Jewish Heritage Initiative in Poland: 10 Years Strong!

Celebrating a Decade of Strategic Philanthropy

Tad Taube, Chairman

Shana Penn, Executive Director

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Taube Foundation’s Jewish Heritage Initiative in Poland (JHIP), a bold investment that is producing incalculable dividends. Its contribution to renewal of Polish Jewish life and culture, as well as civic life in the new democratic Poland, has grown immeasurably over a decade. In this inaugural edition of The Taube Report, we want to highlight what this major milestone represents both in and beyond Poland.

When we embarked on our first exploratory trip there together in 2004, a new democratic Poland was emerging after the fall of Communism in 1989, an event that made history just 25 years ago. We recognized that the rebirth of democracy had created the potential for a rebirth of Jewish life and culture, which would not have been possible without Poland’s return to freedom.

We believed that strategic philanthropy could have an unprecedented impact and set out to achieve three ambitious goals:

  • To nurture the revival of Jewish life in Poland
  • To further awareness of this resurgence among Jews and non-Jews
  • To foster positive interest in Poland and Polish Jews among Jews worldwide

Over the past decade, we have implemented a multifaceted philanthropic strategy that has produced remarkable and tangible results.  Key components include:

Strengthening Jewish Institutions.  We prioritized funding Jewish organizations in Poland that had the potential to become sustainable, foundational elements of Jewish communal infrastructure.  Among these were the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, the Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków, Jewish Community Centers in Kraków and Warsaw, the Galicia Jewish Museum, the Office of the Chief Rabbi of Poland—Rabbi Michael Schudrich, and the Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center. In addition to extensive services for visitors to Warsaw, the Genealogy Center is creating a user-friendly interactive website, enabling research and real-time Internet consultation.

Establishing a Presence in Poland.  When we opened a branch office in Warsaw in 2005, the San Francisco Bay Area-based Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture was the only American Jewish foundation with an on-the-ground presence in Poland.  In addition to providing technical assistance to our grantees, the Warsaw office offers innovative education and tourism programs and extensive resources for international visitors.

Impacting Jewish Life and Polish Civic Life.  By funding Jewish cultural initiatives that attract both Jews and non-Jews, we sought to foster recognition and appreciation for Polish Jewish arts, music, literature and a vibrant heritage. 

The annual Kraków Jewish Culture Festival launched in 1988 has grown to be the world’s largest, with more than 25,000 participants, the majority of whom are not Jews. With eight days and nights of concerts, lectures, language workshops, dances, exhibits, and more, the Festival demonstrates the power of Jewish music and storytelling to bring people from around the world together in celebration of Jewish life.

Creating Firsthand Encounters and Relationships. According to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 85 percent of American Jews trace their roots to Poland, but most know little about their own heritage prior to the Holocaust. We began bringing American Jewish leadership groups to Poland regularly for firsthand encounters that challenged preconceptions and opened their eyes to the new reality of today’s Poland.  We also invested in changing the experience of Jewish youth travel to Poland from focusing solely on the Holocaust to promoting discovery of personal heritage and a promising future for Jewish life. To make this opportunity available to groups and individuals, we created the Taube Jewish Heritage Tour Program. For those seeking to visit the sites of their family histories, the program works closely with the Genealogy Center to craft tailor-made trips for individuals, families and groups.

Our Capstone Project.  When the new POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews previewed on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 2013, it was the culmination of a 10-year journey by an unprecedented public-private partnership.  The Museum is the Taube Foundation’s largest investment in Poland, and together with our partners at the Koret Foundation, we have been responsible for raising fully one-third of the funds donated from the U.S. to support its innovative 8-gallery core exhibition and education programs. The estimated 1 million visitors annually who will visit the Museum following its highly anticipated Grand Opening on October 28, 2014 will utilize cutting-edge technology to connect and interact with a precious heritage that was at risk of being completely forgotten. As a beacon of Jewish awakening in the new Poland, the Museum is the only major institution to present a millennium of Jewish life and culture that existed in Poland prior to the Holocaust.

Developing Collaborations. Shifting perception of Poland to a new landscape of hope, celebration and meaning required collaborations with partners who shared our vision.  Among them are the Koret Foundation, David Berg Foundation, William K. Bowes, jr. Foundation, Jim Joseph Foundation, and MZ Foundation. We also created educational partnerships with Stanford University, the University of Southern California, YIVO, Facing History and Ourselves, Yad Vashem, and others. These strategic collaborations have enabled us to achieve greater impact than would have been possible alone.

Looking Forward. Today JHIP supports more than 70 programs and five educational initiatives in the arenas of scholarship, genealogy and publishing; community building; the arts; educational tourism; and heritage restoration. By linking living heritage to the Polish past, JHIP programs bring history forward for future generations in critical ways that inform identity and peoplehood. It deepens the Jewish world's understanding of peoplehood as viewed through the historical role of Polish Jews in the life and culture of Jewish people everywhere.

Our work continues and there are many exciting opportunities ahead, from global educational outreach initiatives for students of all ages, to development of a new generation of leaders among today’s Polish, American and Israeli youth. The substantial results of the past decade show what is possible. We are grateful to the many partners and individuals who join us in celebrating JHIP’s 10th anniversary.

The Mission and Programs of the Jewish Heritage Initiative in Poland

Our philanthropic investment in Poland began in 1999 through Tad Taube’s Stanford University and Hoover Institution involvements.

During World War II, after the Polish Government-in-Exile in London had lost recognition by the Western Allies, it arranged for the transfer of a state archive to the Hoover Institution at Stanford to save it from falling into Soviet hands. It is the richest and most important research collection on 20th-century Poland outside of that country. More than 50 years later, and 10 years after the collapse of Communism in 1989, the Hoover Institution transferred the microfilm of those archival resources back to Poland. Tad had the privilege, as a Hoover Trustee, to help finance the transfer and participate in the formal ceremonies in Warsaw.

While in Poland, Tad encountered a fledgling Jewish community beginning to rebuild in the new democratic context. This community, close to his own heart and personal history, became the focus of a new chapter in his philanthropy.

In 2003, Tad convened a roundtable of Polish Foreign Service officials, scholars, and policymakers knowledgeable about Polish Jewish history and post-Communist societies. Among them was Shana Penn, a scholar of 20th-century Polish history who would partner with Tad to launch the Taube Foundation's Jewish Heritage Initiative in Poland, and who subsequently became executive director of his family foundation. With the roundtable participants’ guidance, the Taube Foundation established the JHIP to carry out three primary goals:

  • Strengthen Polish Jewish institutional life;
  • Further awareness and appreciation of Jewish heritage and contemporary Jewish life among Jews and non-Jews; and
  • Foster positive interest in Poland among American Jews, the majority of whom have Polish roots.

The JHIP aims to accomplish these goals by supporting the institutional infrastructure of Jewish educational, communal, religious and cultural programs in Poland. The JHIP links Poland to Jewish communities in North and South America, Europe, Israel, Australia and the former Soviet Union.

From its inception, the Foundation enlisted philanthropic partners to co-sponsor JHIP programs over multiple years, with the aim of helping to revitalize Jewish culture in the “New Poland.” Since 2004, the JHIP has made more than 300 grants, totaling nearly $26 million, to more than 100 cultural and communal programs and organizations including, in Warsaw, POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, the Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center, and a Jewish community center; and, in Kraków, the Jewish Culture Festival, the Galicia Jewish Museum, and a Jewish community center; and support for the Chief Rabbi of Poland. The Foundation sponsors programs in Jewish studies scholarship, preservation of archives, genealogy, arts and media, community and capacity building, and heritage study tours for youth and adults.

Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland

When the Taube Foundation opened a field office in Warsaw in 2005, it was the only American Jewish foundation with an on-the-ground presence in Poland. In addition to providing technical assistance to grantees, the Warsaw office offers innovative educational and tourism programs and extensive resources for international visitors.

An on-the-ground presence enables us to keep abreast of current events and participate in the daily life of Polish Jewry. The office serves as a base that helps the foundation maintain relationships with the Polish government, church leaders, pertinent non-profits and international groups; conduct outreach activities; and meet and greet visitors. Thanks to the leadership of its director, Helise Lieberman, the office has developed since 2005 to include a booming Jewish Heritage Tourism program. It also supports youth leadership development through its Mi Dor Le Dor program, which trains 20-30-year-old educators in living Jewish history and in refocusing Jewish heritage tourism in Poland away from the March of the Living’s emphasis on death and toward the living, thriving Jewish community of today.

In its investment in positive outreach for Poland, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs selected the Taube Center’s proposal for a tourism program entitled, “Toward a 21st Century Polonia: Summer Study in Poland.” Through two 11-day study tours led by the Taube Center, and with additional support from the Taube and Koret Foundations, the program brought 40 college students to Warsaw, the Bieszczady mountains in southeast Poland, and Kraków. Through meetings with cultural, civic, educational, political and clergy leaders, the program’s participants explored how a diverse and democratic Polish society is being rebuilt. They learned about Poland’s transformation into a cultural and economic engine of the European Union in just 25 years.

Mi Dor Le Dor Educators Program

The Taube Center is now helping to educate the next generation of Jewish leaders in Poland. In 2012, the Taube Center began a new educational initiative called Mi Dor Le Dor, which in Hebrew means “From Generation to Generation.” Created in response to requests from young Jewish educators, NGO activists and graduate students, participants in Mi Dor Le Dor learn Jewish history and tradition in the very place where Jewish experience evolved over centuries.

The unique experiential learning program enhances Jewish literacy, instills cultural pride, and prepares participants to assist in the year-round Taube Jewish Heritage Tour Program. Now in its fourth year, the ten-month program receives major support from the Rothschild Foundation Europe.

Sefarim - Book Publication Seed Grant Program

The Taube Center is also supporting the next generation of scholarship through its book publishing project, Sefarim (Heb.: “Books”), with additional support from the Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund. Sefarim supports the publication of non-fiction works that add important, new perspectives on Polish Jewish history, heritage and contemporary Jewish life, and which promote public discourse. The books awarded in 2013 will be published over the next two years, and the Taube Center is planning book events around the release of each publication.

Creating Firsthand Encounters and Relationships

Although 85 percent of American Jews trace their roots to Poland, most know little about their own heritage prior to the Holocaust. To address this, we began bringing American Jewish leadership groups to Poland for firsthand encounters to challenge preconceptions and open their eyes to the realities of today’s Poland. We have invested in changing the experience of Jewish youth travel to Poland from focusing solely on the Holocaust to promoting discovery of personal heritage and a promising future for Jewish life. To make this opportunity available to groups and individuals, the Taube Jewish Heritage Tour Program (TJHT) was created.

TJHT is a mission-driven, on-the-ground Jewish Heritage Tour Operator with outreach to the United States, Canada and Israel. Our professional staff of young academics, educators and community leaders provide meaningful and engaging tour experiences. Graduates of the Taube Center’s Mi Dor Le Dor Program serve as educators, infusing the tour experience with the perspectives of young adults committed to preserving and promoting Polish Jewish heritage and guiding international visitors in exploring this heritage’s complexities.

Our tours within the borders of pre-war Poland include major cities and heritage sites, ancestral towns, cultural events, and Poland’s natural treasures. Tours are available in English, Hebrew, French, German, Spanish and Russian. TJHT has a strong network of academic institutions and communal organizations in North America and worldwide, including the Association of Jewish Community Centers, Birthright Taglit, Hillels, Jewish Community Federations, and the March of the Living. It also enjoys the support of key community leaders and works with a growing number of partner organizations throughout Poland, organizing special sessions with Jewish communal leaders and cultural activists and visits to partner institutions. Furthermore, in close cooperation with the Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center, TJHT assists in family roots research and visits to ancestral towns.

POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews and
Its Core Exhibition Grand Opening

POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews is the capstone project of the Taube Foundation’s work in Poland. The Museum will celebrate its Grand Opening on Tuesday, October 28, 2014. Tad Taube, in his roles as Chairman of the Taube Foundation and President of the Koret Foundation, has secured nearly $20 million for the new museum. The Taube and Koret Foundations will be honored with name recognition on the Core Exhibition and Education Center.

The Core Exhibition tells the epic story of 1,000 years of Polish Jewish history. This world-class educational facility gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the past, reconnect with Polish Jewish heritage, and reflect on the future. The Museum will serve as a cultural hub for Jewish people while reinforcing Polish democracy and inspiring the international community.

Since the Museum held its soft opening on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 2013, more than 380,000 people have visited. They have enjoyed several temporary exhibitions, previewed the Core Exhibition’s centerpiece – a stunning replica of a 17th-century wooden synagogue – and taken part in hundreds of educational and cultural events. The Museum is expected to draw as many as one million visitors annually and millions more via access to its online resources.

Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute

The Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute (JHI) holds the world’s largest repository of historical resources on Polish Jews. The oldest item dates from the end of the 9th century and an extensive archive dates back to the 19th century. Since 1947, the JHI has housed the vast material heritage of pre-WWII Jewry that was salvaged, reclaimed and preserved by the Central Jewish Historical Commission in 1944 in Lublin, while the war was still raging. These holdings include artifacts, documents, photographs and other items housed under difficult and underfunded conditions.

Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center

In 1995, with support from The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, the Jewish Historical Institute set up a modest genealogy project. Two people worked in a small office, responding to inquiries and setting up a database. When the Lauder Foundation was ready to retire support in 2006, the Taube Foundation stepped in. The Taube Foundation realized the great need for an organization that helps Poles discover their Jewish identity and allows millions of Jews around the world to trace their Polish origins. Because the demand had far exceeded the capacity of the original project, the Taube Foundation created the Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center (JGFHC) in 2007.

Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków

In 1988, before the official end of Communism, Janusz Makuch founded the Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków (JCF), now the world’s largest Jewish cultural festival, preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2015. Despite widespread oppression, the JCF successfully created a safe, public space where Jews and people interested in Jewish culture could explore Jewish cultural traditions – and Polish Jews could experience being Jewish in public. Even during the challenging transition between Communism and democracy, the Festival was able to interface with the government and gain social momentum. They acquired permission from city authorities to use public spaces for cultural projects that attracted audiences of thousands.

JCC Kraków

The JCC Kraków has a remarkable origin story. It was established at the initiative of Prince Charles of Wales, who met with representatives of the Jewish community during a 2002 visit to Kraków. He was moved by the history of Kraków’s Polish Jews and the rebirth of its Jewish community. When he learned that members had no other community space to meet other than the synagogue, he decided to help create that space.

Prince Charles announced a $1 million gift to build a center for Kraków’s Jewish community. He joined forces with World Jewish Relief and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to raise an additional $3 million. Prince Charles and the Dutchess of Cornwall returned to formally open the JCC in 2008.

JCC Warsaw

The JCC Warsaw was established to meet a critical need of the largest Jewish community in Poland: to create a nucleus of non-denominational, pluralistic programs that would serve Jews at all levels of identification and involvement. By 2010, it was clear that the majority of Warsaw’s Jews sought community, culture and traditions rather than strict religious observance. Unfortunately, the offerings were slim.

Galicia Jewish Museum

Before the opening of the Galicia Jewish Museum (GJM), there were few modern gathering spaces that welcomed the Jewish community in the region. The GJM was a shining symbol of urban renewal in Kazimierz and the perfect complement to the Jewish Culture Festival, which was yet to be year-round or have its own physical space.

Used as a mill before the war, the renovated museum building now has a light, contemporary, post-industrial feel – utilizing glass, metal and dark woods – while still retaining many of the building’s original elements and structure. The flexible space is ideal for housing a range of exhibitions and hosting all types of cultural and social events, and the museum is a popular venue for local artists, performers and musicians.

Office of the Chief Rabbi of Poland

The organized Jewish community, the Gmina, creates a nurturing space for people to explore Jewish traditions and to practice Judaism. In his role as Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich leads the community in solving a bewildering array of social issues and problems – from deeply traumatized Holocaust survivors, who wanted their children to be Jewish but feared the consequences, to their “second generation” children, who usually shared these fears, but often combined them with hesitant efforts to practice Judaism in the uncongenial circumstances in which Jews found themselves in the decades following the war. 

Global Education Outreach Program

The exhibits and programs of POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews tell the epic story of a millennium of Jewish history in Greater Poland that continues to illuminate the world. Cutting-edge multimedia exhibits in the Museum’s eight Core Exhibition galleries and an array of public programs offer visitors unique insights and experiences about the many fascinating aspects of Jewish life, culture, and politics in the lands of Greater Poland — for centuries the heartland of the Jewish diaspora and the birthplace of much of modern Judaism. Many of the Museum’s scholarly endeavors exist in collaboration with the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, the world’s largest repository of Polish Jewish history.

The Global Education Outreach Program (GEOP), a new initiative of the Taube Foundation and partners, aims to transmit the Museum’s educational message and unique resources worldwide, and to provide access to the Institute’s archives. The GEOP offers scholarly exchanges and international group visits, as well as globally accessible online educational resources. The Global Education Outreach Program will:

  • Create global academic partnerships with major universities, offering seminars, research grants, summer school programs, and conferences in Polish Jewish studies.
  • Develop educational exchanges with top-tier collaborators, such as YIVO, Facing History and Ourselves, the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, Yad Vashem, the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco, March of the Living, and Birthright Israel.
  • Train Museum-based educators to engage with visitors from North America, Israel, Europe, Russia, Australia and elsewhere.
  • Launch online programs to extend the Museum’s educational impact beyond the walls of the classroom and the academy.
  • Publish educational materials including the Core Exhibition catalogue and scholarly publications.
  • Offer genealogy services for visitors to access on-site and online.
  • Provide a Jewish Heritage Tourism Program to serve visitors interested in exploring Poland and their family roots.
  • Showcase the contributions of Polish Jewry in Judeo-Christian Western culture.