25th Jewish Culture Festival brings sabra style to Krakow

Festival's aim is to bring back the memory of Poland’s Jews and their contribution to the nation’s culture.

June 30, 2013 22:55
4 minute read.
MUSICIANS PERFORM at last year’s ‘Shalom on Szeroka Street’ concert in Krakow’s old Jewish quarter.

Jewish musicians in Poland370. (photo credit: Pawel Mazur)

KRAKOW – A foreigner visiting Krakow these days could easily think he had arrived in Tel Aviv by mistake.

Israeli music concerts, Israeli movies, lectures on Israel, Israeli cooking workshops, Israeli dance and more such activities are taking place these days in the southern Polish city.

Running from June 28 to July 7, this is the 25th year that the city has hosted the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow. The first post-World War II festival of its kind in the country, its aim is to bring back the memory of Poland’s Jews and their contribution to the nation’s culture.

The first concert of the 2013 event took place on Saturday evening.

Hundreds of people, including a group of students from Chicago who came to Poland especially for the festival, attended a concert of the Israeli group Monti Fiori, which performed its “Mediterranean-style Italian songs” on a boat, the Sobieski, on the Vistula River.

Polish and foreign guests enjoyed the performance as they cruised the river. When the group’s lead singer, Itamar Fintzi, said that they come from Tel Aviv, the crowd cheered loudly.

Dorota Tekielska, 26, from Krakow, said, “I really enjoyed the concert. It was very interesting for me to see that Jewish culture is rich and can bring different voices. Many people connect Jewish music only with Klezmer, but here we saw that Israeli groups can also play Italian songs.”

Over the next 10 days, thousands of locals and tourists from all over Poland will attend the wide variety of events. Just like every year, the festival will close with the “Shalom on Szeroka Street” concert, which brings together thousands of people for an open-air party in the heart of Krakow’s old Jewish quarter. The view of thousands of Poles dancing on the streets to the sounds of hassidic music, or listening excitedly to “Yiddishe Mama,” is nothing less than amazing.

Among the performers this year are Radio Trip, a DJ and production duet from Tel Aviv’s Mexico’s DeLeon, a band that combines contemporary rock with traditional Sephardic music; and The Yiddish Princess.

Wiktoria Adamczyk is one of the 80 volunteers who will help guests at the festival. She is a student in Jewish studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and said that Israel and Jewish culture are her biggest love.

“My dream is to join the IDF. I love Israeli music, my favorite song is “The Most Beautiful Girl at Kindergarten” [“Hayalda Hachi Yafa B’gan”] by Yehudit Ravitz, and I volunteer every year to help introduce Jewish culture to Poles. I think that the Jewish culture is fascinating and has so much to offer.”

One of the most popular events every year is a Jewish cooking workshop.

Malka Kafka, the owner of a kosher catering firm in Warsaw, will come to Krakow to teach the locals how to prepare Jewish food from different parts of the world. Every year, cooking enthusiasts from across Poland arrive to learn how to prepare gefilte fish, kibbe, humous and other traditional Israeli and Jewish dishes.

Janusz Makuch, 53, is the man behind the festival. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he explained how it all began.

“I was born in a city called Pulawy [in the Lublin province]. I was never taught in school about Jews. When I was 14 years old, I met a famous professor in a book shop. We started talking and he asked me if I know that half of the population in Pulawy before World War II was Jewish. That was the turning point of my life.

“I started to be interested and learned about the Jewish history of my town and about Jewish traditions and culture. When I moved to Krakow to study at the university, I met with a group of friends who were also interested in Jewish culture, and one evening we decided to start a small Jewish festival in Krakow.”

Makuch and his friends started collecting films on Israel, invited a number of bands that played traditional Jewish music and, in 1988, the first festival got under way.

Makuch said that he never imagined the festival would become such a hit from the start.

“The first edition of the festival took place in the tiny Mikro movie theater and consisted of a series of lectures and film screenings. We thought that maybe a few people would come, but the cinema was packed. We couldn’t believe it.”

At first, the festival took place every two year, but then the Polish culture minister offered Makuch and his friends financial support from the government so that it could become an annual event. Today, the festival’s budget is $1 million, most of it contributed by Jewish organizations around the world and the Polish government.

With almost 30,000 participants annually, it claims to be the largest and most diverse exhibition of what is important and creative in the contemporary Jewish world.

“Shalom on Szeroka Street” is firmly established as the biggest Jewish concert stage in the world. The event has taken on cult status for Jewish music fans. During the seven-hour televised event, Jewish musicians present the complete landscape of Jewish music as thousands dance on the streets.

Another significant event takes place every year at the Jewish Galicia Museum in Krakow during the festival.

In 1998, American lawyer Micahel H. Traison initiated “Preserving Memory” to honor Poles involved in saving the heritage of Polish Jews and in Polish-Jewish dialogue. In the past 15 years, the Israeli ambassador has honored Poles for their contribution to saveguarding Jewish heritage.

This award has been given to more than 150 laureates to date.

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