Krakow Synagogues Transform for Annual Cultural Festival

June 10, 2015

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Every year on the first Saturday in June, hundreds of people pour into Krakow’s seven preserved synagogues for 7@Nite, a raucous multimedia celebration of the strength and vitality of Jewish culture in Poland.

The JDC-sponsored festival — featuring everything from concerts and dance performances to cooking demonstrations and educational talks — is a powerful rebuke to narratives that argue European Jewish culture is moribund or endangered.

“What is happening in today’s Poland is a real miracle: Jewish renewal. Thousands of people have discovered their Jewish roots and chosen to live a Jewish life,” said Monika Elliott, JDC’s program director in Poland. “We won’t lose this chance. We were fighting for our identity, and now we’ll make it the best possible. 7@Nite is one of those programs showing how rich Jewish culture is — and that it’s alive!”

Each year, 7@Nite picks a broad theme and then explores it throughout history and in modern times — with sessions spanning a variety of artistic mediums. This year’s festival will focus especially on the role of Jewish women.

An artistic exhibition that modernizes women of the Torah through innovative paintings will be held in Krakow’s Old Synagogue, which dates back to the 15th century and is the oldest synagogue building still standing in Poland. Two sisters, the Djamchids of Jerusalem, will perform an acoustic folk-pop concert in the Tempel Synagogue, a Moorish Revival building built in the early 1860s.

And in the beautiful Wolf Popper synagogue, 7@Nite attendees will construct two huge portraits of Esther, the heroine of the Purim story — one Persian, and one imagining her as a denizen of Krakow.

“What’s my favorite thing? It’s very hard to say. It’s like choosing which of your seven kids is your favorite,” Elliott said. “My favorite part is to create the program for each year’s event. That’s the moment when your imagination becomes real.”

Though financing such an ambitious one-night-only event is an annual challenge, Elliott said she’s confident 7@Nite is worth it – just ask any of the hundreds of Polish Jews lining up to get into synagogues conventional wisdom had resigned to the history books just decades before.

“The biggest challenge is very common: money,” she said. “But when it comes to opportunities, there are so many: making Jewish culture accessible to everybody, educating people about different ways of being Jewish, showing how rich Jewish heritage is, and proving that Polish Jewry is a vibrant, living community.”

And to hear Elliott tell it, the only way for 7@Nite to go is up.

“7@Nite has grown into a signature event on the cultural calendar of the city of Krakow. Every year, there are more and more people coming, and what’s great is you see not only young students waiting in huge lines to get into the synagogues, but whole families, older citizens, people of all ages,” she said. “My dream is to build a project that uses the synagogues all year long, with 7@Nite as a closing festival. There’s a great opportunity to teach about Judaism, these synagogues, Jewish tradition, and of course, community.”

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