Moreland Hills man on mission to revitalize Poland’s Jewish community

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2014 8:00 am | Updated: 8:10 am, Mon Mar 31, 2014.
KRISTEN MOTT 
CJN Staff Reporter

Justin Kadis of Moreland Hills first learned about the work the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was doing when he went on a JDC young professional trip to Cuba with his brother, Alex, in 2011.

“I saw a Jewish community in Havana that I just wasn't expecting to see,” said Kadis, 30, who graduated from Boston University in 2006. “The type of work the JDC was doing down there was really interesting to me.”

After returning to New York City, Kadis decided to get more involved with JDC’s Entwine division, a movement for young Jewish leaders, influencers and advocates who seek to make a meaningful impact on global Jewish needs and international humanitarian issues. Through attending and co-chairing events, he soon learned about a fellowship program that would allow him to make a difference in a Jewish community overseas.

Kadis is serving in the Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps, a yearlong paid opportunity for Jewish young professionals to volunteer overseas with the JDC, the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian organization. He was selected as the Rosyln Z. Wolf-JDC International Fellow, a joint project of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the JDC Jewish Service Corps. Each year the program selects a college graduate to spend a year abroad where he or she will help isolated or re-emerging Jewish communities.

After submitting a written application and a video, as well as completing a group interview, Kadis was eventually connected to Karina Sokolowska, JDC country director for Poland, and Jonathan Ornstein, director of the Jewish Community Center of Krakow. The two told Kadis about a new opportunity in Poland and thought his skills would make him a perfect fit.

“After speaking to the two of them, they convinced me that Krakow would be an unbelievable opportunity to leave a meaningful mark on a community in a year of service,” Kadis said.

Kadis arrived in Poland Sept. 1, 2013. He is the first fellow to be stationed in Krakow. He spends almost 100 percent of his time at the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, working to revitalize Jewish life.

“Unlike a lot of JCCs around the world, this one functions obviously for the Jewish community here in Krakow but it also hosts a number of visitors from around the world every day. It gets up to 7,000 visitors per month,” Kadis said.

Some of his main responsibilities include coordinating marketing initiatives, managing social media accounts for the JCC, speaking with visitors and fundraising. He also recently built a website for Friends of JCC Krakow, a 501 (c)(3) organization that allows people to make tax-deductible donations to the JCC.

JCC Krakow has a genealogist on staff, which has led to eye-opening experiences for many visitors. About 90 percent of the Jewish population in Poland was lost during World War II and the Holocaust, but after the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the opening of JCC Krakow in 2008, more people are discovering that they have Jewish roots.

“You've got this history of Jewish people in Krakow that dates back 700 years and a history of Jewish people in Poland that dates back 1,000 years, and it was almost completely decimated because of the Holocaust. Yet you have this community, albeit small, that’s growing,” Kadis said.

Kadis will travel to Northeast Ohio from Monday, March 24 to Friday, March 28, along with Ornstein and Ornstein’s girlfriend, Kasia Leonardi, to raise awareness of the work being done in Poland. Kadis will make other stops in New York, New Jersey and California before attending the JCCs of North America Biennial convention in San Diego.

“The trip is to educate people as best we can about what the situation is like on the ground here in Krakow,” Kadis explained. “We're trying to plant some roots in the states. It’s just important that people understand the work that the JDC is doing here, as well as the JCC.”

During his last six months in Poland, Kadis will help organize Ride for the Living, a 45-mile bike ride from Auschwitz to the JCC Krakow on June 6. Proceeds from the ride will benefit JCC Krakow and help fund a trip to Israel for Holocaust survivors.

Before arriving in Poland, Kadis said his perspective was that there was a lack of Jewish life throughout the country. After spending six months immersed in the community, he has learned that it’s a very tolerant culture.

“I’ve learned that Jewish life does exist here and that there is a future here,” he said. “It’s been an eye-opening six months and I'm looking forward to the next six months.”

kmott@cjn.org

Justin Kadis speaking engagements

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Monday, March 24
WHERE: B'nai Jeshurun Congregation, 27501 Fairmount Blvd., Pepper Pike
INFO: Free and open to the community. No RSVP required. 216-831-6556 or www.bnaijeshurun.org.

WHEN: 7:30-9 p.m., Wednesday, March 26
WHERE: Jewish Federation of Cleveland, 25701 Science Park Drive, Beachwood
INFO: Free. Register at 216-593-2883 or rtyler@jcfcleve.org.