WARSAW, Poland - Poland's small Reform Jewish community launched a nationwide union Thursday, a key step in its effort to win state recognition and benefits.
The launch of Beit Polska comes amid a revival of Jewish life throughout eastern Europe, where it was nearly destroyed in the Holocaust. The region has been historically dominated by the more traditional Orthodox movement, but in recent years Reform Judaism has drawn adherents.
Beit Polska will submit its registration papers to the Interior Ministry next week. If recognized, the group would qualify for getting some state subsidies and possibly even for inheriting some pre-World War II Jewish property.
In recent years, Poland has begun returning synagogues and other communal Jewish property to the officially recognized Jewish community, which has only Orthodox rabbis and religious services.
Poland's Reform community, as a result, has not qualified for any restitution and is funded by private donors.
Rabbi Burt Schuman, who leads Beit Warszawa, Warsaw's Reform congregation, said the decision to form the national union reflects the "incredible dynamism" and appeal of Reform Judaism.
"People were looking for a contemporary Judaism ... to experience Jewish practice, Jewish culture and our great tradition of Torah and rabbinic text," Schuman said.
The country's Orthodox community has opposed the establishment of a Reform community, saying it divides what is already a small and weak Jewish community just as it is starting to get back on its feet.
Before World War II, Poland was home to nearly 3.5 million Jews, the most in Europe. Following Nazi Germany's invasion in 1939, most died in ghettos and death camps. Of those who survived, many fled postwar violence and anti-Semitic campaigns of the communist regime, which fell in 1989.
Today there are about 5,000 Jews registered in Poland. There are many more with Jewish roots — and some of those have begun to embrace their ancestors' faith amid the new openness, leading to growing competition between the Orthodox and Reform communities for new members.