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Polish and Israeli Ambassadors Unite for Joint Independence Day Celebration

By Samantha Subin

Envoys from Poland and Israel celebrated historic independence dates and nationalist pride during a ceremony at the Polish ambassador’s residence on Dec. 3.

The ceremony, celebrated on the second night of Hanukkah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights,” was organized by Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.

Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday that celebrates Jewish resistance to Hellenization efforts during the 2nd century B.C., was used as a focal point for the evening, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence and Israel's 70th year of independence, as well as the perseverance and values shared by each country.

“Poland and Israel are two countries with proud national identities who are also embracing the future,” said Dermer. “And if there is a time to celebrate pride, national pride, it is on Hanukkah, where Jews are commanded to be proud of who we are and to proudly place the lights of the menorah where all can see them.”

Anniversary Israel Poland
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer welcomes guests to a joint celebration held at the Polish ambassador’s residence marking the the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence and the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

During his speech, Dermer discussed national identity, a value shared by both Poland and Israel. In this modern world, Dermer said that many religions, traditions and nationalities are often regarded as “artificial barriers” that foster “hatred and conflict.”

“We must always work to find common ground between countries, to find those shared interests, shared values and even a shared destiny that can help make this a more stable, prosperous and peaceful world,” Dermer said. “But we must also never abandon our unique identities. For a nation that does not embrace what makes it unique, will not long survive as a nation.”

In 2018, tensions between Israel and Poland escalated when the Polish Parliament passed a controversial Holocaust law. The law prohibited and criminalized the use of phrases like “Polish death camps” that implied Polish complicity in the Holocaust, and it threatened offenders with up to three years in prison.

After widespread global outrage by critics, many of whom called the law “Holocaust whitewashing,” and condemnation from Israel, the U.S. and other governments, Polish lawmakers voted to decriminalize the punishment given to offenders.

Anniversary Israel Poland
Israeli and Polish flags were set up at a joint celebration held at the Polish ambassador’s residence marking the the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence and the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

December’s event sidestepped the 2018 conflict, highlighting instead the long, intertwined history of Jews in Poland. Tom Rose, an advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, touched on this long history.

“The ties that bind Poland and the Jewish people together stretch back nearly 1,000 years,” Rose said. “When Jews were denied their own homeland, Poland became a refuge for Europe’s Jews, as it was by far Europe’s greatest supporter of religious freedom, cultural tolerance and personal liberty.”

During the Middle Ages, thousands of Jews settled in Poland. Krakow’s Kazimierz district, Lublin, Lodz, Warsaw and other small cities and towns became bustling centers of rich Jewish culture that birthed important Jewish sages and institutions.

Prior to the start of World War II, there were over 3 million Jews living Poland. Historians estimate that at least 90 percent of Polish Jewry and at least one-fifth of the Polish population perished during this period.

Despite efforts to revive Jewish movements in Europe and abroad, anti-Semitism is on the rise. A report released in November by the FBI found that U.S. hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017, with hate crimes against Jews increasing by 37 percent.

Anniversary Poland Israel
“The Jewish people have been an integral part of the fabric of our society,” said Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek at a joint Polish-Israeli reception on Dec. 3.

A CNN study on anti-Semitism released this year found that one in five Europeans think that Jews have “too much influence in the media” and politics, and at least a fourth believe Jews have “too much of an influence in business and finance.” According to the survey, at least two-thirds of Poles acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, in comparison to only 54 percent of Europeans.

“Poland values her Jewish community and her doors are always open to our Jewish friends,” Wilczek said. “The Jewish people have been an integral part of the fabric of our society.”

In 2013, the Polish government opened the Polin Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, a museum housed on the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto, which was liquidated by the Nazis in May 1943. The museum covers Jewish history and settlement in Poland from the Middle Ages through the present day.

Wilczek credited Polish efforts to suppress anti-Semitism, rebuild the Jewish community and educate the public about Judaism. Every year, Krakow holds the Jewish Culture Festival, an event that celebrates Jewish culture, tradition and food. The festival, which began in 1988, draws over 30,000 guests and reflects Poland’s “optimistic attitude toward Jewish relations,” Wilczek said.

The evening concluded with a joint lighting of the traditional Hanukkah menorah shared by Wilczek and Dermer.

 


Samantha Subin is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.

 
 

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