Rabbis resignation strikes blow to Polish community

An Orthodox rabbi in his mid-20s, Rabinowicz was the first rabbi hired by the community in at least four decades. The move was hailed as an important landmark in Jewish revival.

Since the late 1980s, Poland had been served by one chief rabbi, Menachem Joskowicz, an elderly Chassid who spent much of his time in Israel and was criticized as being out of touch with the reviving Polish Jewry.

Joskowicz retired in June.

Insiders say that from the beginning, a variety of tensions emerged between lay leaders and Rabinowicz that eventually led to personal animosities.

"It was a shiduch that didn't work," said one community insider, using the Yiddish word for a match, after Rabinowicz handed in a letter of resignation Wednesday of last week. "Love comes from giving, not taking." Neither the rabbi nor the community, he said, was "prepared to give enough. Both sides had unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, and both sides are guilty."

Community leaders expected Rabinowicz to be a strong leader and effective public face for the community, a forceful figure who could solve internal disputes and attract Jews around him.

In this sense, they looked to him to fill the spiritual shoes of American Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who had recently left Poland after nearly a decade as director of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and its program of Jewish education and religious revival.

Schudrich had combined religious observance with a compelling contemporary personal style to become a high-profile figure outside the Jewish community, too.

Most younger members of the Warsaw community, including its leadership, are Jews with a secular or liberal orientation, and they were put off by Rabinowicz's Orthodoxy, as well as his apparent timidity.

The fact that the rabbi gathered a small group of Orthodox followers around him caused further friction.

For his part, Rabinowicz said the community was fragmented and factionalized and that there were no organized provisions to support a rabbi and other synagogue workers in the traditional fashion.