From the Jerusalem Post: Montrealer Stanley Diamond included in fascinating story

“Your Polish citizenship certificate has come through – congrats! Where would you like it sent to please? And do you have this BC [birth certificate] attached ready in hard copy so we can do Step 2?”

BY ORIT ARFA

 

Henryk and Hanna Arfa, the writer's grandparents, after the war

Henryk and Hanna Arfa, the writer’s grandparents, after the war. (photo credit: ORIT ARFA)

The subject line read: “Good news from Warsaw!” My heart fluttered. I assumed that meant that my application to receive Polish citizenship was approved. Indeed it was:

“Your Polish citizenship certificate has come through – congrats! Where would you like it sent to please? And do you have this BC [birth certificate] attached ready in hard copy so

The email came from the Melbourne-based Krystyna Duszniak, director of Lost Histories, a small business that specializes in Polish citizenship applications. I should have been happy, but I was annoyed. No, not because now I had to face a certain guilt over actually becoming a citizen in the country that caused my grandparents tremendous suffering, but because I still need to send more documents.

The first email I ever sent to Duszniak inquiring about her services was on April 26, 2018. The “good news” came 167 emails later, on December 20, 2018 – just before Christmas, as she predicted.

I would have never imagined I’d seek Polish citizenship. My paternal grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, never had anything good to say about Poland. My grandfather complained in open letters he wrote for posterity about the antisemitism he faced there as a youth. America became their beloved, adopted country, although they were also fierce Zionists.

However, after living in Germany for two years and visiting Poland several times in the interim, I came to realize that Poland and Europe as a whole are part of my identity, although I’d be kidding myself if I said I had any sentimental attachment to the country (even though my trips to Warsaw were fascinating and very tasty). Like most Israelis and Jews taking this step, I simply wanted to be able to live and work in Europe without continually renewing my visa.

EVER SINCE Poland became part of the European Union in 2004, applications for Polish citizenship have gone up, says Stanley Diamond, a retired businessman who in 1996 founded Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (www.jri-poland.org) as a first step to help families map their family histories to prevent the passing of genetic traits that might endanger future generations. JRI-Poland has digitally catalogued and indexed more than 5.7 million birth, marriage and death registrations from more than 550 Polish towns. Since then, it has become a portal for Jews of Polish descent looking to track down their ancestors and unknown relatives – and more recently, documents for obtaining Polish citizenship.

The Cryptic note left by Gili Bruner's Polish father. (Orit Arfa)The Cryptic note left by Gili Bruner’s Polish father. (Orit Arfa)

“In terms of the potential of having that passport, not only for yourself but for your children and your children’s children, in many cases it’s priceless,” Diamond said. “Having such a passport provides Jews with both economic opportunity and an ‘insurance policy’ in times of political unrest.”

What often begins as a transaction undertaken mostly for pragmatic reasons invariably turns into a process of discovering more about the lives and pathways of ancestors. The process of seeking Polish citizenship involves the collection of many documents through digital archives, dusted-off family documents, and municipal registries. These include birth certificates, naturalization certificates and marriage certificates. The chain of eligibility must be proven three generations back, and it doesn’t matter whether the applicant has ever stepped into Poland.

By requesting and digging through documents received from the German-based International Tracing Service, a government archive that assists victims of World War II and their descendants in finding war-related documents, I discovered logs of my grandparents’ movement to ghettos, concentration camps, displaced persons camps and, ultimately, the ship that brought them to America. Concomitantly, I began transcribing my grandfather’s “open letters” about his experiences as a Polish-born Holocaust survivor.

JERUSALEM RESIDENT Gili Bruner began the process the other way around: she started the discovery process first to uncover secrets left by her father. Later, she realized the benefits of citizenship for her children as they approached college age.
After her Polish father died, he left her and her siblings a cryptic note, in a nylon folder along with his Polish passport and aliyah [Israel immigration] certificate, which her mother discovered upon cleaning out the house. It contained a Polish address.

“A small note. Three copies, addressed to each sibling,” Bruner, a high school teacher, said over the phone from her Jerusalem home. “It drove us crazy. How could a man who doesn’t talk about Poland send us a letter with a Polish address? It was forbidden for us to talk about Poland.”

Her quest to discover what this mysterious address was about brought her to Anat Shem-Or, Duszniak’s Israeli partner. What happened at that Polish location still remains a mystery, but Bruner realized that now was as good a time as any to redeem Polish citizenship for her family.

“Today, many young people really want to do it, and not just for the sake of living abroad,” Bruner said. “It’s very expensive for them in Israel. Parents must help their children who are students, and it’s hard for students to find good work.”

Shem-Or, a former hi-tech executive, came into the Polish citizenship business after undergoing the process herself. Along with her siblings, she inquired into her eligibility, but Israeli lawyers who deal with Polish citizenship told her that she was ineligible since her father had served in the Israel army. According to Polish citizenship law, men who served in a foreign army (Israel or otherwise) before February 19, 1951 lose their Polish citizenship.

She eventually found Diamond, who cautions against lawyers who often overcharge, who referred Shem-Or (as he did for me) to Duszniak. (The average rate for a typical application with Duszniak, who charges by the hour, is approximately $1,800, including fees.) Duszniak’s father (neither are Jewish) was part of the Polish underground, and she came to this work organically through academic research that led her to explore Jewish communities in Poland. About 70% of her clients are Jewish.

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Duszniak informed Shem-Or that since her father was drafted in May of 1951, he did not lose his Polish citizenship. She was therefore was eligible through his side. In 2011, Shem-Or became a Polish citizen – who has yet to step foot in Poland. She’s not sure her late father would have approved, but her mother didn’t object.

Polish birth certificate of the writer's grandfather, acquired during the process. (Orit Arfa)Polish birth certificate of the writer’s grandfather, acquired during the process. (Orit Arfa)

“During this process, I got exposed to my family’s Polish documents, which were very moving and kind of emotional,” Shem-Or said. “Also, my nephews at the time were doing the family tree, and I had all these documents all of a sudden from Poland, and some of them were original, and it was very exciting for us. And so at some point I decided this is what I wanted to do.”
She left her hi-tech job and has now dedicated herself to helping Israelis obtain Polish citizenship, as director of Nicko – Polish Citizenship & Passport Assistance, work she finds extremely fulfilling.

“My clients are of two kinds: Young ones who want citizenship because they want European citizenship, and Polish is the default. And I have older clients who want to do the family research. They want to have names, addresses, and plan to have a trip to Poland to follow in their parents’ footsteps. I love these people, and when they’re done and come back from Poland, they send me such wonderful emails.”

For the highly industrious and organized, children with Polish ancestry can also try to apply on their own through their local Polish Embassy, but it helps to have had punctilious parents who kept documents, like New York-based Jeremy Hockenstein, CEO of Digital Divide Data, a global enterprise helping disadvantaged youth. He first got the idea from Israeli relatives who underwent the process.

His grandmother gave birth to his mother in the Zitau concentration camp on April 17, 1944, several weeks before liberation.

“Before the war, when they had to move into the ghetto, they hid all this paperwork: birth certificates, marriage certificates, kiddush cups, tablecloths, and other silver under the floorboard. After the war, my mother went back there with the baby and they begged to stay in the room, and they smuggled it all out,” Hockenstein said in a telephone interview.

He supplemented these well-organized documents with the American ones and simply went to the Polish Embassy, where very helpful English-speaking clerks assisted him with the entire process.

“Practically, citizenship is just so valuable these days that there are literally refugees putting their lives at risk to have one citizenship, so I felt it was valuable to have. And I thought maybe for my kids, they’d want to live or go to school in Europe, and it would make it easier for them.”

ISRAEL-POLISH relations took a major hit last year, when Poland came out with a notorious law that criminalized ascribing the Holocaust to Poland and which still haunts Polish-Israel relations today. Some Jews view this as a whitewashing of their history.
But Shem-Or says this deterred only a minority of her clients from going through the process. She does not believe Poles are responsible for the Holocaust and believes a feisty underground (in which men like Duszniak’s father fought) mitigates some of the evil that took place on its soil. Hence, she does not feel guilty becoming a Polish citizen.

“My parents came here after the war,” she said. “They built the country. We’re here. We’re not so happy. It took a while to understand it’s very difficult to live here and there are other options. And it’s not that people don’t get killed here. They do. So my conscience is clear.”

Hockenstein feels there is an act of justice to this process. “Emotionally, it made me feel more connected to my grandparents and family from Lodz. I felt they really were Polish citizens, and most of them were killed and the rest had to leave, and I feel like we did have a long history there, and I felt it was part of my heritage.”

Waving Polish flag (Freepik.com)Waving Polish flag (Freepik.com)

Bruner is not sure what her father would think, but she won’t allow herself to entertain too much guilt.

“As a person born in Israel, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I didn’t want my children to leave Israel,” she said. “But with all the globalization, I’ve been changing my mind. I’m a bit sad. Maybe it’s good that my son has another passport and will have more opportunities elsewhere.”

As for me, I could find noble reasons for being Polish – like the redemptive closing of a circle. But mostly, I’d like to think my grandparents would want me to live the best life that I could, one that would make them proud. And if having Polish citizenship will help that, I hope they’d be all for it.

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The ADATH is offering canasta lessons beginning next week; time to sign up is now!

A new session of canasta lessons will be offered at ADATH in Hampstead, taught by Ellyn Delovitch. There are four weekly lessons in the session and each one is  two hours long.

The sessions will be on Monday afternoons, 1-3 p.m,  starting May 6, or Tuesday evenings, 7-9 p.m. starting May 7. The cost is $50.00 per person – space is limited. Please contact office manager, Audra Libman (audra@adath.ca, 514-482-4252)  for more information on dates, and to register for the session.

ADATH is located at 222 Harrow Crescent.ADATH is welcoming and accessible to every person. For accessibility requests and information, please contact Rabbi Michael Whitman (rabbi@adath.ca, 514-482-4252).

55 artists, 101 works and 125 years of History. 

The Women’s Art Society of Montreal is proud to host its 125th annual Juried Art Competition, Exhibition and Sale from April 24 – 28 at Le Livart Gallery 3980 St. Denis, reports noted Jewish artist Carol Rabinovitch. It is free to the public.

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A piece of work by Carol Rabinovitch.

The WASM was founded in 1894 by two Montreal women, Mary Martha Phillips and  James H. Peck (nee Mary Alice Skelton) with the goal of integrating women into the art world at a time in history when women had few rights and were relegated to other roles. The parent body was incorporated in Toronto in 1892.

The Board of Directors role is to govern WASM by providing leadership and direction in the pursuit of its vision and mission.

A vernissage will take place on  Wednesday, April 24 from 4 pm  to  pm.
Closing ceremony and awards  are slated for April 28 from 3 pm to  5 p.m.
For more information and to join, log on to : www.womensartsociety.com or call 514-495-3701.

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Bialik students participate in Prizmah Moot Beit Din International Court Competition.

On April 7, eight Bialik  High School students participated in the Prizmah Moot Beit Din International Court Competition. This was a first for the school. The  competition  took place in Greensboro, North Carolina at the beautiful campus of the American Hebrew Academy.

moot picture

Twenty one schools from North America and Israel took part.  The Sunday competition was preceded by a Shabbaton that was led by the students and allowed for Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Orthodox, Conservative and Egalitarian services.

To prepare for the event, eight brave Bialik students wrote an essay on why they should be selected to represent the school at the Prizmah Moot Beit Din competition. The eight were selected from a pool of 25 who wanted the chance to debate using Jewish legal sources related to a hypothetical case. The students debated the Jewish Halachic, ethical and legal issues a summer camp was facing when the parents discovered the meat was being raised industrially.

The students studied with Dr. Shimshon Hamerman for the past several weeks, often giving up their lunch hour to examine the Biblical, Talmudic and Rabbinic sources in order to arrive at a position about the case that either supported the petitioning parents or the camp.  The Principal of Bialik High School, Avi Satov, and Mrs. Anat Toledano, the Director of Judaic Studies, supported and encouraged the students’ participation.  The administration organized a mock Moot Beit Din and invited having three local Rabbis to act as judges for the event.  Following a nine minute presentation by each of the two teams, Rabbi Freundlich, Rabbi Poupko and Rabbi Raskin asked the students questions to simulate the actual court case that was to take place in Greensboro.

The students demonstrated great ease in quoting, discussing and analyzing Rabbinic sources at the competition in Greensboro.  The students’ creativity was original and entertaining while one team presented their case as a game of Jeopardy, the second team modeled their case after Judge Judy of the famous TV series judge.

While the judges deliberated students went to eat lunch.  There was great anxiety after it was announced that the first Bialik team won its division.  Jubilation set in when the second Bialik team also won its division.

Herzliah High School also entered two teams to the competition and one of the two won in their division.  In all, Montreal entered four teams.  Three of them won first prize in their divisions. The Montreal Jewish Day School system should feel extremely proud of their four high school teams. Three of the four teams came first against the finest schools in North America.

 

HA students win JEM Workshop $5,000 grant

Montreal’s JEM (Jewish Employment Montreal) Workshop, a non-profit organization that employs people with cognitive disabilities at an adapted workplace, is $5,000 richer today thanks to three Hebrew Academy students who won a grant on its behalf.

Recently,. four semi-finalist student groups representing JEM, The Family Store, Shield of Athena and Hatzoloh presented their charities before their peers and a panel of judges comprising Hebrew Academy alumni and students.

The nail-biting face-off signified the climax of students’ months-long participation in the Youth Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), a project of the Toskan Casale Foundation that encourages teens to research and advocate for a local charity for the chance to win it a $5,000 grant.

“YPI gives students an education and experience that they would never find in a textbook,” said Hebrew Academy’s lead YPI teacher, Celia Natanblut, who has been incorporating the initiative as part of her Grade 10 Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) curriculum for the past six years. Hebrew Academy is the only Jewish school in Montreal that participates in YPI.

“Through their participation, students learn teamwork, research and presentation skills and connect with the people running the charities as well as those in need. They read about social issues and participate in acts of kindness for their respective charities. They also visit the organizations and gain an appreciation for the impact they are making right here in Montreal.”

Based on their research, students prepare a request for funding proposal on behalf of their charity, along with a presentation to introduce their cause to their peers.

Congratulations to winners Ronit Benizri, Alex Malamud and  Mikayla Abenhaim who were presented with a giant cheque for their organization!

“The YPI project truly exemplifies the values of Hebrew Academy students and the Jewish concept of Gemilut Chasadim, acts of loving kindness,” said Natanblut. “I was truly impressed with all of the students’ presentations. Hopefully they have also developed a bond with their selected charities and will continue to be involved with them in the future.”

Click here for more pictures of the event.

Aviva Engel, Director of Communications

Mitch Garber named Combined Jewish Appeal Chairman

Federation CJA President David Amiel has announced that the Chair of the 2020 Combined Jewish Appeal Campaign will be Mitch Garber – a visionary business power broker and community leader in Canada and Israel. He is internationally respected for his success in both business and philanthropy.

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Lawyer Cookie Lazarus, businessman David Baazov and Garber.

What a development! Garber has gone from your average young man in the neighbourhood who required tuition assistance at Jewish day school to become a self-made multimillionaire. And during all of this time, he remains the same down to earth human being who treats everyone the same.

Garber is well known as the first ever Anglophone judge on Dans L’oeil Du Dragon. As an executive, he was the CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, and Caesars Acquisition Co., and the architect of the multi billion dollar sale of   Israeli Mobile games company Playtika, to a Chinese consortium including Jack Ma. He is currently the Chairman of Cirque Du Soleil and Chairman of Invest In Canada (Investment Canada), the Canadian government agency responsible for attracting and facilitating foreign direct investment (FDI) into Canada. He is also a minority owner of the NHL team recently awarded to Seattle. Soon he and Stephen Bronfman will bring the Expos back to town.

Garber and his wife, Anne-Marie Boucher, commit a considerable amount of their time and money to philanthropy, notably in Montreal and Israel. Mitch is a patron and contributor to the Weizmann Institute and Anne-Marie serves on the International Board; he is a patron of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation; and he and Anne-Marie are patrons of CIJA and have helped organize missions for non-Jewish business and political leaders to visit, learn about, and experience Israel. Mitch co-chaired Montreal’s 2016 $55 million Centraide campaign, and established The Garber Family Post Doctorate Fellowship in Hereditary Cancer at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, in addition to several other charitable involvements. Their son Dylan is currently a Lone Soldier serving in the Cyber Defense Unit of the Israel Defense Forces.

“We are so excited that Mitch – who has been a significant supporter of our community throughout his impressive career – has agreed to take on this leadership role for Federation CJA,” said Amiel. ” I have no doubt that his enthusiasm, intelligence and generosity will be a huge asset to our 2020 Campaign”

-Mike Cohen