Krakow Jews seek to make ends meet

Community draws criticism for renting out historic beit midrash to owners of new nightclub.

Mezcal Music Club (photo credit: Nitzan Tzur)
Mezcal Music Club
(photo credit: Nitzan Tzur)
KRAKOW – The leaders of this city’s Jewish community have leased a 19th-century beit midrash (study hall) to a company that has opened a nightclub in the structure.
The Chewra Tehilim Beit Midrash was founded in 1896. After World War II, it was used as a venue for dance performances and, in 1997, ownership was transferred back to the Jewish community. During restoration work in 2008, valuable frescos were uncovered inside.
A few weeks ago, leaders of Krakow’s Jewish community signed a five-year lease renting out the historic beit midrash, located on Meiselsa Street in the center of the Jewish quarter. A short time later, the new tenants revealed plans to open a late-night venue, Mezcal Music Club, in the building.
Posters promoting the club’s first night were plastered all over Krakow. “On Saturday evening, at 8 p.m., we will open the new Mezcal club and party until morning. DJs will play electronic, rock and heavy metal music. Just as Mezcal, the Mexican alcoholic drink, is controversial and excites your senses, so we will surprise and excite your senses,” the posters promised.
Some members of the Jewish community were outraged to hear that the site was to be turned into a nightclub.
“Based on the emails and phone calls I’m getting from all over the world, it’s clear to me that a great many people are profoundly dismayed by the actions of the leadership of Krakow’s Jewish religious community, and I believe they have every right to be,” said Jonathan Ornstein, director of Krakow’s Jewish Community Center.
“How can we, as Jews, expect others to respect our heritage when we ourselves do not? This is something that did not have to happen and I cannot understand the thinking behind the decision,” Ornstein said.
“To me and everyone I’ve spoken with, it’s very, very sad,” he added.
Tadeusz Jakubowicz, the president of Krakow’s Jewish community, told the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza the beit midrash was rented out due to the precarious financial situation of the community and the fact it has no money to maintain the building.
“The club had not yet opened and already there was so much criticism.
Probably they were just complaints from neighbors or people who do not understand that such a beautiful structure must be fully alive, not dying before our eyes,” Jakubowicz said.
“Over many years we received many offers to rent the building from us, including from various Jewish communities, but we never got the money,” he continues. “The new tenants are serious people and we believe that they will manage this club with respect. If we still have problems, we will simply end the contract with them.”