May 1st in Poland is Labour Day, a national holiday, when families typically flock out of the city to the countryside for a day of leisure and recreation. This leaves Warsaw, the bustling capital of Poland, boasting close to two million residents, deserted. With that in mind, Rabbis Shalom Ber and Mayer Stambler, directors of Chabad of Poland, didn’t expect a huge crowd at the ceremony planned to inaugurate the welcome tent they set up for the thousands of March of the Living participants who have arrived in Poland this week.
An hour before the event Rabbi Shalom Ber received a call from Rabbi Levi Matusof from Brussels who informed him that the newly elected Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski was going to attend the ceremony and greet the participants.
Rafal Trzaskowski has a long standing friendship with Rabbi Matusof from the time he served as Member of the European Parliament between 2009 and 2014.
This sudden turn of events not only sent the staff into a frenzy but it also underscored the essential role Chabad plays in the revival of Jewish life in Poland.
In his remarks, Mayor Trzaskowski talked about his youth, growing up in the Warsaw ghetto area. He spoke about his commitment to maintaining an open and diverse city: “I campaigned under one slogan: Warsaw for everyone”. His young and easy demeanor is refreshing in the backdrop of a city with such a troubled history.
The mayor also offered his condolences to San Diego’s Jewish community after the deadly shooting at Chabad of Poway last weekend. He pointed out that San Diego is one of Warsaw’s two sister cities in the United States and that he would be communicating directly with the authorities there.
It is springtime in Warsaw and the trees are in full bloom. This historical city’s infrastructure and architecture is almost entirely new due to the devastation it endured during World War II and the reconstruction that followed. Chabad’s message of inclusivity and optimism, coupled with the city’s young and dynamic leadership seem to be an ideal partnership to lead its people towards an even brighter future.
Rabbi Shalom Ber is gearing up for an unforgettable Shabbat hosting thousands of March of the Living participants in the Chabad welcome tent. He is finally starting to feel like the ghost town of Jewish life he encountered when he arrived in Warsaw fourteen years ago, is now teeming with community building and growth.