In his new position, Rabbi Ellis will serve as the city’s chief rabbi, where he will work to strengthen the local Jewish community while also reaching out to the “hidden Jews” throughout the area, many of whom are looking to reconnect with the Jewish people.
“We are pleased that Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis has joined the ranks of Shavei Israel. This is a direct result of the expansion of our activity throughout Poland in light of the renewal of Jewish life taking place there,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund.
“Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, an increasing number of young Poles have begun rediscovering their Jewish roots and expressing a desire to draw closer to Israel and the Jewish people. It is incumbent upon us to reach out to them and help them to do so,” he added.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis studied at various yeshivot in Jerusalem before receiving his rabbinical ordination from the Shehebar Sephardic Center. He is also a certified "shochet" (ritual kosher slaughterer).
Several years ago, he served as a community volunteer in Warsaw, where he developed a powerful bond with the Polish Jewish community and decided to devote himself to strengthening it.
Rabbi Ellis will work to expand Shavei Israel’s activities throughout Poland, which include: Convening seminars and symposiums for the “hidden Jews”, organizing prayer services and regular classes on Jewish subjects, publishing newsletters and other Polish-language print publications on Jewish topics and distributing them among various communities in Poland; and providing assistance with the aliyah, conversion and absorption process for those members of the community in Poland who choose to immigrate to Israel.
'Hidden Jews' gaining strength
The Jewish community of Katowice dates back to 1733 but saw its first real population increase during the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s following the industrial development of the city. Before the Germans entered Katowice in 1939, there were around 10,000 Jews living there. Most were murdered at Auschwitz by the Nazis.
Today, there are 120 Jews officially registered as members of the Katowice Jewish community, but an estimated 1,000 “hidden Jews” and possibly more reside in the area. Recently, a growing number have begun to reclaim their roots.
The “Hidden Jews” are a phenomenon that has gained in strength in Poland in recent years, with many Jews slowly returning to Judaism and the Jewish people.
Many of these Jews lost all contact with Judaism due to the extreme anti-Semitism they encountered after the Holocaust, and some of them even converted. Others concealed their Judaism from the Communist authorities and now feel free to resume their true identity.
Another phenomenon pertains to Jewish young people who were adopted by Catholic families and institutions during the Holocaust. They were told nothing of their Jewish identity, and only in recent years have they gradually begun to discover it.
Today around 4,000 Jews are registered as living in Poland, but according to various estimates, there are tens of thousands of others who have concealed their true identity, or are simply unaware of it.