Tuesday, 8 July 2014

FKŻ - Jewish Culture Festival

Once a year, my sweet city turns into a flourishing, vibrant capital of the Jewish culture. During this first week of July, you will find in Cracow anything you can think of: lectures, concerts, workshops, discussions and sight-seeing, common prayers and dinners. The festival embraces the whole rich Jewish heritage: Eastern European or Middle Eastern, religous or secular, ancient or brand new. Everything takes place in the lovely district of Kazimierz, which makes a perfectly picturesque atmosphere for that kind of event. Obviously, I coudn't resist it!
As soon as I noticed the name of Rabbi Avi Baumol (Religion and high tech at the JCC) in the festival program, I knew his lecture was a must. And I was right. He described the Bamidbar, Book of Numbers (the fourth Book of the Torah) in such a way that it seemed an adventure story rather than a Holly Book. All the Biblical heroes suddenly became flesh-and-blood people, experiencing struggles and frustrations we are all familiar with. Don't get me wrong, the lecture was far from a naive simplification of the Torah - it was a combination of tradition-immersed spirituality, thorough knowledge, and its life application. Isn't that the kind of preaching we've always been longing for?
I came back to the JCC the other day for the 'Latke-Hamantaschen' debate. This event first took place at the University of Chicago in 1946 and managed to amuse thousands of people worldwide ever since. The rules are simple: each side has to convince the audience which of these two (fried potato pancake or triangle-shaped cookie) is "the perfect Jewish food:. In order to do so, they use the most sophisticated, elaborate and abstract arguments you can think of - referring to history, politics, Bible, gender studies etc. The outcome is juat unbelievably funny. What I loved in particular was that all the people taking part in the debate (mostly American Jews) were so deeply rooted in their culture, treating it as something totally natural to enjoy their identity to the full.
At the top of it all, there was Szalom na Szerokiej, the yearly open-air finale concert of the festival. The atmosphere was the quintessence of the whole FKŻ's diversity. On the Szeroka street, you could see people of all ages, personalities and nationalities, chatting relaxedly or bouncing to the rythm of all kinds of Jewish melodies. Magnificent.
Expect the second part of my FKŻ experiences to be described in a few days. The topic: kibbutzim!

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