The last time I wrote, I had just summed up my time spent in Warsaw, the first city of my journey this summer. Since then, I have explored Krakow, Berlin, and Prague – three cities that are as diverse in narrative as they are rich in the stories they have to tell.
To start with my time in Krakow, it’s hard to find a place to begin. If I were to pick a word to describe Krakow for me, it would be a Yiddish word: heymish – “like home.” I came to Krakow this summer knowing one person. Within the expanse of five days, I grew to know an entire community. The story of Krakow, particularly the story of its Jewish community, is one of the greatest stories ever to be told. The city and its people stand as a testament to time saying that while history must be remembered, and certainly not repeated, one cannot live in it – one can and must find a way to move forward.
The Jewish Community of Krakow is so amazing because after being nearly decimated in the Holocaust, the community has risen from the ashes and become one again. Within 25 years since the fall of Communism, Jewish people in Poland have decided to go back to their roots and embrace their Jewish identities once again. During my time in Krakow, I had the chance to interview many people who for most of their lives, did not know they were Jewish. Whether they found out from family members or ancestral research of their own – the people I met were faced with a choice. After discovering the truth behind their ancestries, they had to decide whether they would embrace their family’s past and the opportunity to have a Jewish identity or if they would they ignore it. Judaism wasn’t something they could take for granted – being Jewish was an act of choice. Taking on a religion is a big decision to make, and at such a young age, it could change the course of your life. Today, it seems that hundreds of people in Poland, young and old, are making this choice to claim the heritage that was always in them.
As Jewish people, I feel that no matter we come from, no matter what biases we might hold, we need to help each other and support one another in our endeavors. We are one people, one international community, and if we don’t step up and support each other in our efforts to make a home– who will? It is time to start changing the dialogue and it is time to start reaching out. I am convinced it will make the world – and not just the Jewish world – a much better place.
Now before I move on, I have to thank all the people I met in Krakow for an incredibly beautiful extremely eye opening week. Whether it was interviewing Krakow residents, attending events at the Jewish cultural festival, or just simply exploring the city - it was one of the best weeks of my life and I am so indebted to the people I met who took me in. Kris, Olga, Sara, Serhii, Marcjanna, and the students of the Krakow Jewish Students Club – thanks so much for your friendship and kindness. I was a stranger and you all made me feel like I was home. I felt like Charlie in Perks of Being a Wallflower – when Sam says, “You see things, you understand. You’re a wallflower.” Not that my goal here is to be a silent observer, but for me to go to Krakow and listen to all of your stories – it was an incredible experience for me. You all befriended me, no questions asked, and made me feel like I was a “Krakower” (this is a term I just made up – it’s like Berliner – but for Krakow, and I think I like it). You all are incredible people and I cannot wait to see you all again one day.
To Agnieszka, thank you so much for you sweetness and willingness to help with whatever I needed. It was so wonderful to interview you. Thank you for helping my parents when they came to Krakow a week after me, they love you as well! To Marek Tuszewicki, Ruth Ellen Gruber, Monika Elliot, thank you all so much for your time and your willingness to answer my questions. I learned so much and it was so great to speak with you all. Lastly, to Jonathan Ornstein, thank you so much for your time. Your work as director of the Jewish Community Center in Krakow is incredible – you are a true leader of the Jewish people and the international Jewish community is indebted to your passion and efforts in building Jewish life in Krakow. You are truly one of a kind.
Sending much love from Rosenthaler Straße & the vibrant capital of Germany.
Until next time,