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With whom is the dialogue? Address given at the Presentation of the Interfaith Medal of the ICCJ
Today's occasion honours Christian-Jewish dia-logue in Poland. It is vital to use this term rather than "Polish- Jewish dialogue" or "Christian-Judaic dialogue".
Why not a "Polish-Jewish dialogue"? Because I am also a Pole. And so are Polish Jews of my generation and younger. They are Poles, whatever others think about this. This is not a "feeling" but a fact independent of anyone's wishes. This is contrary to the traditional view, common among Jews and non-Jews alike. According to this view Jews are a separate nation living side by side with the Polish nation. Poles are Catholics, and others, especially Jews, can at most pretend to be Polish. For some anti-Semites even baptism does not make a Jew into a genuine Pole, deserving full rights. For the Jews thinking along parallel lines, Jews who become Poles stop being Jewish; even when they don't enter the Church they are not real Jews, having abandoned the all-embracing Jewishness and the Jewish language.
I think that where there are ten Jews they can form a legitimate constituent of the house of Israel, that is of the Jewish people. That is why Jewish life in Poland can continue despite a very small number of Jews.
With the exception of some of the elderly, Polish Jews living in Poland are Poles. We are Polish, Polish Jews and differ from Polish Jews who are Americans, Israelis etc. How is our Polishness manifested?
1. We have all be raised in the Polish language. Yiddish is no longer the mother tongue, mameloshn, and never will be.
2. Polish culture and history are our element. Our Polishness has been acquired naturally, with no special effort; this differs from the experiences of some Jews two and three generations earlier who had aspired to it.
3. The specifically Jewish experiences are not usually dominant. The experience of everyday life in post-war Poland is mostly common to all Poles. We feel very close to our non-Jewish peers, especially among the intelligentsia.
4. Today almost all Polish Jews have non-Jewish members of family, even immediate family, who are often practising Catholics. Nobody lives in an insulated Jewish world. We are immersed in Polish life, we live according to the Christian calendar.
I am both a Pole and a Jew. While before World War II this combination was an exception, now it has become a rule. The resulting bipolarity creates a tension, but it is not different from the Jewish situation in the West. The Western Jews are Americans, British, French, Italians, etc. and nobody doubts it. And hardly anyone questions their Jewishness. Polish Jews living in Poland today are Poles as much as French Jews are French, and not unlike American Jews are Americans. We are fully Jewish and fully Polish. Our fate constitutes part of Poland's fate, and is part of the destiny of Israel.
Well, but how do we differ from other Poles? The following points can be mentioned about myself. I am sure they apply to other Polish Jews too.
1. My life is marked by the Shoah. I know that unlike my non-Jewish peers I would have been condemned to death. And while almost each Pole lost family members, I have no family in Poland.
2. I feel a connection to other Jews, even those who belong to a very different culture. The more one is active in Jewish life and meets other Jews, the stronger is the feeling. The most general common denominator for all Jews is provided by the threat arising from anti- Semitism.
3. The connection with the state of Israel has the personal quality that makes it different even from very pro-Israel non-Jewish Poles. In one respect I feel very different from my Israeli brethren, especially native Israelis, as well as from the Jews in other countries: our attitude to Poland is different. To them Poland is a scene of history and a cemetery, most of all a cemetery. To me it is above all a place of my normal life, of our lives, not death.
4. The Jewish religious tradition is extremely important to me. Most Jews around me are distinguished just by not attending the church, although even this is not quite simple in post-war Poland. Many Jews swear that they have nothing to do with religion but we witness a slow return to Jewish traditions, though not to their very Orthodox understanding. Judaism is common to Jews all over the world. I am convinced that Torah, our religious heritage, constitutes the core of our Jewish identity. Unlike my Christian neighbours I live also according to the Jewish calendar.
The distinction "Poles-Jews" is not useful in referring to the present Polish situation. Still, for lack of a better terminology even young Jews use the anachronistic one, as in the question: "Is he a Pole or a Jew?"
The above arguments show that it is inappropriate to speak about the "Polish-Jewish dialogue" inside Poland. When the dialogue is with foreign Jews it can make sense, provided that first it is seen also as a fragment of a dialogue between Poles and, say, Americans, and second, Polish Jews from Poland are seen as belonging to both sides - the Jewish and the Polish...
In Poland there is no Polish-Jewish dialogue, only a Christian-Jewish dialogue. Despite so many Jews who do not believe in God, the heritage of faith is a common possession of all Jews, as is also, I believe, the responsibility it implies. A deeper Christian-Jewish dialogue must be rooted in a religious dimension. It is not to say, however, that we may speak about a "Christian-Judaic" or "Catholic-Judaic" dialogue. From the traditional Jewish perspective, indeed from the religious standpoint, all Jews constitute one of the sides of the dialogue. The community of all Jews forms God's chosen partner, and not the fraction made up of believing Jews. Of course Jews who are involved in the dialogue should affirm Judaism, and know and feel what is essential and holy in the Jewish tradition. They should be believers, even though this term is not as clear cut for us as it is for Christians. Yet the dialogue is with Jews and not Judaic believers or "judaists". Talking about the "Christian-Judaic dialogue" unavoidably leads to such consequences as the recent note in a newspaper where a meeting of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews was described as a prayer of Christians and Judaists. I had to correct them: the meeting gathered Christians and Jews.
There is a Christian-Jewish dialogue, not a Christian- Judaic dialogue. For Christians, especially priests, it is easier to perceive the dialogue partner as "Judaic believers". It means putting us in the conceptual framework that fits the Christian understanding of what is meant by religion, but to us it sounds false. I see myself as a Jew, like other Jews, and not as a "Judaic believer", or one who "professes Judaism", despite my attachment to Judaism. The whole misunderstanding shows how difficult is the dialogue. It requires trying to see the partner in the terms in which he/she perceives himself/herself.
I am glad that the Christian-Jewish dialogue exists in Poland. I am extremely honoured that the recognition of our efforts, mine and my friends', is expressed by the presentation of the Interfaith Gold Medallion of the International Council of Christians and Jews.
Dr. Stanislaw Krajewski is co-President of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews.