(JTA) — On the way to his first appearance as Krakow’s new chief rabbi, Eliezer Gurary passed a group of young demonstrators holding signs with messages of affection for Jews.
“I [heart] Jews,” one sign read.
“Yes to tolerance,” read another.
But the demonstration last week outside Krakow’s Old Synagogue was no support rally.
Organized by non-Jewish university students on the day of Gurary’s installation, the protest was sparked by the rabbi’s recent assertion in an interview with the Israeli news site Arutz 7 that all non-Jews dislike Jews.
Gurary’s statement, which he has denied making despite a recording attesting to its accuracy, provoked an unusually strong rebuke from local Jews, with passionate condemnations from 12 lay leaders and rabbis who said his words were harmful.
Jonathan Ornstein, director of the Jewish Community Centre of Krakow, called on Gurary to resign because he was “caught lying” about the quotes.
The interview by Gurary, a Chabad rabbi who has lived in Krakow for eight years, upset local Jews in part because it appeared to signal a dramatic reversal from the approach of his predecessor. Boaz Pash was a popular figure known for his outreach and openness in a country where many non-Jews have discovered they have Jewish roots that were lost over decades of assimilation and communist repression.
Pash quit the post last year, but his supporters say that community leaders had him replaced because they feared his outreach agenda would bring in new members who might weaken their hold on the community and its real-estate holdings.
“From outside, it may seem like the controversy is all about outreach, but the real issue is control,” said Anna Makowka Kwapisiewicz, Pash’s former assistant and the co-founder of Czulent, an organization of young Krakow Jews.
For decades, Krakow’s Jewish community, which employs the chief rabbi, has been controlled by members of the Jakubowicz family. The current president is Tadeusz Jakubowicz, a 75-year-old musicologist who has headed the community since 1997. Jakubowicz’s uncle, Czeslaw, was the previous president, and Jakubowicz’s daughter, Helena, is the current vice president and manager of the community’s real-estate portfolio. Helena’s life partner, Kuba Lewinger, a businessman and factory owner, runs the 371-year-old Kupa Synagogue.
“That family pushed out the excellent Rabbi Pash because he drew in too many new faces whom they couldn’t control,” Ornstein said. “Then they brought in a rabbi who believes in exclusion and isolation to facilitate their task of preventing community growth just to preserve their dynasty at the top. That’s what caused the uproar.”
Tadeusz and Helena Jakubowicz did not reply to numerous requests from JTA for comment, but Lewinger denied the accusation, saying that “almost anyone” can join the community if they have at least one Jewish parent. Membership policies, Lewinger said, are an attempt to keep the community “authentically Jewish and not turn into a touristic display for and by non-Jews, like Ornstein’s Jewish Community Centre.”
The Jewish Community of Krakow, which has 130 members and is run by a five-person board, may be safeguarding more than just its Jewish identity.