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By MYRON LOVE
When Cary Rubenfeld’s son, Michael, first told his father that he and his fiancée, Magda Koralewska, wanted to be married in Krakow, Rubenfeld’s initial response was something along the lines of “count us out”.


“Marion and I were quite upset,” Rubenfeld says. “For Jews, Poland is a sad place. Greater Poland (which once included Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Galicia) was once home to 80% of European Jewry. Now, everywhere you go, there is sadness about the many Jewish communities that are no more.”
 But Michael and Magda persisted. “They asked us to keep an open mind,” he says. “They wanted us to meet their friends and her family. They also told us that there were cheap flights from Poland to Israel and that we could leave right after the wedding.”
So Cary and Marion did go and they are very happy that they went. They didn’t leave for Israel. Instead they spent two weeks in Poland. “It was magical,” he says. “We met many talented and amazing people.”
Michael and Magda met three years ago in Montreal where both were speaking at a Limmud program. Magda, a graphic designer by profession, was talking about the revival of Jewish life in Poland. (Though not of Jewish ancestry herself, Cary Rubenfeld notes, she found herself attracted to our faith and converted 12 years ago. She was one of the founders of Poland’s first Progressive – akin to Reform – congregation.)
Michael, who is involved in the theatre, was speaking about his documentary theatre piece about his Polish family roots, a project for which he and his creative partner, Sarah Garton Stanley, had received a Canada Council grant. (Michael, his father notes, has been spending a lot of time in Poland over the past few years and has been learning to speak Polish.)
“They hit it off at Limmud,” Rubenfeld says of Michael and Magda.
The couple chose to have their wedding at the restored Stara (meaning “old”) Synagogue in Kazimierz, the restored former Jewish quarter in Krakow. “There used to be 65,000 Jews living in Kazimierz before the war,” Rubenfeld says. After the war, Kazimierz was abandoned for 30 years. It became a centre of drugs, petty crime and prostitution. It was a dangerous neighbourhood to visit. After Schindler’s List came out though (Krakow was the site of the Plaszow Concentration Camp which was where the film took place.), a lot of tourists started coming and the Poles cleaned up and restored the area. Paradoxically, Poland is one of the safest places in Europe now for Jews.”
Because Krakow and Kazimierz escaped the largescale destruction visited on many other Polish cities during the war, Kazimierz is still little changed from its pre-war appearance. And, Rubenfeld notes, it has become once again a vibrant Jewish community centre – seven synagogues are remaining - a number of which have been restored and there are numerous Jewish shops and restaurants – but hardly any Jews.
On the other hand, Jewish life and culture in Poland is undergoing a small renaissance, Rubenfeld reports. The Jewish population now  stands at about 25,000 (as compared to ths pre-war Jewish population of 3.5 million) and daily more and more Poles are rediscovering Jewish roots and rejoining the Jewish community.
It comes about in some cases, Rubenfled explains, as older people approach death, some reveal to their children and grandchildren their Jewish upbringing. In other cases, after a grandparent dies, the family finds documents or artifacts attesting to a Jewish connection.
And Krakow has become one of the centres of that Jewish revival as Poles also have rediscovered a love of all things Yiddish. Kazimierz has become home to the world’s largest Jewish cultural festival (which is held in the last week of June and first week of July ever year).
What is happening in Poland today is amazing, it’s magical and practically unbelievable,” Rubenfeld says.

As to Michael and Magda’s wedding on April 1, as part of the Beit Krakow congregation (http://www.beitkrakow.pl/) , Rubenfeld reports that there were 250 guests including his brother Perry. Theirs was the first Progressive wedding in Poland  in over 70 years. The couple followed all the traditional Jewish customs with the ketubah, the bedecken, the chupah and the sheva brochas. The reception afterwards was at an Israeli restaurant across the square from the shul.
For Pesach, Rubenfeld joined the Chabad congregation in prayer. “After services on the first day of Pesach, I was standing outside the incredible Temple Synagogue, closed for Jewish Holidays, talking to an Israeli visitor when another tourist came by and took our picture (two Jews outside a shul),” Rubenfeld recalls.
“We enjoyed a community Seder (Polish and English) with members of the JCC Krakow, an initiative of HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales,” Rubenfeld says. “The JCC Krakow http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JewishCommunityCentreofKrakow) is arguably one of the most prolific and active JCC’s in the world.”
He says that he and Marion are looking forward to returning to Poland again some time.
As for the newly weds, they will be dividing their time between Toronto and Poland.
 

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