Cantors’ concert during the JCF 2018.
Festival and Debates Concerning the Heritagization of ‘Jewish culture’ in Poland
In 1988 a small event dedicated to ‘reminding the public about the Jewish history of Poland and Jewish contribution to development of our country, its culture and society’ was organized in Kraków. The city‘s district of Kazimierz – until the WWII one of the most important centers of Polish Jews – was at that time in a state of ruin and neglect. The absence of its past inhabitants was visible through the empty windows of old tenements, the synagogues’ closed gates, abandoned courtyards and overgrown cemeteries. Physical absence reflected the absence of Jews in Polish history books, school programs and the lack of ‘Jewish things […] in a cultural social dispute’ during this time. Yet, the 1988 event attracted a significant audience and during the following years it turned into an annual 10-day long ‘Jewish Culture Festival’ centered in Kazimierz.
Today the Jewish Culture Festival is one of the city’s most important and popular annual events. Originally organized by two local Polish activists, who got interested in ‘Jewish culture’ not known to them from family homes nor from school, it is now famous across the whole country and is recognized by many Jews in Israel and the diaspora. The HERILIGION team analyses the JCF and its influence on the heritagization of Kazimierz district that over the last 30 years transformed into a celebrated ‘historical Jewish district’, as well as into a vibrant and fashionable tourist area. We also analyze relations between the Festival and a broader debate concerning ‘Jewish heritage’ in contemporary Poland. What does this term mean? Who is seen as an inheritor? What are the disputes around the museumification of Jewish culture? How does the Festival situate itself in relation to the recent revival of Jewish religious life in Kraków?