Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jewish Life -- Life! -- in Krakow

This post first ran in my En Route blog on the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I’ve written a lot about the Jewish scene in Krakow over the years— the “virtually Jewish” side of both homage to and nostalgic exploitation of the past—but also the new Jewish life. (See, for example, my long piece in Moment Magazine where I view the city, the scene, and the changes I’ve seen over the past 20-some years).

New York Jewish Week now runs a long piece by Steve Lipman that provides a good look at some of what’s been going on, focusing on the activities of the JCC, founded in 2008. Steve writes:
Poland’s former capital, Krakow is a natural magnet, he says — Poles come because of the city’s open, cosmopolitan nature; visitors, because of nearby Auschwitz.
At the first-night seder I conducted last week — using supplies donated by J. Levine Books & Judaica, in Manhattan, and by local friends Lisa Levy, Michael Wittert and Debby Caplan — the chairs were filled with singles and young families, children and Holocaust survivors, American college students and tourists from several foreign countries.
Unlike the participants at the seders in many other Polish cities, most of the Polish natives at the JCC seder seemed familiar with the Haggadah’s reading and rituals, thanks to the seders the institution has hosted in recent years. As a sign of the growth of Jewish resources here, other seders took place this year under the auspices of Chabad, the Reform movement, and Rabbi Boaz Pash, an emissary of the Shavei Israel outreach organization.
The JCC was initiated by Prince Charles, who during a visit to Krakow a decade ago, was moved by a meeting with aging Holocaust survivors and asked what the Jewish community needed. A senior center, he was told. Officials of World Jewish Relief, headquartered in London, suggested that a facility serving the entire Jewish community would be more worthwhile. In April 2008, with the Prince in attendance, the JCC, largely funded by WJR and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, opened its doors.
Lipman highlights the wonderful 7@Night event that debuted last June —when all seven of the synagogues and former synagogues in the old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, were open to the public and hosted programs that illustrated contemporary—not nostalgic—Jewish culture.

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