recriminations, has been ongoing since 2009.

“The idea is to recreate the neutral space that we see happening during Limmud,” Sokolowska of the Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC, said Sunday in reference to the annual, pluralistic Jewish learning conference.

The center, which will be the city’s first modern facility of its kind in Warsaw, will operate from a rented, free-standing building paid for by JDC; the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture; the Koret Foundation and other donors, JDC said in a statement.

The new center will offer cooking classes; childcare; training programs; theater classes; and a book club to the 900 preregistered members, JDC added. The new center, which uwas a cafe before its rededication, will not have a synagogue.

Poland is home to an estimated 25,000 Jews. The country’s first Jewish community center opened in Krakow in 2009.