In spring of 1994 I spoke with friends Yale Reisner and Helise Leiberman, who had
just relocated to Warsaw, Poland. I had met Yale and Helise in Moscow, where Yale
was the resident director of the YIVO college and Russian Humanities University
Jewish archivists program. Helise was the resident advisor to the American
Council on Soviet Jewry.
Now they were working for the Ronald S. Lauder
Foundation which was planning to open Warsaw's first Jewish day school in 45
years. The last Jewish school in Poland shut it's doors in 1969. They invited me
to come to Warsaw to see with my own eyes this exciting
moment in Polish and Eastern European Jewish History.
In just three weeks I witnessed an empty building just outside the center of
Warsaw transformed into a complete Jewish day school. The eighteen 1st graders in
the school studied a Polish curriculum as well as Jewish history and culture,
English and a few Hebrew words, too.
Finding students for the school was no easy
task. Anti-semitism was still alive in Poland, and parents feared the ghetto
mentality a seperate school for Jewish children might create.
In the end, the school's
first class was filled out by the enrollment of several non-Jewish students.
Unhappy with the education their children would be getting in the state-run
(Catholic) schools, they hoped a private school would provide their children with
both a strong education and an learning environment stressing tolerance and
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