A Jewish delegation from Poland, including the American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, was spared from certain death by refusing to violate the Sabbath to fly with President Lech Kaczynski.
The president, his wife, his military chief of staff and senior political leaders were killed on Saturday when the plane crashed en route to a Russian city.
The Jewish delegation was supposed to fly with the president, according to Warsaw Rabbi Meir Stembler. “The delegation canceled its participation after it was understood that that plane was to fly on the Sabbath,” he said.
“They planned to say Kaddish [the mourner’s prayer] at the planned commemoration ceremony in a Russian city, marking 70 years since the Soviet murder of 20,000 Poles.
Rabbi Stembler said that President Kaczynski was personally responsible for helping with the construction of a Jewish museum in the location of the former Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and which is to be dedicated in the near future. President Kaczynski helped promote and encourage the building project when he was mayor of Warsaw and continued his efforts as president.
“The relation between the Jewish community and the president was very strong,” the rabbi said. “He took care of all of its needs, not just in words but also in deeds. There were not any major events where he did not honor the community with his presence.”
The crash on Saturday wiped out a large part of the elite establishment of the government, and it is not clear why the government took the risk of allowing all of them to fly on one plane. The pilot, who also died in the crash, was blamed for ignoring Russian air controllers’ advice not to try to land under severe weather conditions.