From the many thousands of young Jews that reclaimed their heritage, Mati is the first one that achieved this mark. Mati—we wish you great success, and Hashem's blessings. You are an inspiration for Jews the world over. Thank you!
Mazal Tov, Rabbi Mattisyahu Kos
Chag Hasmicha is a celebration honoring newly ordained rabbis. This past week saw a number of yeshivas celebrating the event, including Yeshiva University with 180 new rabbis. While every new ordination is worthy of note, one Chag Hasmicha in a small yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y., stands out.Rabbi Mattisyahu Kos has a special calling to the rabbinate. He comes from a place most people think of as being empty of Jews, or, if any are there, a place they have no business living.
Rabbi Mattisyahu Kos was born in post-Holocaust Poland under the Communist regime, at a time when religious practice was looked down upon and Judaism was a culture more then a religion. Most Jews hid or even denied their religion for fear of anti-Semitism.
In 1989, with the fall of communism in Poland, the small Jewish community started to rebound. It hired Rabbi Pinchas Joskowitch, a Gerer chasid from Jerusalem and a survivor of Auschwitz, as the first chief rabbi of Poland since the war. He was active until his retirement, when Rabbi Michael Schudrich took over.
While Rabbi Joskowitch worked with the aging community, Rabbi Schudrich worked in developing the younger generation’s religious connection through kiruv, reaching out to the Jews born after the Shoah who did not know what it was to be Jewish. One of his early students was Matti Kos, whose first encounter with Torah Judaism was through the Lauder Foundation educational programs led by Rabbi Schudrich.
"Matti was an amazing young man," Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser said at the convocation. "He was only a young man when I first met him, and his zeal and enthusiasm for Judaism left a great impression on me. I could tell then that he was special."
Matti became an integral part of the fledging community, and he was honored by being the first one to celebrate a bar mitzvah in post-Shoah Poland.
He continued to be active in the community and eventually started working with the Lauder Foundation in setting up the summer learning retreats and other educational programs alongside his mentors, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and Rabbi Joseph Kanofsky.
It was four and a half years ago that Matti decided to come to America to get a Torah education not available in Poland. He joined Yeshiva Ohr Sameach on a full scholarship and immersed himself fully in the depths of Torah learning.
Ohr Sameach, located in Monsey, is well known as a baal teshuvah yeshiva that reaches out to disenfranchised Jews around the world to instill in them a love of learning and the true Jewish life. "The student body," one of its rabbis said, "can compete with the UN in its diversity. We have students from Israel, America, Argentina, South Africa, Germany and Poland, with most of the graduating class returning to their countries of origin to serve in the scattered Jewish communities."
Yeshiva Ohr Sameach was uniquely suited to Matti, as he is known to his fellow students. He joined the other talmidim in their studies and as he progressed into the field of rabbinic studies he learned to transform the techniques of learning as a baal teshuvah into those needed for the teaching methods of an outreach rabbi.
Rabbi Schudrich has always said that he can’t wait for Poland to have a home-grown rabbi again. "It used to be, before the Shoah, that Poland was the source for most of the rabbis in the world. But since the Shoah every rabbi serving in Poland has had to be imported. from somewhere else.
"A rabbi born in modern day Poland has a deeper understanding of the needs, attributes shortcomings and even the language of the community than any imported rabbi can ever achieve. With the smicha of Rabbi Kos, Poland can again lay claim to a home grown rabbi," he said.
At the Chag Hasmicha, Rabbi Kos had the largest delegation of guests, with his family coming from Poland and others coming from New York, Philadelphia, California and Canada. During the interview after the ceremony there was a constant stream of his fellow students as well as the rabbis of the yeshiva coming over to say how special a person Rabbi Kos is and how great a future they see for him.
Matti Kos, even on this proudest of days, was full of humility. He said that he is a product of The Ronald S. Foundation, without which there would be no Judaism in Poland today, as everybody else had abandoned them. He hopes in the future to work closely with the Lauder Foundation in furthering and enriching Jewish life in Poland.
Rabbi Chaskel Besser, who is considered by many as the father figure and true chief rabbi for the community in Poland, was especially proud of one of his protégé’s achieving smicha. He had witnessed the heights of pre-Shoah Poland, the depths of the Holocaust and the darkness of the Communist era, and now is proud to see the fruits of his labors. He wished Rabbi Kos much mazel and bracha.
In the immediate future, Rabbi Kos will be continuing his studies and serving as an intern with Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser in Brooklyn to get practical experience in leading a Jewish community.