It's that time of year again, the run-up to the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, and articles are beginning to appear in newpapers and online....click here for one in the Jerusalem Post. According to the Festival's web site, the Festival recently took first place in a survey on what is Krakow's best product for tourists.
This year's festival has several points of interest that set it apart -- one will be the performance by the Other Europeans group of Yiddish and Gypsy (Lautari) musicians, part of a tour that is the culmination of this wonderful two-year project. The other is the selection of expanded day trips to shtetls in the Krakow area. Parts of the Festival will also be transmitted live on Internet.
I've attended most of the festivals in the past 20 years (it was founded in 1988) and have both taken part in them, giving talks or presentations of my books, and written about it in my books and in publications ranging from the International Herald Tribune to Polin, the scholarly annual on Polish-Jewish relations.
The article I wrote back in 1995 for the International Herald Tribune (now on the New York Times web site) still sums up much of the experience - what has changed is that Szeroka, the main square of the old Jewish quarter Kazimierz, is no longer very dilapidated, and that many more Jewish visitors now form part of the festival crowds.
I'm not sure if I will get to Krakow for the festival this year....I've left it rather late to line up accommodation (as I thought I would have to be elsewhere at the time). But who knows. I have long regarded the festival week as the best party going -- and so many of my friends will be there....
On the rain-soaked main square of Krakow's dilapidated old Jewish quarter, thousands of Poles cheered, clapped, sang and danced well past midnight recently as klezmer bands playing traditional East European Jewish music and Israeli musicians sent their sounds blasting into the night.
The concert was the five-hour finale of the city's Fifth Festival of Jewish Culture — a festival that some have described as a "Jewish Woodstock."
Throughout the festival week, the old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, and other parts of the city were the scene of concerts, theatrical performances, exhibitions, films, street happenings and workshops rooted in Jewish heritage.
Most of the performers and artists were Jews from the United States, Israel and Western Europe. But the overwhelming majority of the audience were non-Jewish Poles, joined by a handful of foreign Jewish tourists and members of the tiny local Jewish community.
Click HERE to see a video of my being interviewed during the Festival in 2007.
And remember -- the Krakow festival is just one (though the biggest and most venerable) of many Jewish festivals around Europe this summer -- see HERE for information and links to a score of them.