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May 25, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 25, 2012 From neo-Nazi skinhead to black-hatted Jew: journey of Pawel Bramson By Katarzyna Markusz As a young man, Bramson wasn't particularly interested in his roots, having had no reason to think his family had hidden anything from him. "I was an Aryan, maybe not the blond one, but for sure not Jewish," he says. As far as he knew, he was the son of practicing Catholics. "The thought of being Jewish was not even on my mind," Not until his wife, Aleksan- dra, began researching her own roots. "She started looking for her ancestors in the Jewish Historical Institute in War- saw. She was checking her roots and at the same time she checked mine," Bramson says. "When she found out, she came home and showed me the documents" indicating that both their families had been Jewish. Bramson sought verifica- tion from his parents. The in- formation his wife had found was true, they told him. His maternal grandparents had been Jewish. The young man began to turn his life around, saying that he realized he wasn't the person he had thought. Like other young Poles who have discovered their Jewish roots, Bramson began going to the Jewish Historical Insti- tute, to synagogue, speaking with a rabbi to learn as much as possible about Judaism. He became increasingly involved in the life of Warsaw's Jewish community. "My father was delighted when I became Jewish because WARSAW (JTA)--Fifteen years ago, Pawel Bramson was a skinhead shouting anti- Semitic and racist slogans during soccer matches. He hated Jews and blacks--sim- ply, he says, because you need someone to blame for what's wrong inthe world. These days he keeps ko- sher, wears the long beard and black hat typical of some Orthodox Jews, and assists Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich. Bramson's transforma- tion-documented in the film "The Moon Is Jewish," which recently received the Warsaw Phoenix Award at the Jewish Motifs International Film Festival for the best film showing modern Jewish life in Poland--began when he was 22. Co-written by Bramson and Michal Tkaczynski, the docu- mentary takes its title from a Marcin Swietlicki song that tells of a fabricated Jewish plot to claim that everything--the pillow, the moon--is Jewish. "The script for this film was written by life," says Bramson, 36, who discusses his life, past and present, in the documentary. "The Moon Is Jewish," which has been screened at several festivals in the United States, "was like a confession on which I say some bad things I did in my life," he says. "This film can be treated a bit like my public confession, a self- critical lynching." he always wanted me to be religious, no matter in which religion," Bramson says. Now he is a mashgiach, a kosher supervisor, and an assistant to Schudrich. The chief rabbi calls him a"unique human being." "Every day he tries to im- prove himself as a better hu- man bring using his religion, Judaism, as a way to become closer to God and kinder to hu- man beings," Schudrich says. Przemyslaw Szpilman, who manages the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, met Bramson 11 years ago a t the city's Nozyk Synagogue. "The change in Pawel's life is huge," Szpilman says. "It took him many years to be- come such person he is today. When we met for the first time in the synagogue, he wasn't sure it is his way of life." But Bramson's wife was going to synagogue daily, and he decided to join her, Szpil- man says. "Like every other Jew here, Pawel is important for Jewish community," he says. "Every nw person is well welcome here." Michael Traison, an Ameri- can lawyer who is involved in numerous projects com- memorating Jewish history and culture in Poland, has known Bramson for years. "Pawel Bramson has been the subject of numerous news reports around the world for several years. Each time his story appears it seems compa- rable to a news bulletin that life has been discovered on Pawel Bramson (1) at the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. Mars,"'Traison says. "Indeed, for much of the Jewish world, believing that all Jewish life in Poland was extinguished almost several decades ago, Poland is Mars and Jewish life is as unlikely as finding a thriving city on a remote planet circling a distant star." The symbolism of Bramson's story, he says, "resonates much like the rebirth of Israel itself." There was a time, Bramson acknowledges, that he used to shout anti-Semitic chants at soccer games of his beloved Legia Warsaw club--much like the 18 Legia fans who were charged in March with inciting religious hatred for screaming slogans at fans of Widzew Lodz such as"Hamas, Hamas, Juden auf den Gas" CHamas, Hamas, Jews t6 the gas"). Several have admitted their guilt. Despite the club's rowdy and, in some cases, racist fans, Bramson stands with Legia. "Yesterday I met a friend with whom I did some crazy things when we were young- er," he says. "We talked about our memories and the fact that they are not the best. Now I see these things in a different way." Intro to Israelconsiders what 'Matters' By Jonathan Kirsch Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Much heated conversation is conducted in these pages and elsewhere in the media about Israel. We debate every aspect of Israel's present and fu.ture the ups and downs of its political leadership, the role of religion in the Jewish state, the path to peace with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, the security risks that threaten its ing and eyelpleasing, full of sidebars, maps, charts, photo- graphs and drawings, if only because an image is often worth athousandwords--Bard shows us that the entirety of Israel is a small fraction of the size of California and only slightly larger than New Jersey, which silently makes the point that the embattled little Jewish state sits on a tiny sliver of the Middle East, as we see for ourselves on. a page that shows a snapshot of the region taken from space by Young Palestinians face these types of choices every day." "Israel Matters" has a point to make, of course, and the sharper edges 0f Jewish history and politics are buffed off. While Bard writes respectfully about the other faiths that claim the Holy Land as a place of significance, for example, he emphasizes the spiritual and historical Jewish linkages tha t "helped sustain Jews during long centuries of exile and nurtured them in times of one page, for example, we are introduced to violinist Itzhak Perlman, a native of Tel Aviv, and on the opposite page we meet Natalie Hershlag, a native of Jertsalem be[ter known as the Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman. By the end of the book, however, it is clearly the hope of the author that the reader will not only be more knowledgeable but also. more sympathetic toward Israel. "Maybe Israel is too abstract right now, a faraway place PAGE 17. A Kuba Wyszynski His son, who attends the Talmudical Academy of Bal- timore, is also.a Legia fan. "I can't even imagine he couldn't be. I['s something that must be given in our family from generation to generation," Bramson says with a laugh. "When he arrives to Poland and there's soccer, he goes to the match. Just not on Saturday." Asked how difficult itwas to change his former life to the one he lives today, Bramson says the evolution isn't over. "I'm still changing my life, and I think I will never stop," he says. "It's not so simple." his credit, Bard acknowledges that his book is only"a starting place," and he insists only that "the conversation about Israel is never-ending, passionate, and meaningful, and it always matters." Author's note: I have busi- ness dealings with the publisher of"Israel Matters" but played no role in the content of the book. Irwin Field, a former publisher and current board member of The Jewish Journal, played a leading role in developing very existence, and much else besides. The conversation assumes thatwe already possess a depth of knowledge about Israel. But we need to pause here and ask: What do young people, Jewish or not, actually know about Israel? After all, anyone under the age of 40 will have no per- sonal recollections about the founding of the state, the wars that have shaped the status quo of the Middle East, or the men and women who played such a crucial role in these events. That's the problem to be solved in "Israel Matters: Un- derstand the Past, Look to the Future" by Mitchell Bard (Behrman House: $22.50), a short and friendly introduc- tion to the history, culture and politics of Israel that is clearly directed to younger readers but has something imPortant to offer everyone. Historian and political scien- tist Bard is executive director of the American-Israeli Coopera- tive Enterprise and the author of numerous books about Jewish history, including "The Arab Lobby," which I recently reviewed in The Journal. His newest book was developed with the support Qf The Jew- ish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and represents an earnest effort to familiarize readers with both the origins and destiny of Israel. "When most people talk about Israel, they talk about the pressing issues of the mo- ment," Bard explains. "Yet it is impossible'to understand'the context of the issues without lookingatall the dimensions of this small country: its historical and religious significance, its technology achievements and its archaeological wonders." Indeed, Bard styles his book as a conversation with the reader. He acknowledges that the media is preoccupied with controversy and criticism when it comes to Israel, but he addresses a challenge to those who open his book: "This book was written to help you sort out these complex questions and help you form your own relationship to Israel." "Israel Matters" is eye-catch- Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. We meet young people who represent "Faces of Israel" in all of its ethnic and cultural diversity. We are offered the op- portunity to "Look Closer" in a series ofsidebars that highlight some fascinating details of Israeli life. Source documents from crucial points in history are quoted or presented in their entirety. Now and then, Bard invites the reader to answer a provocative question about an event in history: "What Would You Do?" "You are a Palesfinian living in the refugee camp in the city of Jenin in the West," goes one such exercise. "You have several paths you can follow in your life, including joining a group that interacts with Israeli peace or- ganizations or choosing to stay out of politics ... [b]ut you could also join a group that advocates armed struggle that may ask you to try to attack Israelis." Many of these sidebars tell the reader what actually happened in  real-life incident, but this one ends provocatively: "This episode in history hasn't closed. persecution." By contrast, he pauses to make the argument that "[t]he Arab connection to Palestine did not begin until after the death of Muharnmad in the seventh century, and most Palestinian Arabs arrived in the late nineteent and early twentieth centuries." " Even so, Bard provides enough of the raw material of history to allow the discerning reader to reach his or her own conclusions. For example, a series of maps show the vari- ous proposals for the division of Palestine betweenArabs and Jews, startingwith the original British mandate, continuing through the armistice lines drawn after the various wars between Israel and its Arab enemies, and including more recent peace proposals, all of which puts in perspective the current argument over the boundaries of Israel. Some of the incidental details that enliven the text are clearly meant to enable young people to identify with Israel even if they have no strong Jewish connections. On that is only familiar from the news, the Bible, or from discussions with friends and family," he concludes. "One's feelings may be conflicted: it is possibl e to admire some aspects of Israel's history arid culture, yet feel uncomfortable with particular policies." To "Israel Matters" for publication. Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. He blogs atwww.jewishjournal. com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@jewishjour- Sudoku solution from page 7 324196578 1 65837942 89752461 3 586 91 314 2 7 432678159 971245386 741.8359264 249761835 65348279 .