Poland’s chief rabbi keynote speaker at Aspen symposium
As chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Joseph Schudrich once had a physical brush with anti-Semitism that hardly went unnoticed.
It was May 26, 2006, just two days before Pope Benedict XVI would visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Hordes of international media members had descended upon the central European country for the historic visit.
Schudrich recalled it as a “beautiful, sunny day in Warsaw,” until he heard a man scream “Poland for the Poles!” — a slogan of pre-World War II urging the expulsion of Jews from Poland.
“After he said it three times, I (approached him) and said, ‘Why do you think that?'” Schudrich said in a telephone interview Thursday. “He didn’t say anything. He punched me. And my reaction was, I punched him back, which was kind of dumb. And then he pepper-sprayed me in the face, and I chased him.
“Luckily he got away, because I had no idea at the time what I would have done.”
Authorities later would capture the attacker, a 33-year-old associated with neo-Nazi groups who admitted to the assault.
“Because of my position, because of the timing and the entire world press in Poland for the German pope’s visit to Auschwitz, it got covered in a major way,” he recalled. “The president invited me to come to his palace, and the prime minister called later to see how I was feeling.”
A native New Yorker, Schudrich, 62, will be in Aspen this weekend for Encountering the Stranger II, an interfaith symposium set Sunday through Wednesday at the Aspen Jewish Community Center.
Schudrich will kick off the symposium as its keynote speaker at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, followed by a reception for the opening of Basalt resident Carolyn Manosevitz’s art exhibit. Manosevitz, who is deeply involved in Jewish affairs, met the rabbi in Poland in April 2017, a man she said “almost single-handedly is rebuilding the Polish Jewish community.”
Schudrich, who served as the rabbi to Japan’s Jewish community from 1983 to 1989, said he will discuss Jewish life in Poland and “how a minority group can renew itself, strengthen itself, when given the chance.”
Schudrich, who lived in Warsaw from 1992 to 1998, returned to the capital city as its rabbi, as well as Lodz’s, in 2000. He was appointed the country’s chief rabbi in December 2004.
Most recently, Schudrich has been outspoken about Polish legislation — the new Holocaust law — criminalizing people who say Poland or the Polish government was complicit in Nazi war crimes. The law, which Schudrich opposes, has ignited furor among the Jewish community for what they say is a whitewashing of history. Some Jewish groups have called for the boycotting of Poland.
Schudrich has disagreed with that approach.
“There have been some Jewish voices that we should boycott Poland because of this new law,” he said. “You don’t boycott Poland for two reasons: You have a re-emerging Jewish community we need to connect with them.”
The other reason, he said, is that “more than half of the country is against the new law, according to a survey. Now is the time to show support for what I would call the good guys.”
The symposium, which will include other presenters and panel discussions, is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Call 970-544-3770 or visithttp://www.jccaspen.com.
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