Feature Stories

In Krakow, A Dynamic Judaism Without Walls Festival

For one night a year, the city’s seven remaining synagogues open themselves up to the public and host everything from a poetry reading to a symbolic multimedia walk through the seven gates of Jerusalem, from a photography exhibition to an Israeli-inspired hummus and grilled vegetable feast in a synagogue courtyard.

Krakow’s 7@Nite festival — an innovative, JDC-organized take on the Judaism-without-walls concept — is a smorgasbord of sights and sounds.

For one night a year, the city’s seven remaining synagogues open themselves up to the public and host everything from a poetry reading to a symbolic multimedia walk through the seven gates of Jerusalem, from a photography exhibition to an Israeli-inspired hummus and grilled vegetable feast in a synagogue courtyard.

For Bozena Pitorak, a civil engineer who also runs her own real estate business in Krakow, 7@Nite was the perfect way to reconnect with her Judaism.

She attended last year’s program at the behest of her son and was enchanted by an Israeli dance workshop held at one of the synagogues. Soon after, she became a member of the local Jewish Community Center (JCC).

“In my opinion, 7@Nite is a new way of connecting to Judaism because every Jew can participate incognito and then he or she decides whether to identify as a Jew or not and whether to get involved in the Jewish community or not,” she said.

On 7@Nite’s website, organizers say the event is an important tool in the continual quest to “celebrate Jewish life and culture.”

“The idea is simple — to open the doors to these sacred spaces, and thereby open the hearts and minds of Poland to its Jewish heritage,” they write. “And for the Jewish community itself, the event serves as an important reminder that the synagogue is not simply a place to worship, but a place to gather, learn, and enjoy our life together.”

About 7,000 people attend the festival each year. JDC is the event’s main sponsor, operating in conjunction with the Jewish Community Center of Krakow and Gmina Wyznaniowa Zydowska w Krakowie, a community of about 100 members that operates three of the city’s synagogues. 7@Nite is one of a myriad of JDC’s “Judaism without walls” experiences—open-to-all events staged in public spaces such as parks, museums, and coffeehouses—that are helping Jews who may not identify with traditional institutions engage with Jewish culture.

Pitorak’s maternal side is Jewish, and she said she was always aware of her roots, even if she felt “neutral” about her heritage and kept it “somewhat hidden.”

After attending 7@Nite last year, Pitorak has begun taking Hebrew and Israeli dance classes at the JCC, as well as frequently participating in Shabbat dinners and Jewish holiday celebrations.

At this year’s 7@Nite, held the weekend of June 8-9, Bozena came full circle — volunteering at the event that spurred her Jewish renaissance.

“After reconnecting to Judaism I feel stronger, and this influences my private life and my work,” she said. “My dream is that more Jews come out, go to the synagogue, and become members of the community.”

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