Calling him a “good man and great leader, and well loved by the Jewish people of Poland,” the director of Chabad-Lubavitch activities in the country said on Sunday that the Jewish community joined its fellow citizens in mourning the sudden death of President Lech Kacyznski. The chief executive perished with his wife, senior dignitaries and military leaders in a Saturday morning plane crash in Russia.

“The Jewish community is shocked at the scope of the tragedy,” said Stambler, who was scheduled to attend a memorial service at a local synagogue. “President Kacyznski did so much for the Jewish people, from the time that he was mayor of Warsaw to when he became president.”

Among other activities that Kacyznski endorsed and enabled to take place, said the rabbi, was the recent opening of the Jewish museum in Warsaw, and the now-regular custom of lighting a Chanukah menorah at the presidential palace.

Kaczynski and an official delegation were on their way to attend a memorial for Polish prisoners of war who were killed in 1943 by Russian forces in the Katyn forest west of Smolensk. Kaczynski’s presidential plane was on final approach to the local airport and attempted a landing in heavy fog, when it overshot the runway, clipped treetops and smashed into the ground, bursting into flames.

Stambler’s expression of sorrow echoed those of world leaders and came amidst a seven-day period of mourning declared by government officials in Poland. Supermarkets and most businesses were closed on Sunday, said Stambler, and people walked the streets with stunned expressions on their faces.

“The president was a political leader, but on this trip,” explained the rabbi, “he embodied all the hopes and aspirations of the Polish people.”

“I knew Kaczynski as a Polish patriot, a great friend of Israel and a leader who did much for his people and to further world peace and prosperity,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Stambler, who last saw the president a couple of months ago and in 2008, personally delivered hand-baked shmurah matzah to Kaczynski in advance of Passover, said that he found out about the crash in the middle of Shabbat morning prayers. A member of the synagogue came in crestfallen and told the rabbi what happened. After the close of services, the congregation recited Psalms in their expression of grief.

The rabbi added that Jewish community leaders had been scheduled to travel with the president, but had to change their plans when they found out that the plane would depart on Shabbat.

“We are all in shock,” stated Stambler, who put a note of condolence on the Web site of Chabad-Lubavitch of Poland. “We all share in the sadness of this terrible loss.”