In 1968, facing government repression, the I.L. Peretz school closed in Lodz, Poland. For the next 47 years, there were no full-time Jewish schools in Lodz (pronounced woodge), which once had a Jewish population of more than 230,000 people.
For Lodz, Jewish day school is back in session, at least if you’re a tot. Preschool classes began this week at Gan Matanel, with ten students. “I need this for my children, for other children,” Miriam Szychowska told Newsweek. Szychowska started the school; her husband is an emissary in Lodz for Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that will provide support for Gan Matanel, and that largely serves populations of people rediscovering Jewish roots.
There’s something remarkable about watching the ongoing resurgence of Jewish life in Poland, with an active JCC in Krakow (built in 2008; Szychowska used to teach at their preschool), a new Jewish museum in Warsaw, and dozens of festivals celebrating Jewish culture.
In Philip Roth’s bizarre, hilarious novel Operation Shylock, a Roth alter-ego starts advocating for diasporism, which, Roth tells us, is an anti-Zionist ideology holding that the Ashkenazi Jews of Israel should all go back to Eastern Europe, where things are much more peaceful and authentic. Just to be clear, then: the Polish-Jewish resurgence isn’t a case of diasporism. Instead, it’s a story of a small postwar community reemerging after decades of repression under a communist regime. And it’s the story of young Poles rediscovering Jewish roots and, in some cases, converting back to Judaism.
Within Poland, Lodz isn’t alone in ramping up its Jewish educational offerings. The JCC preschool in Krakow, which was only open two days per week, is growing to a full-time program this year.
Related: Poland’s Real Jewish Revival