Around the Town: Karina Sokolowska

Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray
Some of you may or may not know that a couple of weeks ago, I returned from Poland and its portion of the March of the Living (I will be telling this story comprehensively soon). I was stunned to see the depth and breadth of the Jewish community and cultural life before the Holocaust and bore witness to the atrocities the Nazis perpetrated on the Jews and others. It was beyond what I had ever thought I knew.
Despite troubling headlines from Poland, the Jewish community there is flourishing, a miraculous revival despite the history of the Holocaust and communism. I witnessed firsthand the thriving Jewish Community Center in Krakow and heard from its dynamic leader. It has a kindergarten with 11 Jewish students (see story this page).
Karina Sokolowska, the director of American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Poland office, will be in Fort Worth with an update on the revitalization of Jewish life and community in Poland. She will also discuss challenges including the recent legislation about Holocaust history and its consequences.
The program is at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 10, at Beth-El Congregation.
Since 1994, Karina Sokolowska has been providing many generations of Jews, especially thousands of children and youth, the precious opportunity to strengthen and, in many cases, entirely rediscover their Jewish identity, through her JDC work.
Karina’s journey into Jewish identity began when she was a freshman studying Japanese at the University of Warsaw. A fellow student recognized Karina’s German mispronunciations as Yiddish and asked her to lead the Polish Union of Jewish Students. It was a pivotal moment for Karina, one that launched her into a long-lasting career as a Jewish communal worker.
Karina has seen her country undergo monumental transitions: from suppressive rule that stifled all possibility for religious and cultural freedom, to a system that has provided a space for Jews to express themselves. She recalls that before JDC’s involvement in the country the only real expression of Judaism was a box of matzah distributed by JDC to the Jewish community during Passover.
Karina’s work as the Poland Country Manager involves Jewish renewal work across Jewish communities in Poland, including organizing conferences for Limmud participants to learn about Jewish identity and helping families learn about Jewish traditions, JDC’s creation of two flagship JCCs in Warsaw and Krakow, summer camp experiences and other activities.
On a personal level, Karina relates that it was when her 7-year-old daughter came home from Jewish summer camp saying prayers and singing Hebrew songs that she realized the full impact of JDC’s work.
Karina is fluent in English, German, Japanese and Russian.

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