Sunday, January 4, 2009

Poland -- Yale Strom Remembers Henryk Halkowski

Yale Strom, the klezmer musician, writer and filmmaker, has been exploring eastern Europe and its Jewish culture for decades.... He send this vivid and loving recollection of Henryk Halkowski.
The news of Henryk's death both shocks and saddens me. I've known Henryk (or Tsvi, as I always called him) since 1984. Tsvi, along with Jerzy Kichler and Joasia Swieciki (my former wife), formed the nucleus of the revival of Yiddish culture in Krakow before the wall came down. This was 6 years before the first Krakow Jewish Festival. After Jerzy moved to Wroclaw and took over the leadership of the Jewish club there, Tsvi became the leader of the Jewish club of Krakow. All my forays to Krakow over 20 years included visits and meals with Tsvi, and a performance and lecture at his club. Tsvi represented a group of young Jews - almost a forgotten generation - born to survivors in the late 40's-early 50's, who for myriad reasons never married. An only son, Tsvi was extraordinarily loyal and devoted to his parents, and then to his mother once his father passed away. Tsvi was offered a scholarship to study and lecture at NYU, but turned it down to stay with his mother, who was originally from Vienna. Tsvi is featured in several of my documentary films, because he was, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable Jew about Krakow Jewish history and folklore. After the wall came down and with the seeds of Jewish culture sprouting, Tsvi was an integral part of this movement. He was linked with the Jewish festival, where he gave insightful commentary (often at an RPM that rivals my own) on papers he'd written, including several of his books. He was able to bridge the divide between the old Jews of Krakow, who had a certain amount of power and status in the 1970's and '80's and the new Jews who participated in the revival. I last saw Tsvi in September of 2008, when he gave me his usual pungent and satirical historical insight into the erection of the new apartment building that will shamefully tower over the Remuh's cemetery. As I had every other time since 1984, I walked away from this meeting laughing and crying and savoring our conversation. Wherever one walked in Kaczimiercz, regardless of the time of day or night (and Tsvi particularly liked to walk the streets at night), you couldn't help but run into him, then have a drink, then have a meal. I endearingly called him "The Mayor of Kaczimiercz". Tsvi's last project was editing Khasidic stories of the Bratslaver Rebe and we talked about this over latkes at the Klezmer-Hois. His intellect was eclipsed only by his gentle sweetness. His ghost, like so many others, will hover over Krakow. The world will truly miss this "pintele Yid".

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