For more information, schedule of events and ticket information, go to the official festival website at www.jewishfestival.pl.
This summer, from June 23 to July 1, the city of Krakow will play host to the 17th annual Jewish Cultural Festival, which as usual, is expected to be a resounding success. The festival celebrates Polish Jewish history, culture, art and music.
There will be classes in Yiddish and paper cutting, a popular form of art in the shtetl. Tours will be given of the Jewish remains in Krakow, including the Oscar Schindler factory. Knowledgeable guides will lead explorations of the cemetery that contains the graves of many Jewish leaders and celebrated rabbis, such as the Remah and the Bach.
A number of renowned kosher chefs will explain and demonstrate the delicacies and intricacies of kosher cooking. Chassidic dance and song are always perennial favorites at the festival. In addition, there will be a number of art shows as well as screenings of films on Jewish-related subjects.
“People will be coming to Krakow to learn,” added Janusz Makuch, founder and director of the festival, “not just to be entertained.”
The interest in Krakow’s Jewish history transcends all classes. Even Britain’s Prince Charles attended a festival, and after touring the sites, met for a drink with local members of the Krakow Jewish community, at Café Alef.
Since the festival draws diverse people from all over Europe, many of the tours and events are given in both English and Polish. It is interesting to note that most of the people attending the festival are not Jewish, and for that reason, some people in the Jewish community stay away from Krakow at festival time with a feeling that their culture and history are being used for others’ financial gain.
Poster for the 17th annual Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow.
There is renewed curiosity about Jewish culture, which used to be such an integral part of the landscape of Poland. Parts of the festival are broadcast live yearly on Polish television. The festival also honors those Poles involved in the rescue of Jewish monuments and landmarks, including former synagogue buildings, cemeteries and schools. Plaques, as well, are put up where there are no longer any physical remains of the original structure.
Jewish art themes are prominent throughout the city during the festival. The promotional posters for the festival have become collectors’ items. They are usually full of Jewish visual symbolism and have been widely recognized for the beauty of their designs.
The largest draw, as always, is the music. Klezmermusic is said to have been born in Poland, and its strains can still be heard in some contemporary Polish music. The organizers of the festival bring klezmerists from Israel, Europe and the United States. Past performers have included Andy Statman, David Krakauer, Klezmer Madness, the festival’s Klezmer All Stars Orchestra and many others.
Another important and popular part of the festival is the introduction of new Jewish books. The festival organizers bring the authors to Krakow where they discuss their work and run workshops.
Though the largest by far, the festival in Krakow is not the only Jewish festival in Poland. Warsaw, with the largest Jewish population in Poland, has a festival in the square near the synagogue, with many participants. Wroclaw holds its festival in the middle of June. The town of Tarnow also has a four-day festival in June.
The festivals usually take place on or about the anniversary of the date that the Nazis tried to kill all the Jews in the town. Adam Bartosh of Tarnow said, “We hold these festivals in remembrance of the dead, but also to prove that no matter how horrible the acts of the Germans, the Jews are still alive today. It is a celebration of life over death.”