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January 23, 2017 / 25 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Krakow Jewish Festival’

News From Poland

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009


             As the summer gets underway there are many events throughout Poland connected to Jewish history and culture. It usually kicks off with the massive Krakow Jewish Festival and ends with the Singer Festival in Warsaw. Also many Jewish groups come to Poland during the summer to visit their hometowns, work in the cemeteries and look for connections to the pre-Shoah past.


Krakow Jewish Festival’s Awards For Tad Taube And Sigmund A. Rolat


The 19th Krakow Jewish Festival came to a successful conclusion last week with close to 1,000 events and 130 different artists performing to tens-of-thousands of participants from around the world. Two U.S. philanthropists with Polish-Jewish roots – Sigmund A. Rolat and Tad Taube received a special Festival award during the “Shalom on Szeroka Street” concert on July 4.


Mr. Sigmund Rolat of New York


The award is funded by the Friends of the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival and is awarded to those, who have supported the Festival and made its existence possible. For more information on the Krakow Jewish Festival and to see videos of the events go to http://www.jewishfestival.pl/index.php?lang=e.



Mr. Tad Taube of the Taube Foundation of California





       The Mayor of Lodz, Jerzy Kropiwnicki was honored as host of the Festival of Jewish Culture in Lodz, held from June 14 until the end of the month, as part of the 65th Anniversary of the Liquidation of Litzmannstadt Ghetto by the Germans. The events included concerts, theatrical performances, exhibitions, Jewish cuisine workshops and Yiddish and Hebrew language courses.


The year 2009 was proclaimed a year of Jewish Culture in Lodz. As Mr. Kropiwnicki stated at the conference, it was of great importance for the city and its citizens to learn about Yiddish culture that was once vivid, strongly connected with Polish culture and familiar to city residents, and is now merely a reflection of memories from the past.


At the end of August there will be a conference marking the final destruction of the Lodz Ghetto. For more information on Lodz Jewish community, cemetery and events go to http://ghetto.lodz.pl/




The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland signed an agreement with the Plock Synagogue Society. Within its framework the Foundation will support the “Adaptation of a former Synagogue on Kwiatka St. for the Museum of Plock Jews” project, realized by the society. During the renovation the synagogue will be fully restored and will host the newly created museum.


European Jewish leaders Meet Polish President


             European Jewish leaders met with Poland’s president to discuss Holocaust commemoration, fighting anti-Semitism and the Iranian nuclear threat.


“The government of Poland has long been an important ally and partner of the State of Israel and of Jewish communities in Europe,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said Tuesday following his meeting with President Lech Kaczynski and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.


          Kantor also met with former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, with whom he co-chairs the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, a non-governmental organization that sponsors several initiatives to promote tolerance and mutual respect throughout Europe.


      He called the discussions “friendly and constructive.” Kantor said Kaczynski agreed to discuss restitution in a separate meeting later this year.


      On the issue of Iran, Kantor and the Polish officials discussed the fact that Iran is a global threat jeopardizing world stability rather than just a “Middle East problem.”


      “In Europe, it is clear that we are standing at an important crossroads of history,” Kantor said. “As Europeans, we therefore have a special opportunity and obligation to work together to build a tolerant community of nations, regardless of race or religion.”

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Krakow Jewish Festival

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

The Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow is one of the most important and largest events of its kind in the world. The first one took place in 1988 and its program focused on a scholarly conference on the encounter between two cultures, Jewish and Polish. It was a modest occasion but it turned out to have enormous significance, considering the boldness of the subject matter, upon which the communist authorities of the day looked askance.


This year’s 18th Annual Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow was a resounding success with a record number of people in attendance.


The festival was a conglomerate of Jewish music, art, literature, dance, traditional cooking, and tours of the area synagogues and cemeteries. Some of the performers at the festival included Chazan Benzion Miller, who has been participating in the opening concerts for so many years, that his absence would change the very nature of the festival.



Many thousands listened to the final concert of the festival in Krakow



While the festival usually focuses on contemporary Jewish culture, this year there were a lot of exhibits that focused on pre-Shoah culture. Jewish artists in Krakow between 1873-1939 and Unpainted Jew – XIX-century woodcuts from the collection of Alicja Schottlas were just two of the many beautiful exhibits. 


The festival was also the setting for the ceremony, organized by the Museum of History of Polish Jews, of honoring Poles who have helped preserve Jewish memory in Poland.


While most of the festival is secular there was also a very strong religious content. The traditional Melaveh Malkah was very-well attended and the opening chazzanut concert on Sunday night that included Itzchak Meir Helfgot; Azi Schwartz; and Benzion Miller, accompanied by Daniel Gildar; Neimah Cantors’ Choir; and conducted by Marc Temerlies, played to a standing-room only crowd. Chief Rabbi of Krakow, Boaz Pash, gave a lecture in basic Judaism, while Hanna Kossowska covered the topic of Jewish cooking, and Chazan Miller taught chassidic songs.



Janusz Makuch, director of the festival



Being the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence there were also many events reminding one of the Polish roots of Zionism. The Israeli Ambassador to Poland, Yossie Peleg, gave a number of lectures and circulated among the crowd spreading the word that, while Poland was once the home of world Judaism, today after the Shoah, the center of the Jewish world has moved to Israel, but Poland will always be remembered for its past role.


The goal of the festival has been to show that the Jewish people have been an integral part of the Polish nation for nearly a millennium, especially in the ancient capital of Krakow. There have been good times and bad, but for the most part, Judaism was able to develop more freely in Poland than any other European country. Since the Shoah, and the destruction of the Jewish community, both Poles and Jews have forgotten the close ties built over the centuries. The festival hopes to rebuild those ties.


“Another edition of the Festival is now part of history,” explained Festival Director, Janusz Makuch. But as we hope – it will remain forever in your memory and your hearts. We would like to extend our thanks to our sponsors and donors, as well as media patrons – without them we would not be able to organize our festival! A shaynem dank!”

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories Of A Jewish Childhood Before The Holocaust

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

         Most memoirs written by former Jewish citizens of Poland talk in detail of the Shoah, such as the book I wrote about last week, The Zoo Keeper’s Wife. But as I have said many times in the past, “The Jewish history in Poland consisted of nearly a thousand and not just the six years of the Shoah.”



Picking Up the Shabbat Chulent From The Baker, p.210.



         They Called Me Mayer July, is a memoir of Jewish life in Poland, by Mayer Kirshenblatt, born in Apt in 1916, who left Poland at the age of 18 in 1934, before the German invasion and the start of the Shoah. Memories of his early years are very vivid, full of colorful characters, places and events. There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and Mr. Kirshenblatt uses his skill in painting to tell the story of a way of life that has all but disappeared.



Yom Kippur Eve in front of the synagogue of Apt, p.54.



        Though the events depicted in the paintings took place more then 70 years ago, the memories were kept in Mr. Kirshenblatt mind as he only started to paint them at the age of 73 at the urging of his daughter and co-author Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Each of the paintings is accompanied by a story, the memory from which the painting sprouted.



The Hunchback’s Wedding, p.274.



         There is the story of the hunchback’s wedding, the kleptomaniac, birth and death, religious and secular events all of which made up the life of Jews in Pre-War Poland. Mr. Kirshenblatt also added a few paintings of events that occurred during the Holocaust as told to him by survivors of Apt. “You cannot talk about Jewish life in Poland, Mr. Kirshenblatt said, “without mentioning the final sad chapter.”



The Tombstone Carver, p.153.



         Mr. Kirshenblatt has been traveling the world with his book and paintings. I first met him at the last Krakow Jewish Festival, explaining his mission to show future generations how the Jews lived in Poland “lest they learn more about how they died, than how they lived.” An exhibit of his paintings is planned for the Jewish Museum in N.Y. for 2009.



In The Sukkah, p. 244.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Krakow Jewish Festival

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

        Last week saw the greatest modern (post-Holocaust) celebration of Jewish culture in Europe at the Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival. Since 1988, Krakow has become famous for its Jewish festival, held the first week in July, in which thousands of people gather from all over Europe, Israel and the U.S. for a taste of what Jewish Poland was like before the Shoah. There are concerts, featuring styles from chazzanut to Jewish rock and klezmer, classes in kosher cooking and dance, paper cutting and tours of the Jewish cemetery to visit the graves of the holy rabbis interred there – all culminating in a grand concert Saturday night attended by over 10,000 people. For one week, for those that don’t know better, Krakow seems to become a Jewish city as it was before the Holocaust.


         It is sad to note, though, that even with all the “Jewish” activities surrounding the festival, when it is over, Krakow returns to “normal”. Nearly all the participants in the festival are non-Jews, and as one Jewish visitor from America noted, “I remember Krakow from before the war and this is not how it used to be. I walk down the street and don’t see any Jews.”


         His memories are of a time when most Jews in Poland were Orthodox, with many wearing the traditional Chassidic garb of bekasheh and shtriemel. Today that uniform is almost never seen in Krakow, except when groups of chassidim come on a pilgramage on some rebbe’s yahrziet.


         This is the first year in a long time that Krakow has a chief rabbi to lead the few hundred remaining Jews in the city that had once been world-famous as a center of Judaism.


         The annual festival has two purposes: one, to show the world that even in Poland, where so much of the glory of Judaism had been built and later destroyed, Judaism still can exist; and the other, to draw out any pintele yid, any Jew who has the smallest spark of Judaism remaining in him and help them return to a Jewish life.


Rabbi’s Attacker Arrested


         A few weeks ago, during Pope Benedict’s visit to Poland, Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich was attacked by a Pole yelling anti-Semetic epithets. The attack, though not serious, made headlines around the world. Many thought that with the recent regime change there would be little action taken by the government to find and punish the attacker. This week, however, it was announced that a person was arrested and charged for the Shabbat morning attack outside the Warsaw Synagogue. This is a hopeful sign that the new government will have good relations with the Jewish community.


Polish Leader Marks Pogrom


         Poland’s president commemorated the 60th anniversary of a postwar pogrom in Poland. Lech Kaczysnki was ill and could not attend Tuesday’s unveiling of the monument in Kielce, but his address, read by his adviser, lamented “the undeniable facts that there were victims – citizens who were murdered, gunned down or tormented to death. It is their senselessly and cruelly snuffed-out lives that call out today for our memory and justice. That is what bids us to speak the truth and draw lessons from the past.”


         He noted that debate has reopened about what spurred the event. “I want to state clearly and forcefully: What occurred in Kielce 60 years ago was a crime. It was a disgrace. It is a great shame and tragedy for Poles and for Jews, so few of whom had survived Hitler’s Holocaust. There can be no justification for this crime.”


Poland Shuts Down Neo-Nazi Site


         Polish police arrested the administrator of a neo-Nazi website and shut the site down. The move against the Polish version of the Blood and Honor site follows a small wave of extremist threats and violence in April and May, much of it linked to the group. Police worked closely with U.S. authorities to discover the identity of the Polish administrator of the site.


         By some estimates, there are hundreds of hate sites in Poland, but they’re hard to close as their servers are usually based outside the country and sites can easily migrate. Blood and Honor is a neo-Nazi group with supporters across Europe. The Polish edition of Newsweek ran a cover story on the Polish branch of Blood and Honor in mid-June, estimating that it was one of the strongest of the group’s subsidiaries, with hundreds of thousands of members.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/krakow-jewish-festival/2006/07/12/

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