Present Day Tarnow 

 

After 1968 and the wave of emigration that occurred at that time, just three thousand Jews remained in Poland, for the most part older people.  They were grouped around two organizations, the Socialand Cultural Association of Jews in Poland and, in the Communities, in the Religious Union. Young and middle-aged people did not openly claim their Jewish background and did not take part in either religious or cultural life.

 

This state of affairs arose from a variety of factors, the most important of which was the post-March trauma associated with the fear of losing either one's chance to study or one's job, and with the hostility of one's acquaintances. Another reason for the absence of young people in those organizations was because the Association had been heavily infiltrated by the Ministry of the Interior. People knew that joining the Association meant a file would be kept on them.

 

As a result, the Association was engaged in activities that were geared only toward older people, which discouraged young people from having any interest whatsoever in taking part. A breakthrough of sorts occurred in the late 1980's, when the Association began organizing Yiddish courses and lectures about the culture and history of the Polish Jews. Young people increasingly began to participate in these activities, interested in things that had been taboo for nearly two decades. As a result, the Association's board organized the first summer camp for young people in the Srodoborowianka villa near Otwock for the first time since 1968. It took place during the summer of 1988, gathering nearly thirty people from all over Poland. For many of them, this was their first contact with Jewish culture, their first observation of the Sabbath, and their first discussions about national and religious identity. Above all, it was their first meeting with other Jews of their own age. After this summer session, many of them began participating in Jewish organizations, forcing the Association's leaders to admit that young Jewish people did exist in Poland. They insisted on their right to have a free hand in organizing activities. In many branches, youth sections were founded that organized their own discussions, meetings and observations of religious holidays. It must be stressed that this cultural revival occurred during a period of political change in Poland, when it became possible to sponsor such activities without political supervision, with freedom to express one's beliefs and, most importantly, when it was already possible to emphasize one's Jewish background.

 

 

Jewish communities in Poland

 

In 1991, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation launched its activities in Poland. For the most part, it is involved in educational activities for the Jewish community.  The Foundation also seeks to aid those who wish to return to the faith who had not had the opportunity to do so previously. For this purposes, the Foundation runs religious education camps. The first took place in the Warsaw suburb of Komorow. Guests from the United States taught participants the foundations of Judaism, basic prayers and blessings, as well as the principles of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and the proper way of running a Jewish home. The first Lauder camp had about twenty participants. Because of the large number of applicants-120 people-the next was held in Zaborow; the camp was later moved to the holiday center in Rychwald, near Zywiec. Since that time, summer and winter sessions have been organized regularly.

 

The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation runs several cultural centers in Poland. They are located in Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz and Gdansk, and serve as centers for individuals interested in becoming acquainted with Jewish culture and religion.  With time, a Jewish preschool was organized, as well as elementary and middle schools. Poland today has two Jewish schools funded by the Lauder Foundation in Wroclaw and Warsaw. In Krakow, the first Jewish religious school, the Pardes Lauder Yeshiva, has been opened as well.

 

Important changes have taken place in the field of publishing as well. Three publications for the Jewish audience are published: Dos Yidishe Vort/Slowo zydowskie, a bilingual, Polish-Jewish magazine published under the auspices of the Jewish Social and Cultural Association; the cultural and literary magazine Midrasz, and Szterndlech, which is for young children. For a time, Yidele was also published for young people of high school and college age.

 

This image of contemporary Jewish life in Poland would not be complete without a mention of the Festival of Jewish culture, organized yearly in Kraków. It includes lectures and concerts, as well as courses in Yiddish and dance, and workshops on calligraphy and traditional paper cutouts. For several years, a several day series of events and concerts known as "Meetings of Four Cultures"-including Jewish culture-has been organized. In Warsaw, a Jewish Book Fair is held during which meetings with authors are held. In addition, various cities also organize film, theater and music reviews.

 

 

The article below centres on Krakow but I thought it worth reprinting as Tarnow also has a Jewish festival, as mentioned in the article.

 

In Poland, a Jewish Revival Thrives -      - Minus Jews

By CRAIG S. SMITH

 

There is a curious thing happening in this old country, scarred by Nazi death camps, raked by pogroms and blanketed by numbing Soviet sterility: Jewish culture is beginning to flourish again. ''Jewish style'' restaurants are serving up platters of pirogis, klezmer bands are playing plaintive Oriental melodies, derelict synagogues are gradually being restored. Every June, a festival of Jewish culture here draws thousands of people to sing Jewish songs and dance Jewish dances. The only thing missing, really, are Jews.

 

“It's a way to pay homage to the people who lived here, who contributed so much to Polish culture,''         said Janusz Makuch, founder and director of the annual festival and himself the son of a Catholic family.

 

Jewish communities are gradually reawakening across Eastern Europe as Jewish schools introduce a new generation to rituals and beliefs suppressed by the Nazis and then by Communism. At summer camps, thousands of Jewish teenagers from across the former Soviet bloc gather for crash courses in Jewish culture, celebrating Passover, Hanukkah and Purim -- all in July.

 

Even in Poland, there are now two Jewish schools, synagogues in several major cities and at least four rabbis.

 

But with relatively few Jews, Jewish culture in Poland is being embraced and promoted by the young and the fashionable.

 

Before Hitler's horror, Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, about 3.5 million souls. One in 10 Poles was Jewish.

 

More than three million Polish Jews died in the Holocaust. Postwar pogroms and a 1968 anti-Jewish purge forced out most of those who survived.

 

Probably about 70 percent of the world's European Jews, or Ashkenazi, can trace their ancestry to Poland -- thanks to a 14th-century king, Casimir III, the Great, who drew Jewish settlers from across Europe with his vow to protect them as ''people of the king.'' But there are only 10,000 self-described Jews living today in this country of 39 million.

 

More than the people disappeared. The food, the music, the dance, the literature, the theater, the painting, the architecture -- in short, the culture of Jewish life in Poland disappeared, too. Poland's cultural fabric lost some of its richest hues.

 

''Imagine what it would mean for the culture of New York if all Spanish-speaking New Yorkers disappeared,'' said Ann Kirschner, whose book, ''Sala's Gift,'' recounts her mother's survival through five years in Nazi labor camps.

 

Sometime in the 1970s, as a generation born under Communism came of age, people began to look back with longing to the days when Poland was less gray, less monocultural. They found inspiration in the period between the world wars, which was the Poland of the Jews.

 

''You cannot have genocide and then have people live as if everything is normal,'' said Konstanty Gebert, founder of a Polish-Jewish monthly, Midrasz. ''It's like when you lose a limb. Poland is suffering from Jewish phantom pain.''

 

Interest in Jewish culture became an identifying factor for people unhappy with the status quo and looking for ways to rebel, whether against the government or their parents. ''The word 'Jew' still cuts conversation at the dinner table,'' Mr. Gebert said. ''People freeze.''

 

The revival of Jewish culture is, in its way, a progressive counterpoint to a conservative nationalist strain in Polish politics that still espouses anti-Semitic views. Some people see it as a generation's effort to rise above the country's dark past in order to convincingly condemn it.

 

''We're trying to give muscle to our moral right to judge history,'' said Mr. Makuch, the festival organizer.

 

Mr. Makuch was 14 when an elderly man in his hometown, Pulawy, told him that before the war half of the town was Jewish. ''It was the first time I had ever heard the word 'Jew,' '' Mr. Makuch      recalled.

 

He became a self-described meshugeneh, Yiddish for ''crazy person,'' fascinated with all things Jewish. When he moved to Krakow to study, he spent his free time with the city's dwindling Jewish community. There were about 300 Jews, compared with a prewar population of about 70,000. There are even fewer today.

 

While few Jews have returned to the city, Jewish culture has, largely because of Mr. Makuch. In 1988, together with Krzysztof Gierat, he organized the city's first Festival of Jewish Culture, a one-day affair in a theater that held only 100 people. In 1994, it became an annual event. There are now smaller festivals in Warsaw, Wroclaw and Tarnow.

 

The Krakow festival has helped revitalize the city's old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, which deteriorated after the end of the war.

 

Today, quaint carved wooden figurines of orthodox Jews and miniature brass menorahs are sold in the district's curio shops and souvenir stands. Klezmer bands play in its restaurants, though few of the musicians are Jewish.

 

Along one short street, faux 1930s Jewish merchant signs hang above the storefronts in an attempt to recreate the feel of the neighborhood before the war.  Many Jews are offended by the commercialization of their culture in a country almost universally associated with its near annihilation. Others argue that there is something deeper taking place in Poland as the country heals from the double wounds of Nazi and Communist domination.

 

''There is commercialism, but that is foam on the surface,'' Mr. Gebert said. ''This is one of the deepest ethical transformations that our country is undergoing. This is Poland rediscovering its Jewish soul.''

 

This year, the festival had almost 200 events, including concerts and lectures and workshops in everything from Hebrew calligraphy to cooking. More than 20,000 people attended, few of whom were Jewish.

 

At a drumming workshop in Jozef Dietl primary school, Shlomo Bar, from Israel, led an elderly woman, a young boy in a Pokémon T-shirt and shorts, a young man in dreadlocks and two dozen other, mostly non-Jewish participants in a class on Sephardic rhythms.

 

Outside, Witek Ngo The, born in Krakow to Vietnamese immigrants, worked as a festival volunteer, directing visitors to other workshops in nearby schools.

 

In one, Benzion Miller, wearing a black yarmulke, white T-shirt, black suspenders and pants, taught 40 people Hasidic songs, a wood-and-silver crucifix high on the wall behind him.

 

Half of the festival's $800,000 budget comes from the national and local governments. The rest is contributed by private donors, primarily from the United States, including the Philadelphia-based Friends of the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival.

 

Tad Taube, a businessman whose Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture is one of the festival's biggest donors, was born in Krakow and left shortly before the war.

 

Together with other donors, Mr. Taube's foundation has spent more than $10 million to help revive Jewish culture in Poland. He attended the recent groundbreaking for a Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, another effort he has supported.

 

Like many people involved in the resurgence of Jewish culture in Poland, Mr. Taube said he believed that it was not only important for Poland, but for Jews around the world.

 

Chris Schwarz, founder and director of Krakow's Galicia Jewish Museum, agreed, saying, ''Rather than coming here just to mourn, we should come with a great sense of dignity, a great sense of pride for what our ancestors accomplished.''

 

For others, the celebration of Jewish culture in a city just an hour away from Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where a million Jews died, is a triumph of history.

 

''The fact that you can walk around Krakow with a lanyard around your neck that reads 'Jewish Culture Festival' is an extraordinary thing,'' Ms. Kirschner said.

 

            Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

                                                                                                                                   

Tarnow map, index of streets

Tarnow, a city guide

Places of interest in modern-day Tarnow

 

 

 

Photos                                     Click on photo for larger version

Tarnow buildings

Square

                                    Tarnow buildings                                                                               Square in Tarnow

 

Former mikvah

 

Jewish street, Tarnow

                        Former mikvah, now houses businesses                               Jewish street, Tarnow

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2008 Molly Runds

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