I am often asked what Jewish life in Poland is really like. Because I am a practicing religious Jew, I have been told that my writing is often biased towards the religious community and that I ignore the secular Jews who today are the majority in Poland.
For the next few weeks I will focus on the secular organizations within the community. These include theater groups, social groups, student organizations, Holocaust Remembrance/research and many other groups that make up the fabric of the Jewish communities throughout Poland.
Note: While all these organizations have web sites, not all are translated into English. Most of the web sites also include a list of links to other sites that might be of interest.
The Mordechaj Anielewicz Center for the Research and Teaching of the History and Culture and Jews in Poland was founded in 1990 on the basis of an agreement between the University of Warsaw and the Jack Fliderbaum Foundation. It currently operates as a department within the Institute of History at the University of Warsaw. The Center runs classes for history students, as well as those from other departments, who are interested in the history and culture of the Polish Jews.
In 2001, a “thematic block” titled “The History of the Polish Jews” was established, which is one of the specializations offered by the Institute for upperclassmen. In addition, field trips are organized for students interested in the history and culture of the Jews in Poland.
Auschwitz Jewish Center
The Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation was established in 1995 in New York. Its sister organization in Poland is the Jewish Educational Center Foundation in Auschwitz. The Polish foundation has been active since September 12, 2000. The only synagogue from the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) to survive, Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot, is part of the Center. It has been restored with Foundation funds. The Foundation worked for many years before the Jewish Center in Auschwitz could open its doors. The Center’s aim is to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust through studying the history and culture of Polish Jews, taking the small Galician town of Oswiecim as an example. Before the war, over 7,000 Jews lived in the town, which was almost 60 percent of its total residents. The Jewish Center is a place for education, understanding, memory and prayer.
Brama Grodzka – Teatr NN
The Center’s main building is the clue to understanding the idea behind it. The Grodzka Gate (Brama Grodzka) was the city gate linking the Christian and Jewish parts of the city, the gate of a city of many cultures and peoples, as Lublin used to be. The Gate’s aim is to preserve the truth about the common past of the Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Roma, Tatars and Germans who lived in the Lublin region side by side. It also aims to help modern Lublin discover the wealth of its own history – the history of a place where the cultures of the East and West met, where different kinds of prayers were all said to one God, and where wars left deep wounds. The Center undertakes a variety of activities in the community so that these wounds do not transform into hatred and alienation. In order to do this, what is needed is to show people that things were once different. http://www.tnn.lublin.pl/
Czulent is an association of young Jews. The basis of membership is Jewish identity – self-identity with Jewish culture, tradition, history and/or religion. Young people in Poland frequently learn about their Jewish roots very late. Often it is a big problem for them that they don’t know how to deal with. Sometimes, Jewish origin is a deeply hidden family secret. The feeling of alienation they experience could be a big obstacle in their acceptance of Jewishness.
Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow
The Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow is one of the most interesting and largest Jewish festivals in the world. Leading artists from various fields of Jewish culture participate, for the most part from the United States, Israel and Europe. The festival, held in Krakow’s Kazimirez District, has become a place for Jews and non-Jews from all over the world to meet. Traditional and contemporary Jewish culture provides the basis for them to find common values. They do this through film, dance, theater, literature, the visual arts, lectures, and meetings with writers, workshops and omnipresent music.
The Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow is a tribute to the almost 1,000 years of Jewish presence in Poland – to Jewish history, culture and religion.