Warsaw: Dinner and Davening

“Galil” is a transliteration from the Hebrew of a word commonly used to refer to an area in Israel better known to English speakers as “Galilee.” Galilee is a beautiful, mountainous region in the north of Israel. Jesus was a Galilean. In his time, Galileans spoke with a distinctive accent. Following the arrest of Jesus, bystanders identify Peter as one of his followers by Peter’s Galilean accent. “Certainly you are also one of them,” they say, “for your accent betrays you.”—Matt. 27.73 (NRSV). But for Beth and me, in Warsaw, in 2018, “Galil” is the name of the restaurant where we will eat our first dinner in the capital of Poland.

Interior of Nożyk Synagogue in Warsaw

Evening, Sunday, October 21, 2018: The Galil restaurant is one of the places where Rabbi Ellis suggested that we could have dinner. We feel like having a nice meal where we can relax and enjoy the food at a leisurely pace. I am especially looking forward to it since there was bupkis for me to eat on our train ride from Kraków. The Galil is a meat restaurant about a ten-minute walk from our hotel. For me, a vegetarian, a meat restaurant often means limited choices. I don’t mind this much if the food is tasty, however.

We sit at a small table against one of the side walls. There is only one other guest. Our waiter speaks English. Beth orders salmon; I select a pasta dish, with a spicy red sauce. When my meal arrives, my expectations are more than met. How pleasant it is to enjoy dinner, a kosher dinner mind you, in pleasant surroundings in Warsaw, Poland!

Near the end of our meal, two young Israeli men arrive. There is a small problem. They speak only Hebrew. The waiter speaks English and Polish. I gallantly urge Beth to assist the men in selecting their food. She does. Both the men and the waiter are grateful.

We pay and walk out into a chilly evening. It was nice to eat at the Galil, but I realize that we will need to find a different kind of place for our more common meals during our stay in Warsaw.

It is near the time for Evening Prayer, so we go directly to the Nożyk Synagogue. Earlier, when I asked about the time for for the evening service, Rabbi Ellis told me the time, but also warned me that I should not expect a minyan.

We enter the synagogue through an administrative entrance. The light in the main sanctuary is dim. As far as we can tell, we are the only two people present. Beth sits in the women’s section. I sit at the end of a row in the men’s section close to where Beth is seated. I take out my prayerbook and begin the Evening Service. It is quiet in the shul. Near the end of the Standing Prayer, I hear footsteps coming down the main aisle from behind me, from the direction of the synagogue’s main entrance. A man walks to the front, close to the Aron, and begins praying. I finish my prayers.

Beth and I decide to leave. We exit the way we came in, passing the man in prayer. I look and realize that it is Rabbi Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland. I raise my hand in greeting. He returns it and continues with his prayer. I decide I will try to speak him in the morning.

Before the war, there were over 400 Jewish houses of prayer in Warsaw. The Nożyk Synagogue is the only prewar synagogue to survive in Warsaw. Like many other synagogues in Poland, the Germans used the Nożyk as a stable and storage area. It was damaged in air raids and during the Ghetto Uprising. It was rebuilt between 1977 and 1983. Today it serves once again as a Jewish house of prayer and place of gathering.

Next time: The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Photo attribution: Gophi [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Author: Gershon Ben-Avraham

Gershon Ben-Avraham is an American-Israeli writer. He lives in Beersheba, Israel, on the edge of the Negev Desert. He and his wife share their lives with a gentle blue-merle long-haired collie. Ben-Avraham earned an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek,” (Image) received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. Kelsay Books published his chapbook “God’s Memory” in 2021. חב"ד‎

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