Kraków is ready to host Jewish culture’s very best in the 29th year of its annual festival

The week-long festival has grown to a globally-recognised event, Poland's ambassador to the UK says

June 19, 2019 16:05

Poland’s ties with the Jewish community go back centuries, with Jews becoming an integral part of Polish society over time. In many of the country’s towns and cities Jewish heritage is well-preserved through cultural institutions, synagogues and cemeteries. But in Poland’s former capital, Kraków, Jews are celebrated in another special way: a vibrant festival of culture, one of the oldest events of its kind in the world.

The Jewish Culture Festival — taking place this year between 21 and 30 June in the Kazimierz Jewish Quarter, the centre of Jewish life for over 500 years before its destruction during the Second World War — began in 1988. Its beginnings coinciding with Poland regaining its freedom for the second time in 71 years, it quickly became a national and international success, reviving Jewish life in Kraków and attracting more than 30,000 people from around the world each year.

Last year’s edition, in the centenary year of Poland restoring its independence, was organised under Polish President Andrzej Duda’s patronage.

This year is the 29th edition and focuses on earth, one of four elements constituting the world, as something that creates our identity, protects our past and shapes our future. Thousands that come — with many more able to watch live on Polish public television — will be treated to artistic expression and scientific examination in various forms.

From concerts, lectures and discussions to music workshops, guided tours and ceremonies, there will be something for everyone, with 125 events in the main programme and partners hosting 127 fringe events.

Talks will feature Jewish culture experts including Yossi Klein Halevi, Dan Bahat, Tova Dickstein, Wit Szostak, Agata Maksimowska, Deborah Lipstadt, Tomer Gardi, and festival founder and director Janusz Makuch, who last year was the first Pole to receive the “Friend of Israel” distinction from Israeli ambassador Anna Azari.

Musically, there will a be a real fusion of styles. Klezmer will sound next to Sephardic and Mizrahi, synagogue prayers will be heard next to modern music genres, while parties will be hosted by DJs from Tel Aviv radio station and feature Israeli hip-hop music.

One of the final events of the festival will be the signature outdoor concert “Shalom on Szeroka Street”, with dozens performing.

The Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków has grown from a local initiative to a globally-recognised event. It is a fun way to educate people about Jewish heritage and strengthen understanding between Poles and Jews.

Above all, it shows how important the Jewish community and its heritage is to Poland. “We, Poles, are inheritors of the Jewish culture,” Mr Makuch once said. The festival is the best example of that — you cannot miss it!

Arkady Rzegocki is Poland’s ambassador to the UK. The 29th Jewish Culture Fesival runs in Kraków between 21 and 30 June 2019.

June 19, 2019 16:05

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