U.S. rabbi sent to Poland on mission to revitalize Jewish community
Katowice has a confirmed Jewish community of 120, but its new chief rabbi, Yehoshua Ellis, expects the actual number may be ten times that.
There was a time when Eastern Europe's Jewish communities sent emissaries to serve the spiritual needs of Jews settling in America. This century, the direction has reversed, with the Shavei Israel organization sending religious leaders to Poland to revive decades-dormant Jewish communities decimated during World War II.
Missouri native Yehoshua Ellis, educated in Jerusalem, is the latest Anglo rabbi to be given the mission of revitalizing Poland's Jewish community, as the new chief rabbi of Katowice, a city of 300,000 that once numbered 10,000 Jews.
Most of Katowice’s Jewish community perished at the hand of the Nazis in Auschwitz. Today, only 120 Jews are officially registered, although Ellis believes there are an estimated 1,000 “hidden Jews” residing in the area.
"The challenge of creating and sustaining Jewish life seemed greater there (Katowice) than any of the other cities I had visited," said Ellis, who several years ago served a Jewish community in Warsaw.
According to Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, an increasing number of young Poles have begun rediscovering their Jewish roots over the past two decades, “expressing a desire to draw closer to Israel and the Jewish people.”
Katowice, said Ellis, “is a community that wants someone to lead them, to remind those who have forgotten what it means to be Jewish, to teach those who never knew and to find those who have gotten lost."