Friday, January 04, 2008


The Jewish Chronicle reports:

Polish cities are undergoing a Jewish cultural renaissance — led by non-Jews. Filmmaker Stuart Urban investigates the ‘pro-Semites’

Did you hear the one about the East European capital with scarcely any Jews, but two rival Jewish film festivals? That would be Warsaw.

At a packed Yiddish concert in the city, solidly Slavic types sing along. Most of the performers do not look any more Jewish than the crowd. Similarly, the punters who consume food at Jewish-style, non-kosher restaurants in Cracow, or films at the festivals in Warsaw, are mostly gentile.

There has been a remarkable revival of interest in all things Jewish — led by a small but high-achieving band of “pro-Semite” zealots. Central to this revival has been the Cracow International Festival of Jewish Culture, established in 1988 under the energetic (and non-Jewish) command of Janusz Makuch. The Cracow event is attended by 20,000 mostly Catholic Poles. Meanwhile, scholarly analyses of the Talmud in Polish enjoy print runs in excess of the number of potential Jewish readers.

Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, estimates there are 30-40,000 people in the country with Jewish roots who are active in some “Jewish” way, compared to a Jewish population of three million before the Holocaust. “I am very much in favour of non-Jews being interested in Jewish culture,” he says. “When they wanted to kill us, we were against this. Now that they want to learn about our culture, we should embrace it.”

Indeed, US-born Rabbi Schudrich has worked tirelessly with those promulgating the revival. Yet how can this resurgent interest in Jewish culture be occurring in a country that, for so many Jewish victims and survivors, was a bedrock of antisemitism?

The pivotal role of Pope John Paul II in reversing traditional attitudes to Jews in his profoundly Catholic homeland “cannot be underestimated”, according to Rabbi Schudrich. “He is the first, second and third reason why things changed” after centuries of religious prejudice.

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