Maria Jakubowicz, one of 600 elderly Jew still living in Cracow, Poland, was visited by a contingent of American Jews some years ago. They asked if there was anything they could send her, naively thinking she might like a new winter coat. Her request: to see once more the bar mitzvah of a Jewish boy in Cracow. <i>Spark Among the Ashes</i> records their response to her extraordinary wish. The first Polish bar mitzvah in more than 20 years is celebrated with Eric Strom, a 13-year-old from Stamford, Conn., who journeys to Poland expressly for the ceremony. Scenes of Cracow, only an hour from the Auschwitz concentration camp (where Eric’s own great-grandparents were killed), recall the once-bustling Jewish community that prior to the war numbered 60,000.
In a subplot that threatens to mar the joyousness of the bar mitzvah, an American orthodox rabbi arrives, believing Eric’s own reform rabbi (a woman rabbi to boot!) to be an inappropriate participant. A brief scuffle between the rabbis insues, but Eric rises to the occasion to read a passage from the Scripture dealing with the rejection of violence. The New York Times’ article on the event referred to this “conflict between movements in American Judaism” as “worthy of a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.”