New York Jewish Travel Guide sat down with Mr. Robert Gadek, Deputy Director of the 27th Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow to ask a few questions about this world’s largest Jewish Culturel festival attracting an annual international audience of 30,000 people.
Q and A with the New York Jewish Travel Guide (NYJTG) and Robert Gadek, Deputy Director of the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow.
NYJTG: Thank you Robert for taking your time to see me. I’m very excited to be here for the first time in Krakow and attending the 27th Jewish Cultural Festival. Can you tell us about your background and what does a Deputy Director do?
Robert: Okay. So, I joined the Jewish culture festival in 2005, which is about 12 years ago and it was my second job. The first one, the previous one ,was as Director of the Center for Jewish Culture also here in Krakow. So, when I came to festival, my responsibilities are basically promotional things, like P.R. of the festival and also fundraising and some aspect of the production of the festival as well but the third one it’s like, this was part of my job description, P.R. and fundraising and all media conducts and responses.
NYJTG: So when you say P.R, is it on a National or International level?
Robert: Our international P.R. is rather small so I do it also but it’s really like a very small part of our activities. It’s basically… we are focusing on it here in Poland.
NYJTG: How do you compare last year program to this one? How has it changed?
Robert: Basically for the past many years, the structure of the festival has remained the same. There is a combination of educational events with some cultural events and variety of these event ranges from concerts that we have mostly in the temple synagogue here but also the one very famous cultural show on the street, which is like overall concert for fifteen thousand people. So it’s concerts, some D.J parties, but we also have workshops, we have tours, we have seminars, we have lectures, we have exhibitions, literally all kinds of events that make people interested in Jewish culture but also to give them a chance to experience and better understand Jewish culture because that’s one of the ideas for the festival, to give people a chance to have a Jewish experience which from Polish perspective is very important especially in the context of, you know, various problems that our society has in the past years, now we have to learn how to live, how to deal with minorities with different other cultures.
NYJTG: You are saying, it is a bridge of reconciliation between the Poles and the Jews, would that be correct?
Robert: Yes –but it’s on a very, let’s say ideological level, that was building bridges between the Jews and Poles in Poland but also abroad but in very practical terms, it was at the very beginning to remain Poles, that once our country get Jewish past that Jews contributed a lot to development of our country on almost each and every level, from cultural to political. It was forgotten. Some people call this suspect, like programmed amnesia, we were programmed to forget because it was not comfortable to remember the Jews contributed so much but when we came to our democracy, independence again in 1989, then people started to explore those aspects work that were forbidden before and one of them was Jewish culture.
So, our festival took this mission to introduce or rather re-introduce Jewish culture to Polish mainstream society and to remind people that Jews are not like people living in some ghetto or lived in the ghettos but they contributed a lot to the development of our country, so that was the very beginning and now because Poles get much more educated, there are so many resources now available, so we do not any longer remind about Jewish past but we present contemporary Jewish culture. I think that’s the major difference between our festival and other festivals in Europe but not only in Europe, that we are not like reaching out to the past, that we are not presenting culture which was here before the war, we are not repeating, you know, all the same stereotypes etc… but we are creating space for meetings, encounters with new contemporary Jewish life and culture, hoping that we also return a better attitude here in Poland. Speaking in even more practical terms, the differences between the festival last year and this year; well again, the structure is the same but the scope of this year is different. Last year ,we spoke mostly about diaspora. These were two main issues of the festival; diaspora and Sabbath. This year, we focused on one aspect on our theme, which is Jerusalem.
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of ramification, so it is for us an opportunity to present to the Polish but also international audience, what, I mean, we presenting how complicated Jerusalem is that in far Jerusalem it is okay one point on the map but in everybody’s heads, it’s something different, it’s different constructions, different understanding, different meaning, different emotions and we are trying to present that, to show it to people that like the Hebrew name Yerushalayim, i.e many Jerusalem, it’s not only one. We give a chance to explore it through concerts, even DJ parties some multilingual activities, lectures, seminars, discussions, exhibitions, guided tours and again as I mentioned, we are trying to get people to experience jewish culture or in this case specific Jerusalem experience in each and every possible level and in a way that could be attracting various people.
Audience of the festival is rather diversified, we have program for children, for youngsters, for young professionals, for older people and also this year for the first time, we have special program for senior citizens. So, we are speaking, we’re presenting our event in various languages, in various forms so anyone who is interested can access them, understand them, comprehend them and explore Jerusalem.
NYJTG: Which languages are you referring to?
Robert: When I said languages, I had in mind various means right? So we use various languages of culture so to speak. We use multimedia, we use music… we use discussions, we use literature. We have contemporary music and more… When you look at the program of the festival, you will see that we are trying to present the whole diversity of the Jewish world and that’s another thing that maybe is different here in Krakow namely when people hear Jewish culture festival especially in this part of the world, they associate it with classical music and digital only. Well, our festival presents both, Yiddish, Sephardic etc. So we’re trying to present how diversified it is and also to make people think that, I mean you don’t have to follow stereotypes…you have your own experience and then you may be closer to truth.
NYJTG: So, there is a something for everybody’s taste.
Robert: Good taste of it and also those who are outside the Jewish community and this is majority of our ideas because majority of people who are coming to the festival are not Jewish, so for many of them, this is the first encounter with such a diversified Jewish culture.
NYJTG: Why is the festival taking place in the Kazimierz district of Krakow?
Robert: Well, that’s very simple, because they live here for centuries and Kazimierz district it was a home for Jews. When they were expelled from the old town they came to the Kazimierz and they created one of the very unique spaces here. The entire Kazimierz is in fact mixed, it’s like Jewish Christian neighborhoods but most of the city was Jewish until the Second World War. After the war, the city was neglected, Jews were expelled from here and this neighborhood was completely abandoned and left bare. There were no people but there was heritage, so when we wanted to show this Jewish heritage and its meaning for Polish culture, for Polish society, there was no other place to held this festival, because Krakow is the natural place for the festival to be held. If we would organize Jewish Culture Festival, let’s say in the city center square or the main market square, that will be not real and it will not be authentic and this is one of also key words for our festival— to be authentic, not to present fake cultures or to present any kind of fakeness ,so to speak, we present authentic things and in its very natural environment and frankly speaking, we are totally aware that Kazimierz constitutes like big part of success of the festival and anywhere else it would not work as well.
NYJTG: So, there is no reproduction of this anywhere else…
Robert: No. You know, you can move the same events, our concerts, our lecture series, workshop series, etcetera, etcetera, you can physically move them but having them here in Kazimierz they got totally different meaning.
And the festival is not only events; it’s also this atmosphere around, it’s this heritage which is here. When you don’t have these roots, because these are roots of our festival, Kazimierz, Jewish history in Kazimierz where the heritage is, without it, it would be just an event, and here it is a real celebration of contemporary Jewish life, precisely in the place where it was created for centuries and when it is returned, because you know the Jewish community here in Poland is growing especially in Krakow.
NYJTG: Yes, especially in Krakow, I heard the community is growing and people are coming back.
Robert: You know, a few days ago, a Jewish kindergarten was open, for the first time after the war, so it shows about the development of the Jewish community.
NYJTG: Where are the artists, the performers coming from? How long is the event?
Robert: … So the festival lasts nine days. This year we start on June 24th and the festival last until July 2nd. We have two hundred and twelve events, so it’s really a very, very intense program of events and to present this event, we invited two hundred and six persons and majority of them comes from Israel. So, Israel, Poland, United States are three major, let’s say sources for our artists and we also have some individuals from places like Germany, Great Britain, Morocco but Israelis folks and US citizens constitute majority of our artists, presenters, instructors, lecturers.
NYJTG: How many participants do you expect for the festival compared to last year?
Robert: For last year, this number of participants is quite on the same level and it circulates around thirty thousand people. So, the audience is very international, however, majority, we made some researches a few years ago at the festival and it turned out that almost seventy percent of our audience are Poles and they are predominately not Jewish and then thirty percent comes from first of all Israel, then United States and various European countries and those foreign members of our audience, they are mostly Jewish but still, the majority of the participants are not Jewish.
NYJTG: The goal of the festival is to bridge the culture between the Jewish and the Poles. This has reflected some real changes in the way the Poles have viewed the Jewish culture. Some people went back to rediscover their roots or some travel to Israel, is this possible?
Robert: Yes, definitely, yes. For many years especially when the festival started, was launched in 1988 and for many years, you know, there were Jews living here in Poland in Krakow of course…they were still living in hiding, I mean, they were not… after experiences of past decade, they were really not very interested and brave so to speak, to come out and to live as Jews; they were treated as different, the society was not ready to accept them. So for many years, our festival was the only like Jewish event in the public sphere. What is interesting is Jewish events has been organized by non-Jews.
NYJTG: Eight-five percent of the festival participants and organizers are not Jewish is this correct to say?
Robert: It about seventy percent. We have some Jewish volunteers, speaking in terms of like staff members who are only Jews and for many years. We were having the festival for many people which was their first encounter with Jewish culture, first encounter with their heritage and many people who are now very active members of the Jewish community here, some of the members of the JCC council Krakow, they say during the festival for the first time they felt like Jews, because they felt like members of the Jewish community, right….…the Jewish families because many people from abroad where coming to the festival, mainly Jews and it was first time for them to meet with them, to speak and to discover step by step their heritage, their family tradition and yes, because you know, the festival played very significant role in like revitalization of the Jewish life in Krakow but also in Poland and also in practical terms, revitalization of Kazimierz, that was very abandoned, neglected neighborhood before 1989 and festival brought attention to this district and also brought some of the investment here here and now, you see that Kazimierz is one of the most lively neighborhoods in our city.
NYJTG: It is amazing that the festival has brought the seminars, the lectures etc; this platform is a connection to their life and to their roots.
Roberts: You know, we also say that, I mean, it’s speaking in very general of the festivals, not the events are the most important part of the festival but what is going on between people outside of these events, it’s that interaction when you get to know each other. For many people and also we receive some testimony somehow, sometimes via email after the festival, people write that; you know, it was the first time that I could get to speak to someone from Israel, they are great people, so now I know what to think about Israel, right because when you only, you know base on media reports, you know how it is.
NYJTG: Face-to-face interaction is the best.
Robert: Person-to-person. And that’s we know that we create and we’re very proud of, even more proud than with this two hundred and twelve events that we created, right? This is great but even greater is really just to people for them, so that’s really, let’s say, deep motivation to do it but we’re really bringing people together going through the drifts, back and forth, from Polish to Jewish sides, right, during the festival and finally leaving stereotypes somewhere on the way and just having this personal experience and knowledge from the first hands on both sides.
So, it’s not only that Poles or non-Jews learn about Jews but that Jewish can finally learn about Poles and meet with them, because I mean, you know, that would improve their opinion about Poland in Jewish media in America but also Israel. Israel, let’s say is complicated and so many people,many foreigners, Americans or Israelis when they are coming here, they say; it was hard for us to make this decision to come Poland because we’ve heard so much bad things about Poland and all we see in reality is different. Of course…
NYJTG: So, the event brings up so many opportunities…
Robert: Absolutely but the festival is really an open space and when you come to the festival, you will see it’s really welcoming and an open space for everyone.
NYJTG: Which of your programs are most attended? Seminars, Conferences, Cantorial?
Robert: You know, music has become like a trademark of the festival, so and people, I mean, most of the people coming to the festival they participate in the concerts and it’s also because of the capacity of the concert hall as a whole, which is Temple synagogue is much larger. Other events like workshops or guided tours, they can be limited number of participants but they are always sold out and I’ll say after concert, on the second place there are lectures. It’s hard to believe but at the beginning of the summer, more than hundred people come every two hours and listen to some lecture of the festival. You hear lectures from noon to eight pm and every second hour there is different lecture and each time, the lecture hall is packed with people, meaning hundred, hundred and fifty people is coming to listen…
NYJTG: To different…
Robert: Yes, to different lectures topics, seminars, discussions and they actively participate, certainly, they sit and listen. They ask questions, they interact.
NYJTG: Question and answers?
Robert: Exactly and you know, it’s beginning of the summer when what most of the people would think about was sea, river and lake.. They hear, they want to listen, they want to participate, they want to learn more and they want to experience it… That’s fascinating.
NYJTG: Absolutely, you’re doing a great job. I read about the Taxi Link: A Journey Through Jerusalem … can you explain what is this project all about?
Robert: That’s the project which was, you know, done by the Israelis for the first time, have been out for the Arts festival in Australia two years ago and we love the idea very much, plus when we were planning this festival about Jerusalem, we were missing a little bit like very physicalexperience, right? So, for the people and where we came across from our partners from Jerusalem, they had this project Taxi Link and it’s perfect for people to experience at least a little bit of Jerusalem.
There is one car, I mean it’s like a little bit fake car, right, that stays here in Kazimierz, Krakow, next to our Cheder Café, it’s like filled with various electronics, you have screens, you have cameras there, you have microphones and everything and it’s connected via internet with a real car which is circulating in Jerusalem and you also have the cameras and everything. So when you enter this festival car, festival car here and you look outside of window, you see the street of Jerusalem. And you can order, you know, you can ask the driver to take you to some destination within the city and you can speak with a driver and…
NYJTG: You can speak to the driver as well?
Robert: Yes, real time… So, it’s really a very physical experience and it is also interesting, these are not like regular taxi drivers but our partners in Jerusalem. After this project, they ask some people who are very much engaged in the development of Jerusalem to be drivers. So we will speakwith like people who are working in the culture or in business or owners some galleries, some bars, who know the cities very well, who are born Jerusalemites. So, this is really greatest involved physical connection between Krakow and Jerusalem.
That’s an amazing project and also, we only hope that technique will not let us down.
NYJTG: Robert, many thanks for your time and sharing your valuable insight about the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow.
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By Meyer Harroch – New York Jewish Travel Guide