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A Spirited Seder in Szczecin

April 12, 2018 3:39 PM

We spent the first days of Passover with the Jews of Szczecin, a Baltic seaport in the northwest corner of Poland. It is a bustling city with approximately 400,000 inhabitants, including some 60 Jews. We quickly discovered that the Jewish community is a very close-knit oneThe Jewish community is a very close-knit one where each member is treasured. Every Shabbat and holiday, they gather at an old apartment that serves as their synagogue, complete with Torah scrolls, Jewish books, and other artifacts from before the war. This apartment served as our headquarters for the duration of our stay.

We landed in Warsaw, where we loaded our rental car with food and other supplies for the Seder before driving six hours to Szczecin. The days preceding the Seder were extremely hectic, compounded by a significant language barrier, but thank G‑d our preparations went smoothly, and we were excited to greet our guests as the sun set on Friday evening and the first Seder night commenced.

The room quickly filled with an eclectic mix of people—children, college students, middle-aged couples, and senior citizens, 30 people with a shared enthusiasm for celebrating their Judaism. Earlier, when we had discussed the Seder with Nikolai, the president of the community, he told us to expect the last person to leave by 10 pm at the latest. In the end, almost everyone lingered past midnight, chatting and enjoying what they called “energia i wibracje,” energy and good vibes.

The highlight of the Seder was the song Ve’hi She'amda:

“And it is this [covenant] that has stood for our forefathers and us. For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out. But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, saves us from their hands.”

Szczecin was once home to 30,000 Jews and dozens of beautiful synagogues and other institutions. Kristallnacht, deportations to Auschwitz, Polish pogroms after the Holocaust, and years of CommunistHe told us to expect the last person to leave by 10pm oppression took a tremendous toll on this community, and some may debate the possibility of Jewish survival in such an environment. As our guests raised their glasses together, joy evident on their faces, it was living proof that the Jews of Szczecin will continue to endure. We took a brief detour from the Haggadah and launched into a spirited rendition of “Am Yisroel Chai,” and the excitement in the room was palpable.

As we cleaned up in the early hours of morning, we reflected on the difference between events in places like the United States, where religious freedom is taken for granted, versus our Seder, held in the shadows of Szczecin’s tragic history and current winds of anti-Semitism. We felt that every mitzvah done here was an act of courage and defiance, and we felt privileged to help facilitate that.

A German Jew in the Spanish Islands

April 12, 2018 11:30 AM

Several weeks before Passover we found out we’d be heading to Palma de Mallorca, home to some 250 Jews. Daniel has been there as part of the Roving Rabbis program before, so he got busy reconnecting with his contacts while I set out to find a suitable venue for the Seder.

Our first preference would have been one of theWe were told that they do not allow parties many hotels that dot the area, but several inquiries yielded the same result—it is against their policy to allow us to serve our own food. Plan B was to rent an airbnb. We left messages on several websites with our requested dates and intended use, asking if they had seating for forty people. Not surprisingly, we were told by each in turn that they do not allow parties on their premises.

Our last resort was to find a catering hall with a kitchen, but that would have been complicated with carrying on Shabbat and all the stringencies of Passover food, so we were still hoping for an airbnb that would be more accommodating when Joseph messaged us. He said that he had reconsidered and we could go ahead with his rental. It was a great relief and we quickly made all the necessary arrangements.

We spent the Shabbat before Passover with Rabbi and Mrs. Dovid Libersohn, Chabad emissaries to Barcelona, who supplied us with everything we would need to make the Seders. On Monday, we flew the short distance to Palma and made our way to the airbnb, laden with suitcases and boxes. Joseph was there to greet us and eyed our supplies warily. “I’m nervous about this party you’re having,” he said after a quick greeting. “This house is a heritage house and everything has to stay perfect.” We reassured him that we would be extremely careful.

“I have to tell you why I agreed.” he continued.We had an unexpected guest at the Seder “I saw that your names are Jewish, and you are hosting dinner for your holiday. My family is German, and I felt that I needed to do something for the Jews.”

We continued chatting and Joseph eventually shared that his maternal grandmother had been Jewish. What an unexpected twist! We told Joseph that he may be German, but he is also a fully-fledged Jew!

We had an unexpected guest at the Seder several nights later, but luckily, we didn't’ have to clear it with management first. Joseph sat with our other guests, thoroughly enjoying himself, participating in the discussions and songs and meeting lots of new friends. Hopefully, he will join them at future Jewish events.

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