At Krakow's Jewish Community Centre, 90 per cent of volunteers are Catholic
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Some of the Catholic JCC volunteers
They celebrate every Jewish holiday; they organise Shabbat dinners, lectures and film screenings on Judaism; and they take part in the annual Jewish festival in Krakow — but they are not Jews.
Almost 50 young Poles volunteer at the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow, while during the Jewish festival that number almost doubles. Only four of them have Jewish roots, while all the others are Catholics who fell in love with Judaism.
So what attracts those young Poles Judaism?
“I have been living since my childhood in the Jewish quarter of Krakow, so the atmosphere of the synagogues and the Jewish life simply touched me,” said Agnieszka Gis, 19.
“When I was very young we had Jewish neighbours and I always heard songs emanating from their home on Friday night. Then my mother explained to me that they were Jews. Since then I became interested in Judaism. When I met one of the volunteers at the JCC who told me that they were building Jewish life in Poland, I decided to join. A few years ago, I also did an internship at World Jewish Relief — it was wonderful.”
Before they start working at the JCC, each of the volunteers spends a year on a training programme that teaches them about Judaism.
Agata Mucha, 30, runs the courses. “I became interested in Jewish life in Poland after reading the book on Jedwabne, the infamous massacre in 1941. We train the volunteers to be able to share their knowledge with the visitors of the JCC,” she said.
Wika Adamczyk, 21, said: “I always wanted to be close to Judaism. As a child I used to draw Hebrew letters in my notebook. My dream now is to live and study in Israel. I also want to join the Israeli army. My father was a soldier for many years and he supports me.”
All the volunteers said that their families were very supportive of their involvement in reviving Jewish life in Poland. All emphasised that their mission is “to change the image of Poland as a Jewish cemetery”.
Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the JCC, says that he was amazed by this phenomenon. “It’s fantastic. It’s a part of a larger interest in Judaism among non-Jewish Poles. Thanks to them, many Poles also look for and find their Jewish roots. To be honest, if we had the capacity we could double the number of Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers.”
Mr Ornstein thanked the World Jewish Relief for its support for the centre.