Krakow Bursts With Jewish Life as Culture Festival Takes to the Streets

Roman Frister
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Roman Frister

Anyone visiting Poland in the first week of July could fall victim to the illusion that the country is bursting with Jewish life. That is if they landed in Krakow to witness the 23rd annual Jewish Culture Festival.

Among the projects at the festival was "Dissolving Localities: From Jerusalem to Krakow," which colored the routine of Krakow with the pictures of everyday life in the Israeli capital. The audiovisual project was created by artists from Israel, Poland, Germany and Hungary, among them Emmanuel Witzthum, director of Jerusalem's "Hama'abada" (The Lab), a venue for experimental theater, dance, and music. Ordinary citizens from Jerusalem and Krakow also contributed to the work, with voice recordings and amateur films. The installation was presented in the luxurious halls of the pre-World War II Jewish casino – today the Bagatela Theater.

Perhaps an even more interesting venue was the garden of St. Catherine's Church, which hosted a voice installation called "Hybrid Spectrums," also by Witzthum. This sound work presented the combined voices of people singing Jewish, Muslim and Christian prayers – all within an area surrounded by medieval walls.

At about the same time in the streets of Kazimierz, the city's original Jewish Quarter, a small installation by Polish artist Martina Poznanska was to take place, bridging the neighborhood's past with its present, and highlighting how the area has historically been a symbol of the life of the city's Jews.

This year, the festival differed from all its previous incarnations, in that it was particularly intellectual in its character. For the first time, it included the voices of Jews from all over the world that were willing to speak about how they interpret their Judaism and how they can express their spiritual identity in a world of strangers. For that purpose, one of those invited to the festival was Stephanie Butnick of Tablet Magazine, an online publication of Jewish life, arts, and ideas, to relate how young American Jews perceive Poland.

In an artistic response to the anti-Semitic graffiti that occasionally stains the walls of Krakow, teens were invited attend a graffiti workshop to paint positive messages about Jewish life in Poland. The workshop was instructed by Magdalena Gross, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University in California and the daughter of Jan Tomasz Gross, author of the book "Neighbors," which is about the massacre of the Jews of the village of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbors.

Musical performances were also among the dozens of scheduled festival events. Among them were traditional concerts by Jewish composers, performances by top cantors from all over the world, and a show by Ensemble Yaman, which fuses Yemeni folk with jazz, surf rock, and reggae.

The 23rd annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow ran from June 28 and ends July 7.

A performance by a French Klezmer band in Krakow, Poland during the Jewish Culture Festival, July 1, 2004.Credit: AP / Haaretz Archive

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