Several evenings I enjoyed working on my blog in a trendy cafe called Cheder (Jewish elementary school) which is tucked away in a corner of Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter of Krakow. The cafe which exudes a strong community feeling, is an integral part of the annual Krakow *Jewish Culture Festival that has been taking place in Kazimierz since 1988.
The cafe is adjacent to the High Synagogue, a Gothic building turned into a house of worship in 1563, which is now a museum. The synagogue was located in close proximity to a Catholic church. Kazimierz was a Christian and Jewish community living in harmony for centuries.
A brief history of Krakow’s Jews – Before the German invasion of 1939, Krakow was an influential center for 60,000-70,000 Polish Jews who had lived there since the 13th century. Krakow’s old Jewish quarter was a safe haven for Jews from every corner of Europe until the 20th century and a major center of the **diaspora. Jewish life was systematically destroyed in Krakow during World War II.
One evening on my way to the Chedar cafe I passed the Jewish Community Center (JCC) near the main square of Kazimierz. A sign draped over the garden entrance said “Come in and say hi.” So I did. A Hebrew class was going on inside. The friendly young receptionist said that the center also offers Arabic and Yiddish language classes.
Bulletin boards in the lobby were filled with news articles in various languages about the JCC in Kazimierz which was created in 2008, and the inter–cultural activities they sponsor. The adjacent recently restored Tempel Synagogue, is a place of worship today and regularly hosts cultural events.
The Jewish restaurants in the main square of Kazimierz are teaming with activity in the dead of winter, the annual Jewish Cultural Festival attracts 30,000-40,000 people from all over the world, and the Jewish Community Center is bustling with activity. All of this suggests that there is a revival of all things Jewish in Krakow. When I mentioned this to my (Christian) ***Servas Host Ewa, she said with a twinkle in her eye,“It’s now very fashionable to be Jewish.”
** Jewish diaspora as per Wikipedia: “…the dispersion of Israelites, Judahites and later Jews out of their ancestral homeland (the Land of Israel) and their subsequent settlement in other parts of the globe.”
*** Servas is a non-profit international organization of hosts and travelers www.USServas.org
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