The White Stork Synagogue welcomes us for the prayer on the second day of Shavuot, actually not the historic synagogue itself but a smaller adjoining room. We were astonished not to have to pass through any security checks. We had already noticed the day before that there were no obvious security measures (besides CCTV) in the courtyard of the synagogue.
The cantor Eliezer is already present and directs the women to the back rows. We are welcomed by Rabbi Tyson Herberger, an American Rabbi who serves the congregation since four years and has acquired an astonishing fluency in Polish. When we stumble over his first name, he admits with a smile that he never met any other non-coloured man sharing his first name.
Unfortunately there is no minyan and no kaddish, but since it is last day of the holiday, yiskor is prayed and a very special opportunity to remember Mishka’s grandmother on the very day of her yahrzeit (both Sivan 7 and May 25).
Rabbi Tyson divides the congregation in a Polish speaking and an English speaking study group. Today’s haftara is the book of Rut, which Asher reads in Hebrew and Jim in English.
Rabbi Tyson is a brilliant orator and delivers his sermon in Polish and English. Shavuot is the feast of giving of the tora. What does make you a Jew, he asks.
“Leaning back and say: ‘Ach, I’m Jewish because my mother and my grandmother are Jewish’? Nie, nie, nie … no, no, no! That does not suffice. Being Jewish is accepting the tora and trying to do one more mitzvah, even if it’s a challenge and if it’s hard to do so.” “And what lesson does the book of Rut teach us? Naomi is Moabite, a people despised by the children of Israel because of their evil doings. But Naomi does the mitzvah not to abandon her mother-in-law. And she will become the great grandmother of King. That teaches us that something good may eventually come out of any currently perceived evil.”
Rabbi Tyson effortlessly switches between Polish and English and he finds enchanted listeners both among us English speakers and in his Polish congregation. The Hebrew pronunciation of Eliezer the cantor is absolutely remarkable and makes it easy to follow the prayers. We are stunned to hear that Hebrew is neither his mother tongue nor was he trained in Israel
The following Kiddush offers plenty of encounters with congregants. One of them will accompany Asher and Mishka tomorrow to the new Jewish cemetery.
Noon time is free to roam and explore the city on your own. The bright sunshine invites to access one of the viewpoints offering a bird’s eye view of the city. Wrocław’s Sky Tower (resembling somewhat the Gherkin in London) is one of them. Less high (compared to the 258 meters of the Sky Tower, but located within the old city is the bridge between the two spires of St. Mary Magdalene church, called the penitent’s or the witch’s bridge 45 meters above the old city.
The Rynek and St. Elisabeth Church, view from Penitent’s Bridge
St. Maria Magdalena Church -mirrored in the façade of a neighboring office building
In the afternoon we meet do explore the old Jewish cemetery south of the old city on ul. Ślężna (Lohestr). The cemetery was closed in 1942, suffered some damages during the siege of Breslau and fell into disrepair subsequently. In 1975 the cemetery was put on the list of the city’s monuments. The restauration started in the late 1970ies and it was reopened to the public in 1988. Fortunately it is a part of the Wrocław City Museum and therefor open in spite of the holiday.
We find a number of graves of the various families, among them Siegfried and Anna Laqueur, Eduard and Emma Tischler, Rosalie Hentschel née Laquer and Fritz and Max Luft.
The lovely and peaceful compound offers plenty of opportunities to explore various styles of cemetery architecture typical for the graves of assimilated Jews in the late 19th and early 20th century, visit the graves of various celebrities such as Ferdinand Lassal (whose man is spelt in German “Lassal” instead of the more familiar French spelling “Lassalle”) or the “Silesian nightingale”, the poetess Friedrike Kempner, famous for her notorious fear to be buried alive as well as for her involuntary comic lyrics. Because of her lyrics the journalist, theatre critic and writer Alfred Kerr vehemently denied being related to her even by changing his family name from Kempner to Kerr.
After dinner it’s time to say good-bye. Brigitte leaves by bus that evening and others have to catch their flights early in the morning.
Wrocław Główny -Wrocław Central Staion