Jewish Journal

Article Highlights Jewish Culture Festivals in Europe

by Ruth Ellen Gruber

May 27, 2012 | 2:14 am

Crowds flocking to the Izaak synagogue on the first 7@Nite festival in Krakow last year. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

An article in The Forward advocates something that I have long urged travellers to do—use some of the many Jewish culture and other such festivals in Europe as anchor points for summer travels.

The article highlights just two festivals—the wellknown Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, and the lesser known festival in Trebic, Czech Republic.

The Třebíč festival is made up of storytellers, musicians, historians and dancers. Most are local, though some come from nearby Prague; the well-known mix with newcomers, locals who are investigating their history by learning the music, dance and literature of the past.

Krakow and Třebíč offer an alternative way to feel what was lost and experience what remains. Festivals are a means for heritage-oriented tourists to engage in more than anguish; a chance for those who want to experience a center of Jewish culture to do so unabashedly and, in the process, meet locals of a variety of faiths gathered for a communal celebration of Jewish life.

Read more here.

But—as I point out in the annual list of festivals that I compile for jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com —there are dozens of Jewish culture and other festivals around Europe each year. My annual list includes only a fraction. There may be as many as 20 or 30 in Poland alone.

One of the most exciting—and one of the ones that actually has a direct connection to reviving Jewish life—takes place next weekend, June 2-3. It is the second edition of 7@Nite, or what I called the “night of the living synagogues” in Krakow.

On that night, all seven synagogues (and former synagogues) in Krakow’s historic Jewish district, Kazimierz, are open to the public, each one hosting a different event or activity that highlights contemporary Jewish life.

As I wrote in a JTA column last year, after the first 7@Nite:

I’ve never seen anything quite like it, even though I’ve followed the development of Kazimierz for more than 20 years—from the time when it was an empty, rundown slum to its position now as one of the liveliest spots in the city.

I’ve witnessed—and chronicled—the development of Jewish-themed tourism, retail, entertainment and educational infrastructure in Krakow, including the Jewish Culture Festival that draws thousands of people each summer. And I’ve written extensively about the interest of non-Jews in Jewish culture.

But Seven at Night was something different. For one thing, nostalgia seemed to play no role. And also, unlike many of the Jewish events and attractions in Kazimierz, this one was organized and promoted by Jews themselves.

It was their show, kicking off with a public Havdalah ceremony celebrated by Rabbi [Boaz] Pash that saw hundreds of people singing and dancing in the JCC courtyard.

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The award-winning American writer Ruth Ellen Gruber has chronicled contemporary Jewish developments in Europe for more than two decades. As the author of National Geographic...

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