“I came to learn about my Judaism at Nishmat, where I developed the tools to ask good, searching, questions.” Maria Szychowska, or Miriam, as she is known at Nishmat, was born and raised in Poland to a well-known Jewish family of writers in Krakow. “My family was culturally Jewish. Keeping kosher or Shabbat or anything like that wasn’t part of being Jewish for us. Reading secular books by Jewish authors, attending birthday parties with other Jews, maybe a Hanukkah party – that was safe Judaism. When I became interested in religious Judaism, everyone at the Krakow JCC where I worked thought something was wrong.”
Most of Miriam’s Jewish friends didn’t grow up knowing they were Jewish. But, as young adults, many have discovered that their grandparents are Jewish or that they had been born Jewish and adopted by Catholic families. For many, being Jewish in Krakow stops short of religious observance.
Two Nishmat alumnae, Natalie Taylor and Shoshana Simmons, visited Krakow as guest educators several years ago. “They cited sources I had never heard of and referenced commentators I didn’t know existed. It was amazing. Just as 2+2 =4, right then I knew I wanted to go to Israel and enroll in Nishmat,” says Miriam.
After her marriage to an aspiring rabbinical student, Miriam’s dream came true. “I learned at Nishmat how to make sense of fragments of knowledge. Now I know G-d. I am experiencing His Torah and living with His mitzvoth.” Miriam’s time at Nishmat will prepare her to return to Poland with her husband and three young children, with pride of heritage and depth of knowledge to assist the many young Jews who are now discovering their religion. She and her husband David will work to strengthen these Jews, and help them make their way to Israel, where Miriam and her family plan to eventually settle.