For many, Poland is a country mainly associated with anti-Semitism, death camps and vibrant Jewish life which came to an end with the outbreak of World War II. In recent years, however, Jewish life in Poland is experiencing a renaissance, and dozens of major events designed to expose Jewish culture to wider Polish society are held every year.
One of these events is the “Israel days in Krakow”, a week-long festival which was opened last Saturday. During the whole week the city of Krakow will host series of events that will bring the Jewish and Israeli culture to the locals. Lectures, Israeli film screenings, concerts of Israeli music, Israeli dances and Israeli cooking workshops, are only part of the events which will take place during the festival, which will be open to the public.
The first “Israel days in Krakow” took place in 2004. Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the JCC (“Jewish Community Center”), was behind the initiative. Until 2009 the successful festival was held every year and attracted hundreds of people from across the majority-Catholic nation. Then, mainly due to budgetary reasons, the production of the festival was halted.
Last year, a group of students from the “Jewish Culture Academic Club”, many of whom are studying Jewish Studies at the local Jagiellonian University, decided to renew the festival after the four-year break. With the help of several Jewish institutions, among them the “Galicia Museum”, “The Jewish Community Center”, as well as restaurants and cafes which serve traditional Jewish and Israeli food, they successfully relaunched the “Israel days in Krakow” festival last Saturday.
Magda Pulikowska, 23, a Jewish Studies student at the Jagiellonian University, is one of the organizers of the renewed festival.
Asked why she decided to take part in the initiative, she explained that her passion for her Jewish identity was her main motivation.
“Apart from my Jewish studies, I also volunteer at the Jewish Community Center. I want to organize events that will expose the Jewish and Israeli cultures to those are not familiar with it.
“I think that the idea of holding the Israel days in Krakow festival here is great, because in Krakow we have a vibrant Jewish community with many Polish volunteers. We have spaces, institutions and people who want to help us.
“Me and my friends at the “Jewish Culture Academic Club” love Israel. Many of my friends also visited Israel in recent years. I still haven’t had the chance, but I hope to do that in the near future!”
Pulikowska says that she mostly enjoys the traditional “Shabbat dinner” which takes place every Friday at the Jewish Community Center in Krakow.
She intends to take part in many of the events that the festival offers.
“I love the Hebrew lessons, Israeli dances workshops, Israeli cooking and more, but the Shabbat dinner is just an amazing thing for me, because even people who are usually not interested in Jewish tradition can take part in that beautiful ritual.
“Maybe like this we can change something in their lives, who knows? I feel blessed that I can organize such events of Israeli and Jewish cultures, it makes me very happy, and I feel that I and my friends can really change the world together!”