For Jews in Poland, the reality is complex
For Jews in Poland, the reality is complexReuters

Fifteen young Poles who only recently learned they have Jewish roots arrived in Israel for the first time, under the auspices of the Shavei Israel organization for a visit from March 21 to 27 to experience the joyous festival of Purim, while connecting to their heritage in the Jewish homeland.

The participants, most of whom are between the ages of 18 and 35, will visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the north at a time when the entire country celebrates one of the most festive of holidays on the Jewish calendar. While Shavei Israel has brought groups of “hidden Jews” from Poland to Israel for two week-trips each summer for several years, this year will mark the first such visit during Purim.

“The story of Purim revolves around the heroism of the Biblical Queen Esther, who was forced to conceal her Jewish identity for many years before proudly reasserting it,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund. He added that “This makes Purim especially meaningful to these young Poles, who have shown great courage and determination in embracing their Jewishness publicly and reaffirming their connection with Israel and the Jewish people.”

Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of others throughout the country who to this day are either hiding their identities or are simply unaware of their family heritage. In recent years a growing number of such people, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland” have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

“What better way for the young hidden Jews of Poland to connect with their Jewish heritage than to experience Israel during this spiritually joyous and lively time?,” said Freund.

Shavei Israel’s new Polish Purim tour will introduce participants to two Purims. That’s because, according to Jewish tradition, ancient formerly walled cities such as Jerusalem and Safed celebrate “Shushan Purim” a day later than the rest of the country. So the Polish Jewish visitors will celebrate Purim first in Tel Aviv, then take the bus to Jerusalem and do it all over again.

The young Polish Jews will also enjoy the classic Shavei Israel mix of touring, classes and Shabbat hospitality that have made the summer seminar for "hidden Jews" popular in recent years. The group will visit Haifa, Rosh Hanikra and Acre before spending Purim at the Yakar Synagogue in Tel Aviv and at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. Shabbat will be in Jerusalem, as well, with Friday night meals at the homes of local rabbis, a group lunch, and a traditional third meal at the Western Wall.