The Polish Embassy held a kosher reception on Tuesday to welcome the first rabbi born in Poland to serve in the country for 40 years.
Remarkably, Rabbi Maciej Pawlak did not even find out he was Jewish until he was 15.
Now, aged 32, he is the living embodiment of the revival of Jewish life in Poland as principal of the Lauder-Morasha Jewish day school with 200 children in Warsaw.
Hosted by the embassy, his visit to the UK was due to include an address at yesterday’s annual Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies conference at the embassy.
“I never met my grandparents, who passed away when I was little,” he said. “When I was 15, my parents told me the history of my family and how my grandparents survived the war. That was the beginning. I went to Jewish summer camp and that was my first contact with Judaism.”
There are many more in Poland, he believes, with a similar background, although no one knows the numbers.
“It’s our responsibility to make it possible for families who are looking for their Jewish way to find a proper place for them,” he said.
Welcoming guests to a sumptuous Kedassia-catered buffet, the Polish ambassador Barbara Tuge said it was “a unique and very special occasion”.
There was “an enormous growth of interest in Jewish history and culture in my country, especially among the younger generation who want to know as much as possible about our common heritage and past. Many are rediscovering their Jewish roots.”
Polish-Jewish relations had an “enormous and positive change”, she said. During her three-year stay in London, she said: “I have enjoyed a lot of hospitality and warm friendship from different Jewish organisations and private persons.”
The trip was organised by Filip Slipaczek, the institute’s public relations officer and a London businessman whose paternal grandmother was of Chasidic stock. Rabbi Pawlak was accompanied by his wife Hadassah and children, Doreen, four and Yarden, eight months.