A 64-year-old Polish Jew, who was raised as a Catholic and only made aware of his religious roots later on in life, will be holding a special bar mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall on Thursday morning.
Mariusz Robert Aofloko, an attorney from Krakow, learned he was Jewish 13 years ago, when his mother revealed the family secret to him several days before she died. She also told him at the time that his father, who had by then passed away, was Jewish as well and in fact a Kohen (A member of the Jewish priestly caste). His father had survived the Holocaust by fleeing to Russian territory, while his mother was able to survive thanks to Aryan papers issued to her by a priest. His grandparents were all murdered in Auschwitz.
Aofloko’s first wife, who is no longer alive, also discovered she was Jewish during his mother’s deathbed confession. “When our parents met each other before we were married, they each revealed to the other that they were Jewish but never told us until my mother was about to die,” he told Haaretz.
Aofloko had two children with his first wife, one of whom died at a young age. He has since remarried a Christian woman, but ever since he discovered his Jewish roots, has begun observing the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays and living a traditional Jewish life. Everything has changed for me,” he said.
Asked why his parents never told him he was Jewish, he explained that considering the atmosphere in Poland when he was growing up, it was not something to publicize.
After discovering that he was Jewish, he contacted Rabbi Boaz Pash, an emissary in Krakow for Shavei Israel, a non-profit that helps Jews from remote communities reconnect. The organization has been particularly active in recent years among the community of so-called “Hidden Jews,” to which Aofloko belongs.
Last month, he met Michael Freund, the chairman of Shavei Israel, at a special ceremony held at Auschwitz for young Poles who had discovered their Jewish roots, and shared his story. Freund invited him to come to Israel and celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem to mark the 13 years since his “rebirth” as a Jew, at the organization’s expense.
“It is extremely moving for me, especially being here in Jerusalem for the first time,” said Aofloko.