Saturday Night in Krakow – November 10th, 2018
Here they have Cheder and Chevre and Hamsa; bars, cafes and restaurants; the locals pronounce that ch like cheese, cheddar, rather than Hebrew or Yiddish for a room, a gathering space, a school.
I wandered across the square for services in the ancient synagogue of the Rema (Remu here), as Shabbat was beginning.
Every restaurant is serving some kind of Jewish food and the klezmer musicians play popular Israeli tunes and classic Yiddish melodies with menorahs on tables behind them like a theatrical backdrop to set the scene.
Here there were once dozens of synagogues and this square would have been buzzing with hundreds of Jews excitedly going to greet the Sabbath bride and bring her into their grasp after another hard week and taste that bliss.
Now those magnificent old shuls cost 10 Zlotys to enter, to peep into the past; stops on the tourist trail, and now the throngs of former worshipers are sad oddities of a forgotten world, as Jewish life is consigned to a museum, a theme park.
As I take my Shabbat walk, kippah-headed through the square, I wonder if I will hear “look, look, there’s a Jew.”
And then I encounter a large group of young Israeli women dressed for Shabbat and singing and we wish each other Shabbat Shalom.
In the shul, the familiar psalms are chanted to transition out of another week, and we are a few short of a minyan, until another large group of American high schoolers studying in Israel arrives, bubbling over with spirit and ready to take over and we sing and dance with joy, as I wonder what the small group of local Jews make of all this.
Oh, another group come to save is, to redeem themselves from the past, to heal our ancestral wounds that are still open and festering really after all these years.
I don’t know if we are offering balm and bandages or salt.
And, oh, this place is so complex and we are so broken and thank God for Shabbat and the possibility of connection through a deep, shared language of prayer and ritual that can never be understood by this cultural voyeurism of borsht, kugel and klezmer.
And as I have these thoughts, I learn about all the Poles who are yearning to know more about this people that were once a third of their people, and that so many of them have a Jewish grandparent but they didn’t know until now and they too want, need to heal the past. And this is part of that, and we cannot join that cynical chorus of “but all Poles still want to kill us. They always have.”
They don’t. Most of them didn’t then, even though it is an easier way to tell that story, eliminating its nuance.
There is no future without sharing a different story.
The people I meet know so much more than I ever will about this thousand year entwined history, on this hundredth anniversary of independence. They tell tales of goodness, of kindess, so who I am to say there is none?
Sunday Morning in the Klezmer Hois, Krakow – November 11th, 2018 100th Anniversary of Polish Independence
The Klezmer Hois is so heimish, cozy and warm on this chilly Polish Independence Day morning with its promise of warm potato kugel and cake and lattes, sipped with a sweet little nod to the lost ones who savoured kugel every Shabbos, but never knew the luxury of a latte, or that their homes, shops and shuls would become bars, cafes and museums.