Conservative Jewish Community in Warsaw, Poland

About Masorti Centrum Ki Tov

Masorti Centrum Ki Tov is a Conservative Jewish Community initiated by those wishing to take the traditional middle stand in Judaism. We are situated in the in Warsaw’s heart. We opened our doors on 18th April 2016 (1st Nisan 5776). All are welcome to contact us and attend our sung services on Friday Evening, Shabbat morning and during the Festivals and High Holy Days. See Contact for details.

With the effort of 10’s of devoted people from Rabbis to children, from neighbours to far off friends, from donors to workers, from hinderers to hinderers, we have a thriving Synagogue in the heart of Warsaw - Masorti Centrum Ki Tov. We have seating capacity for 30 easily, 40 comfortably and a 50 tight squeeze. Our services are full of song. We have a Dairy Parve kitchen and cater for vegans. We have guests visiting us from all over the world. Being a short walk from most of the main hotels we cater for Groups visiting Poland. For Groups we offer a special Judaism programme including kosher meals and presentations on the past and present from the perspective of those living in Poland.

Our 1st Step

For many years there were plans to have an active traditional Community in central Warsaw. In November 2015 at a meeting of ten we decided and announced our wish to form a Warsaw Centre Progressive community. Three Rabbis supported our initiative. Beit Centrum Ki Tov (later renamed Masorti Centrum Ki Tov) opened its doors in Warsaw’s heart on 1st Nisan 5776 (8th April 2016).

Soon after our November announcement we started to organise. The 3 room premises in the centre of Warsaw were easily found. Our Sefer Torah request was heard in the US by David Sarnat and passed our emotional plea to Samuel M. Bernstine, President of Temple Hadar Israel, Newcastle, Pennsylvania. In Early March the Temple Board agreed to donate a Sefer Torah to the new congregation. As Rabbi Dr Haim Dov Beliak of Los Angeles was travelling to Europe for a wedding he offered to carry the Sefer Torah to our community. After delivery assurances were given, the Scroll was carried across the States to him during Purim celebrations and then on to Poland. The Scroll was greeted at Warsaw airport and initially taken to Beit Warszawa Reform Synagogue in southern Warsaw where it welcomed with pomp. It spent its 1st Shabbat in Poland in their Aron Kodesh nestling between two Sifrei Torah.

Meanwhile, together with Rabbi Dr Gil Nativ and his wife Zivah, we were furnishing, koshering and preparing our Italian Style Synagogue for our Sefer Torah’s homecoming after being taken to the US about a 100 years earlier. Everything for the Synagogue was gifted as we were beginning from scratch.

The great day arrived which we planned and worked for, for over 6 months. Just before Erev Shabbat 1st Nisan 5776 (the day the Mishkan was inaugurated many years earlier), the Mezuzot were affixed, blessings said and the Sefer Torah was received into the community and its home. In a procession led by Marek Jezowski (final leg of the journey to our Synagogue) with Rabbi Dr Gil Nativ and Rabbi Boris Dolin the Torah Scroll entered with much pomp and celebration.

With great joy we lit Shabbat candles and three Shliach Tzibur, Anna Riveiro, Shmuel Kowalski and Avigail Smoczyńska led the first Beit Centrum Ki Tov Synagogue Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv services. The evening continued until late with our first Dairy Parve feast and lots of singing. During the Shacharit Torah Service we paraded our wonderful gift and rerolled our single Scroll twice for the 3 separate readings for Shabbat Gadol on Rosh Chodesh.

Two weeks later we celebrated our first Pesach, again rolling and rerolling our lonely Scroll during Shacharit. Then a close friend offered to lend us his dusty but kosher Scroll - minus the etz hayyim and mantle. We accepted the disabled and naked offer. We acquired second hand “limbs” in the UK and Beit Warszawa donated the mantle (covering or dress).

In its 1st year our congregation increased to over 20 strong, plus 8 children and several regular guests. Led by our High Holy Day qualified Shliach Tzibur, we held regular services every Shabbat Eve and morning and celebrated all the festivals, feasts (including in our balcony Sukkah) and HHD. We had our first; baby naming, Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah.

Over time gifts poured in. Shmuel gave us an Aron Kodesh, Bimah and furniture for the guestroom. Other congregations gave us 50 Siddurim, 25 Machzorim, 10 Chumashim, Tallitot and Kippot. Avigail decorated the Aron Kodesh and made the Synagogue homely and inviting. Board Member Magda donated her own artwork, another Michael donated by painting murals on our walls and the third, Joe donated tables, chairs, other furniture and kitchen equipment. Later when a congregation moved to smaller premises in the centre we received many needed gifts from them. Our members regularly give their time, bring food and leave something in our Pushke. We run on a thin fraying shoestring budget.

Our 2nd Step

Over time we found that we naturally developed and drifted towards Conservative Judaism under the guidance of Israeli Masorti Olami Rabbis. In the autumn of 2018 we applied to be members of Masorti Europe, the European Conservative umbrella. Shortly after our application was formally accepted. This is an important step in the Jewish renewal post 1989. We, as Conservatives, are the nearest to pre-war Progressive Judaism. It means we have officially returned and are formally re-established, but it will take many years to build a three generation community.

Many contact us on discovering their family Jewish past, attend our Masorti community and become interested to reconnect, seeking traditional Halakha family Judaism. Most wishing to reunite with their family heritage live in mixed family homes. As we cannot undo the past, difficulties arise in living in homes with mixed values, traditions and customs. Having two generation families attending is rare. We have two families with children where both parents are Jewish, one family where one parent is Jewish and two one parent families. From one family a grandmother attends. We have many second, third and fourth generation individuals attending. As Conservative Judaism is closest to pre-war Polish Progressive Judaism,

To mark the occasion of the first official Masorti Synagogue in Poland and encourage further Conservative Community development, including in other cities, Masorti Europe has donated a Sefer Torah. It will be presented on Friday 11th October 2019 (between Yom Kippur and Sukkot) by the President of Masorti Europe, Sandra Blankstein-Cohen. The guests include, Poland’s Chief Rabbi, representatives from Jewish organisations and the “father” of our community Rabbi Dr Gil Nativ and his wife Zivah. It will be walked in under a Chuppah with much pomp. Having this Sefer Torah will allow us to encourage Conservative Community development in other parts of Poland. One task now remaining is to have a Conservative Rabbi serving Poland.

On Shabbat morning (12th October 2019) the Sefer Torah will be read for the first time in Poland by Ahavah Ma’ayan bat Yosef v’Avigail during her Bat Mitzvah. It will be passed down from President Sandra Blankstein-Cohen to Rabbi Gil Nativ to Yosef Smoczyński who will give it to his daughter Ahavah.

As a young community we struggle with the task ahead of us. Our future is assured by assistance and recognition from outside Poland. Today we receive some help from Israel, the rest comes from our members. Our activities outmatch resources. We are working towards having our own Rabbi. We have 15 studying with us, wishing to reconnect to their heritage.

Progressive Judaism in Poland


The 18th century saw many influences and changes in European Judaism. In the early 1800’s Progressive Judaism came to Polish lands from Germany. As it spread rapidly to many cities, new Polish Jewish communities were founded, opening; coeducational and Rabbinical Schools, Temples (large Synagogues), hospitals, care centres, orphanages, etc.

By the 1870’s, 15% of Poles admitted being Jewish, with Warsaw having the world’s largest Temple. After the failed 1863 uprising against the Czar, Poles and others started to emigrate, including to the USA. Marcus Jastrow, a Progressive Rabbi and Warsaw activist, went to Philadelphia to serve in an established Congregation. In 1886 he helped to found JTS from which, in 1913, emerged Conservative Judaism. At the same time In Odessa Zionism was born, raising funds to buy land and encourage Aliyot.

After WWI ended in 1918, Poland defeated the 1920 Russian invasion, defining its eastern borders. Within 20 years Poland became a formidable economic and strategic power influencing the politics of its neighbours. Jews, including Progressive, played a leading rebuilding role. As Fascism gained popularity, many either emigrated or assimilated, hiding their identity. By WWII less than 10% of the Polish population admitted being Jewish. During WWII, 20% of Poles were slaughtered, half being Jews. Jews that survived did so by; being released from the camps, by hiding or being assimilated. Civil war followed leaving a Soviet backed government. The puppet government had difficulty in establishing order leading to; pogroms, emigration and more assimilation. In 1968 (after the 6 day war) the communist government expelled most of the remaining known Jews. Those left, kept a low profile.

Progressive (Reform and Conservative) Revival

In 1989 the wall came down and together with the law guaranteeing freedom of conscience, Judaism revived. The Orthodox continued to rebuild their communities, now under favourable laws. Progressive Jews met in houses and flats all over Poland. By 2000 a Synagogue opened in south Warsaw (funded by Seweryn Ashkenazy to its closure in October 2018) where the Progressive community met, celebrating openly. This enthusiasm spread throughout Poland, many wishing to revive Progressive Judaism. In 2006, a US Reform Rabbi, Burt Schuman came to Warsaw to further the rebuilding of communities and reviving traditions.

For 50 years families hid their Jewish heritage, including a 4 generation assimilation. But their upbringing, principles handed down and tabooed family history made them different from others. Some of the second generation wished to reconnect and the third and fourth to rediscover their hidden past. They found a place where they could relate to and reconnect to their family past. They learnt traditions, partook in the Feasts and High Holy Days and attended Beit Dins. An umbrella organisation, formed in 2009 (affiliated to EUPJ), catered to Progressive Judaism all over Poland. Three communities were formed and several were in the making. Soon many left, some formed a community under the, then, Orthodox Union, becoming Poland’s largest Reform community.

After Rabbi Burt Schuman retired, an Israeli Masorti Rabbi, Dr Gil Nativ, with his wife Zivah, arrived in 2012 with their conservative values. Progressive Judaism formally represented Reform and Conservative values. Soon after they returned home, a decision was made in November 2015 to open a central Warsaw Synagogue, Beit Centrum Ki Tov. Upon receiving a donated Sefer Torah  from Temple Hagar Israel (USA), (which had travelled from Poland to the USA a 100 years earlier) the inauguration by two Rabbis Dr Gil Nativ and Boris Dolin took place on 1st Nissan 5775 (April 2016). Since then we have held services every Shabbat and during all Festivals and High Holy Days. Halakha differences between the Warsaw communities increased. By November 2018 we formally took the middle road becoming members of Masorti (Conservative) Europe and changed our name to Masorti Centrum Ki Tov.

Apart from us in central Warsaw there are: 4 Reform 2 Chabad and at least 16 Orthodox active communities in Poland. The largest Reform community is in Warsaw and is affiliated with the Union of Religious Communities in Poland with a permanent Rabbi. The two small remaining active Communities under the Progressive umbrella are sponsored by friends in Los Angeles (one meets bimonthly in Gdańsk, the other in Warsaw with a monthly commuting Rabbi). The fourth in Kraków has a Rabbi and is sponsored from the UK. The last three are EUPJ/WUPJ members.

Why “Ki Tov”?

Michael Mokotov

Born: 30/03/1946

Deceased: 18/10/1973

Rank: Sergeant Major

Unit: Paratrooper (Airborne Infantry) Battalion 71-565; 9264; 9

Fell: Yom Kippur War

Buried: Kiryat Tiv'on

Michael, son of Leora and Max, born on Twenty-seventh of Adar II 5706 (30/03/1946) in Kiryat Bialik, north of Haifa. He moved with his family to Kiryat Tiv'on where he attended a Public Elementary School and then graduated from Chaim Greenberg High School. Mickey, as he was called by his family and friends, was a good student, who excelled in the subjects he liked. He did not have to devote too much time for homework. Already as a child his intelligence proved to be above average. An adult could seriously discuss with him any subject. In the Elementary School he was "the king of his class" -a handsome boy, the best athlete and the best student. Nevertheless, Mickey was modest and did not brag. His approach to nature was based on logic from an early age. As a high school student he attempted to understand all phenomena and how they fitted into the basic laws of nature. This attempt led him to study philosophy in depth. Mickey was a mature teen-ager, always thinking before expressing his opinion. On the other hand had a sense of humor and loved to laugh cheerfully. Mickey was one of the founders of the Scouts Youth Movement in Tiv'on, being one of its first counselors. As an athlete he excelled particularly in long distance running. His leisure time was mostly devoted to reading. He read books on many subjects such as chess, photography, cooking, fiction, poetry, history, geography and philosophy. He read almost every book that he could lay his hands on. As an extra-curricular activity in high school he belonged to a group of modern poetry readers, but his electives in High School were the exact science.

Mickey had much love for the outdoors. During Childhood he hiked the valleys and the hills around Tiv’on, and in his youth walked the length and breadth of the land of Israel. Whenever he saw wild tulips he would place a sign warning: “Do not uproot us!". He was often walking, sometimes with his family but always being their guide, photographed, studied and found new things. His love of nature was also reflected in his love for animals. His drive for the preservation of nature extended even to protecting non-dangerous snakes. His sense of justice was the one sense that guided him on his way over the years. When he was a high school student he absolutely refused to cheat during an exam, as was customary among most of his classmates. Mickey’s knowledge discerned the important things in life for him, allowing him to make appropriate priorities. However he wanted to experience creativity in all fields: Painting, singing, dancing, traveling, filming, cooking, music, visiting exhibitions and reading books. Thanks to his good manners, kindness, wisdom and sensitivity, he was always considered a loyal loving friend, and played a central role within any group of people he was associated, contributing to the organization of group singing and creating an atmosphere of happiness for its own sake. Mickey grew up in a loving home, and appreciated it. Thus was very attached to his family, both in love and friendship.

When Michael was drafted into the IDF in early August 1964 he volunteered for the Paratroopers. After the initial training and the training course for squad commanders, he served as a squad-commander of a paratrooper unit. After his release from regular military service, in October 1966, he was placed in a reserve unit. During the Six Day War (June 1967) he fought in the conquest of the Old City in Jerusalem, and in 1968 fought in the battle of Karameh. In spite of being an excellent combat soldier, he felt revulsion toward war and military lifestyle. He was able to see things from a human perspective, even in the midst of battle. Thanks to this combination he was a good commander, knowing how to take care of his troops.

In Oct. 1966 Mickey began studying at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He completed his undergraduate studies in physics and mathematics. After his MA in physics he began working on his doctoral thesis, which dealt with the field of space-interior conductivity of zinc oxide crystals.

Mickey loved living in Jerusalem. He took many photographs of the city. The short 'time-off' from his academic studies he spent developing his own photos, reading books and listening to his favorite records. He enjoyed social life, finding a common language with every person, thanks to his knowledge in many areas. He excelled due to his education, was very articulate, and was able to talk about issues relating to his studies and work, clearly and simply. He strove tirelessly to achieve his academic goals, keeping absolute clarity through comprehensive analysis.

In addition to his major in Physics, he also took a course in Jewish Thought at the university. He served as a part-time teacher, first at a municipal high school and later in the physics lab at the Hebrew University.

During the Yom Kippur War Mickey fought in the battles against Egypt on the frontline. In the battle on 22nd Tishrei (18/10/1973), at the intersection called ‘Tzach’, west of the Suez Canal, Mickey was hit and killed during the assault on Abu Sultan. He was laid to rest at the military cemetery in Kiryat Tiv'on. He is survived by his parents and sister. After his death he was promoted to Chief-Sergeant. In his memory, his parents published a booklet recording the words of family members, friends and teachers about him. The battalion in which he served also published a booklet in memory of fallen soldiers, which contains a chapter about Michael Mokotov, of blessed memory.

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