Beit Kraków Jewish Creative Community

In 6 years of our work in Poland, a country often dismissed by some diaspora circles as a “Jewish cemetery”, we have organized over 850 creative, engaging, meaningful and transformative Jewish events that have impacted tens of thousands of people, attracting local and international attention.

Location: Kraków , Małopolska/Galicia
Year founded: 2009

Description

Beit Krakow is a dynamic, creative Progressive Jewish community, with young membership and committed leadership, working to reclaim our country’s Jewish past as we engage in building its future. We believe that the experience of Polish Jews, their history of survival and renewal, are vital to our collective Jewish identity. Since 2009 we have been working to rebuild a meaningful Jewish life in Poland. In that time we have organized over 850 events that have reanimated Jewish life in Krakow. We are the first Progressive Jewish community in southern Poland, created in response to the nearly seven-decade vacuum in the opportunity for meaningful, sophisticated, inclusive and relevant Judaism that resulted from the Shoah and 50 years of the Communist rule. We put great emphasis on creating quality and we ensure that even the simple Jewish events organized by Beit Krakow are inspirational, educational and engaging. We aim to inspire the new generation of Jewish activists and leaders, confident and equipped with knowledge to continue building a stable future for what we believe to be one of the most exciting Jewish communities in the world. We provide an inclusive and welcoming environment, in which people from various walks of life and at different points in their Jewish journeys can take a step forward in exploring their Jewish identity.

Through a combination of a rich variety of educational, religious, and cultural programs we are building a strong basis for a Jewish future in Poland, while inspiring the creation of modern Jewish culture. In this spirit we have pioneered a number of cutting-edge programs at the intersection of learning and the arts:

- The Midrash Theatre – a professional Jewish Theatre working under the auspices of Beit Krakow, exploring relevant themes and issues of the contemporary Jewish-Polish reality and the spiritual legacy of the Jewish people. Since 2008 thanks to the initiative of Rabbi and accomplished theatre director Tanya Segal, a group of professional artists have been creating original theatre performances, inspired by traditional Jewish texts. Over the past seven years they have developed the following productions: Melody of Silence (2008), Mysteries of My Grandma (2009), Five (P)Arts (2012), Megilat Polin (2013) and The Lonely Tango of Vera Gran (2014). (Sample trailer of one of the performances exploring the discovery one's Jewish identity late in life: )

- The Midrash Lab – a series of creative Jewish Art Laboratories and educational sessions aimed at increasing Jewish literacy, while inspiring Jewish creativity. An innovative approach embedded in the process provides its recipients with a systematic program of in-depth study of Jewish sources, while inspiring a creative and active interaction with them via various artistic disciplines. In the course of the project the following artistic midrashim were created: two exhibitions ("The words of Kohelet in images" exhibit of fine arts by Aga Nowak and the "Song of Songs" modern photography exhibit by Anna Zakrzewska), a multidisciplinary installation "Five (P)Arts", a short film based on the Book of Ruth by Agnes Frankel, two performances of the Midrash Theatre ("Five (P)Arts" and "Megilat Polin") a musical midrash "Eikha" created by Mikolaj Trzaska, and musical midrashim “ABYA”, “Shma Israel”, “Shirat haYam” and “Maim” composed by Michal Pal'ko. (Examples of the "Words of Kohelet in images" exhibition in different spaces: 1) In an old Synagogue around the Bimah: http://www.manufaktura-obrazu.pl/Pano/Kohelet/1_eq... 2) In the Galicia Jewish Museum: http://www.manufaktura-obrazu.pl/Pano/KoheletGalicja/KoheletReady.html.)

- Musical Shabbat – an original project that serves our mandate of inspiring and creating new Jewish culture in present-day Poland. Musical Shabbat aims to fuse the Eastern European tradition of chazzanut with contemporary musical styles, to create an experience of contemporary worship deeply rooted in local tradition. (Sample video: http://vimeo.com/99563121) - Niggun Jam – a series of musical workshops introducing and familiarizing audiences with traditional Galician niggunim presented in traditional and contemporary musical arrangements.

- Progressive Illustrated Siddur – when we established our community of Beit Krakow over 6 years ago, one of the first things we needed to do was to produce an elementary Siddur, which would allow us to hold even the most basic service in Hebrew and Polish. Though there are several Siddurim available in Poland, up to now all of them have been published by the Orthodox community and therefore were not suitable for the needs of a young community learning the progressive approach. The Siddur we have managed to produce thus far has been a collective effort of Beit Kraków members and has helped us grow as a community. It has also taught us communal responsibility for rebuilding Jewish life in Poland, sometimes from scratch. We are on the verge of finalizing and printing our collective Siddur, illustrated with various images produced by our own artists and derived from various Jewish books published in pre-war Poland. We believe that such a personal and visually attractive design will make an important statement about the viability and growing strength of the Jewish community in Poland and about our memory and spiritual connection to our roots here in Poland. (Some sample spreads, still work in progress: http://www.beitkrakow.pl/progressive-siddur/)

- Midrash Kitchen – another form of creative expression, this time through the art of bakery. Midrash Kitchen engages audiences in learning about the current parsha by taking advantage of their sweet tooth. Every week for a year, Dina Banachiewicz, who undertook the project, created her own original recipes that reflected her response to current parsha, stemming from her in-depth study of traditional midrashim and commentary as well as her own creative interpretation. The incarnation of each recipe was then presented as part of Oneg Shabbat every Friday with a brief drash and quiz. And the reward for correctly deciphering the meaning of the recipe or offering a compelling interpretation – a sweet satisfaction. (Sample parsha-related baked art: http://www.beitkrakow.pl/2013/06/korach-%D7%A7%D6%B9%D7%A8%D6%B7%D7%97/)

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All of this plus building a community from scratch with only one employee – the rabbi – and a dedicated core of incredibly motivated and skilled volunteers. Our unique approach of building a community with a strong emphasis on the arts has given us recognition and we are increasingly looked to as a leader and appreciated for the quality of our events. This resulted in even more opportunities for co-operations and partnerships and growing number of requests of support from other organizations and emerging communities.

Contemporary Jewish Theatre in Krakow - a space for dialogue and creativity

About


Established
in 1910, The Krakow Yiddish Theatre on 7 Pusta Street was one of the
most vital and groundbreaking Yiddish Theatres in Europe. It played
host to one of the first stagings of “The Dybbuk” in 1921, in
1926 it became an official city-sponsored Theatre of Krakow and from
1926-1945 was run by the Krakow Jewish Theatre Society, composed of a
group of prominent Jewish cultural leaders, including Mordecai
Gebirtig and Moses Kanfer. During this period, they regularly staged
work by the world’s greatest Jewish playwrights, including Sholem
Aleichem, Ernest Toller and Sholem Ash. In addition, the society
programmed concerts, poetry readings, experimental theatre
performances, visual art exhibitions and ran a theatre conservatory.
It was one of the most remarkable beacons of Jewish Culture in Krakow
that ended abruptly in 1945 and whose history is all but been
forgotten.



Until
Now.



We
are going to restore the presence of the Krakow Jewish Theatre, in
its historic location, as a new entry point into modern Jewish art,
thought, culture, identity and history in connection to contemporary
Poland.



Today
the Polish Jewish community is simultaneously one of the most
exciting Jewish communities in the world (with a slew of Jewish
artists, thinkers, community builders and social entrepreneurs) and
one of the most emotionally charged and stereotyped places for Jews
in the world. In a city of Krakow – 70 km from Auschwitz - visited
by over 100 000 Jewish tourists yearly, there is a great need to
create spaces that build awareness and connection and allow for new
ways of engaging with and unpacking the complicated medley of
Polish-Jewish relations.



We
are a group of professional Jewish artists and cultural leaders,
rooted in Beit Krakow, originating from Poland, Israel and North
America with strong ties to both international Jewish and artistic
communities. Collectively we have been working in Poland and
Internationally to strengthen and grow Jewish culture and communities
in Poland. We are deeply passionate about our contributions to
contemporary Jewish-Culture and believe in the poignancy of
rigorously promoting active, living and positive contemporary Jewish
activities in Poland as a way to engage with the magnificent legacy
of prewar Polish-Jewish culture while also commemorating those who
were lost during the Shoah.



We
want to pay tribute to the theatre's legacy by presenting
thought-provoking, original, bold and impactful programming spanning
all aspects of Jewish culture: theatre, music, film, thought,
politics, visual arts, spirituality etc.



Over
the last century the building of the former Jewish Theatre has
undergone numerous incarnations, paralleling the history of the
Jewish community in Poland. It currently is owned by a tenants co-op
and rented as a store. For as little as US $1000 we could
re-establish the presence of the once-again groundbreaking Jewish
Theatre in Krakow.


Once
rented we could begin to organize programming almost immediately,
with the resources of Beit Krakow and simultaneously begin a capital
campaign to renovate and reinvigorate this heritage sight. The key at
the moment is to rent the building, which is situated in a very
attractive part of the Krakow's Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz).




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What is the mission and purpose of this program?


The
mission of the project is to re-establish the presence of the Jewish
Theatre in Krakow and to pay tribute to its historical role and
legacy.



We
believe that a nation cannot exist without culture and if Jewish life
in Poland is to be authentic and have strong foundations for the
future, new Jewish culture needs to be fostered and cultivated.
Moreover the Jewish community needs to give back to society by
creating culture and art not only for itself but for the broader
Polish society as well as for the Jewish global community. 


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Program Description


The
program is a completely new initiative, conceived as an idea just a
few months ago, when we discovered this 400 sq meters run-down
building in the courtyard of a tenement in Kazimierz. We had thought
the building did not exist anymore and found it by complete chance.
We have since been working to uncover the history of the building,
build awareness and support within the community and other
organizations and develop a long-term strategy.


Our
approach to the project would be to think big, but start small and
scale fast. In the beginning we would want to rent the building and
start working it in right away with the programming we already have
on offer. We would focus our activity on local and international
organizations with whom we have established contacts to build a brand
and recognition and create new programming.


In
the long term perspective the goal of the theatre would be to create
new, inspiring work stemming from Jewish values, traditions and
history and in dialogue with the contemporary Polish-Jewish reality.
We would create and invite work from various disciplines and place
great emphasis both on artistic and educational content. We would
want the theatre to become a place for experiment and dialogue, where
the important and painful conversations can happen, but with great
emphasis on the quality of art as well. Everything we would do would
at first be created in a small achievable scale (without compromising
the quality). For example we would begin creating work with our
established bases of artists (BK members) and slowly grow to provide
opportunities for international collaborations and residencies.


We
would serve primarily two types of audiences – the Polish speakers
(including the local Jewish community) and the English-speakers. Each
branch having a very different knowledge base, education, context and
needs. But each of them, we believe (and we see in our day-to-day
work in Poland), with a growing interest in the past, presence and
future of the Polish-Jewish community. It would be our task and the
task of collaborating artists to create a range of innovative and
engaging programing to open up hearts and mind of our audiences,
shift narratives and create new conversations on the subject, going
far beyond the current preliminary discourse taking place in Polish
and international media.


The
artistic programming would of course be complemented with educational
and spiritual aspects, answering to a broad range of needs of our
visitors and giving them an opportunity to interact first-hand with
an exciting, young, creative Jewish community on a variety of planes.  

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Demonstrated Need


With
the recent surge of revitalized Jewish culture in Poland, so too has
the popularity of Kazimierz, the remarkable Old Jewish District in
Krakow. Adorned with cobble-stones streets, original Jewish houses
and seven fully intact prewar synagogues that date as far back as the
15th century, stepping into Kazimierz feels like you are stepping
into a forgotten history.


Unfortunately,
with the exception of the 2-week Jewish Culture Festival in July (the
largest such Festival in Europe), the rest of the year offers people
very little access to anything representing high quality active
contemporary Jewish cultural programs. Of course there are Shabbat
services and occasional concerts, but for many, touring visitors are
often left with the notion that for the most part, Jewish Culture in
Poland is mostly gone.


With
the rebirth of the Krakow Jewish Theater Society, and the
re-establishment of year-round activities in the newly renovated and
revitalized building of the theatre, we will be re-establishing a
home for Jewish Theatre Culture in Krakow on daily basis, and bring
back one of the most important original homes for Jewish Culture in
the world.


The
Krakow Jewish Theatre will live both as a historical monument of the
great Jewish traditions of the past while simultaneously operating
with an aim to become one of the most prominent homes for Jewish
Theatre and Art in the world. In a building that once attracted the
greatest artists from around Europe, our goal will be to once again
open our doors to some of the greatest artists from around the world.
To create an incubator for some of the most exciting new Jewish Arts
& Culture in Europe and a platform for education, dialogue and an
exploration of modern Jewish identity in relationship to Poland and
Europe. We want the Krakow Jewish Theatre to serve as a glorious
representative of new Jewish Culture in Poland, and act as a beacon
for the global community to have access to what is perhaps one of the
most exciting Jewish phenomena in the world – the Jewish renewal in
Poland.


We
believe that such an institution would not only greatly strengthen
the local Jewish community, give it exposure, infrastructure and
opportunity for the future but also create a number of vital
conversations about global Jewry (for whom Poland remains still one
of the most important historical places).

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Program Accomplishments


We
have not yet begun to realize the project as presented in the
proposal. However neither would we be starting completely from
scratch. For the past 7+ years Beit Krakow has been running a modern
professional Jewish Theatre project under its auspices – the
Midrash Theatre initiated by Rabbi Tanya Segal (an educated theatre
director and actress). In the course of the past seven years we have
created a number of original performances and built initial
recognition and audiences for our initiative. The performances of the
Midrash Theatre have premiered at the Jewish Culture Festival year
after year, with many of them subsequently playing in other theatres,
festivals, for visiting groups or schools.


The
Beit Krakow community also has a great track record of original
artistic creations in the field of music, visual arts and
performance, with many of its members being professional artists
themselves.

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How do you measure the success of your program?


We
will measure our success both quantitatively (with the number of
people vising our Theatre) and qualitatively (with the level of
interest in cooperating with the theatre, the level of innovation and
artistic quality of the emerging projects, the media and tourist
interest, the impact it has on the city, the partnerships we will
build etc).


In
the first year, the measure of success will probably be quite easily
examined also in terms of financial support for the project and its
prognosis in terms of sustainability for the next years, after the
Natan funding ends.


Realistically
speaking, with a project like this, the success or the lack theof
will be pretty easily evident. 

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