Thursday, June 7, 2012

NYTimes online on reassessing and reaffirming Jewish Culture in Poland

This post also appears on my En Route blog for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

Poster for a play called "Zyd, "or "Jew" by Artur Palyga, which deals with anti-Semitism. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The development of Jewish - and Jewish-themed—cultural expression and “production” in Poland and other countries is a theme that I have written about for many years, most notably in my book Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe (BTW—Virtually Jewish is now available as a Kindle e-book.)

I have focused in large part on the relationships between non-Jewish artists, musicians and others with Jewish culture and the way that they have used Jewish themes in their work.

But, in recent years, Jewish artists have also increasingly been exploring Jewish themes and topics, some of them as a way to explore their own identity.

In an article for the New York Times online the journalist Ginanne Brownell reports on this trend, writing about how Jewish artists are reasserting and redefining Jewish culture in Poland. Brownell interviewed me when I was in Poland last month and quotes me in the article—and she also quotes quite a few of my friends!

[A] growing number of Jewish Poles in the artistic sphere ... are exploring the dichotomy of being both Polish and Jewish in 21st-century Poland.

Writers, playwrights, filmmakers and visual artists are tackling everything from anti-Semitism and the Holocaust to coming to terms with their families’ Communist pasts and issues of identity.

“You cannot imagine Polish culture without Jewish culture,” said Pawel Passini, a Lublin-based director and playwright who last year won two awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for his staging of “Turandot.” “I think most people are conscious of that, the problem is how to say it and let people deal with it.”

She goes on:

From the late 1980s — thanks to things like the Krakow Jewish Festival that will take place from June 29 until July 8 this year — Jewish culture, or what is perceived as Jewish culture, has become more popular in Poland. Ms. Gruber described this in her 2002 book “Virtually Jewish” as “familiar exotica,” where there is pseudonostalgia for Jewish culture like the theatrical shtetl world of “Fiddler on the Roof” or wailing, clarinet-infused Klezmer music.

Contemporary Jewish artists are broadening the definition of Jewish culture in Poland. Mr. Passini is a case in point, having become one of the most acclaimed young stage directors in the country. He admits that many of his works — including plays like “Nothing Human” about a young girl trying to find her roots and “Tehillim,” which used choreography based on Hebrew letters — have a focus on spirituality.

Read the full story HERE

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