At a time when there were no such open-air concerts in Krakow a stage suddenly appeared in Szeroka, and it became part of the landscape of Kazimierz and Krakow so much that it’s now as obvious and associated with Kazimierz as the Old Synagogue, Klezmer Hois, Alchemia and Singer pubs. Does anyone remember the time when they were not part of Kazimierz?
Once upon a time Kazimierz was an island. On the one side the Vistula river, on the other the Vistula sandbar. Krakow was the capital of Poland and Casimir the Great (in Polish called Kazimierz Wielki) was its king. In 1335 he decided to build a new town, far from Krakow, and establish there a new academic centre and give more living space to the townspeople.
When Kazimierz was founded, the Jews had already been living in the centre of Krakow and did not intend to move from there. Their synagogue stood where the Jagiellonian University’s oldest building, the Collegium Maius is located today. They weren’t even considering to leave Krakow. But because there was a strong belief among the Christians that the Jews killed Christian children and added their innocent blood to their matzos and that they also started fires, not to mention spreading the plague, following the fire that broke out in Krakow in 1494, the Jews were banished to an island of isolation called Kazimierz.
And so they found themselves in Szeroka Street.
We go back to Szeroka Street – some as descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, others aware of their cultural heritage, yet others, Poles for generations, born here in this sorrowful land – to shout and sing to the world disagreement to this lie, as ancient as pagan beliefs. And as alive as they are.
We go back to Szeroka Street – Jews, Poles, agnostics and mystics, Christians and followers of the Mosaic faith, unbelievers and believers in the One though differently, people free of stigmas, open to others – to dance and sing in this one and only place in the world, that pluralism and diversity are both the will of God and of each of us, that this is the time and place where, by respecting all otherness, a rare act of spiritual unity takes place.
We go back to Szeroka Street with the message of Peace – Shalom, aware that the peace between people is an illusion. But in this naïve and admittingly desperate attempt to charm the reality for just a few hours of elation, I see a healing sense, in contrast to the attitude of many people expressed with a sceptical question of what the point is of a temporary effort to resurrect a world that has disappeared. What do I care about these people and their ridiculous questions? After all, it is not about impossible resurrection, but about the fullness of life, the joy of coexistence, respect for the others expressed by a handshake, especially here and now in the contemporary world, full of prejudices, anti-Semitism and a pandemic of hatred.
What we create together in Szeroka is almost a miracle: show me please another place on Earth where several thousand people from almost every part of the world, oblivious to the fact that you can differ so beautifully, find themselves and lose themselves in a space of Jewish culture where there is no division between “Jews” and “non-Jews”, but there is a spiritual bond above all divisions, the magic of universal gestures and ordinary words, a community of pure, almost childish feelings, universal harmony and acceptance.
It reveals Szeroka Street filled with thousands of people, thirsty for music and closeness to light, I hold a shofar in my hands and stare at your faces, I think about those who were here before us.
I am full of joy and sadness at the same time, because in this place where for centuries Jewish life used to glow like ner tamid which few people remember today and few want to remember today … the only thing we can do is be together and make sure that everyone has place in the Jewish Town of Kazimierz immersed in the Kingdom of Time.
The rabbis light a Havdalah candle on the stage, prolonging the holy time, the announcement of eternity, the prophet Elijah appears for a split second, blesses us and the coming of another week, as he did for centuries, before the light of Szeroka went out for so many years, the light is now burning again, your hearts are burning and in Szeroka Street a call may be heard, like before.
It is long past midnight, and we have long lost the sense of time. The instruments are silent, but the lights are still on. Those on stage and the ones in you.
I lift the shofar, the curved ram’s horn, the only instrument that has survived from the rich instrument collection of the Jerusalem Temple, its sound used to penetrate the white stones of the City of David, Solomon, Isaiah and Joshua and it still does… and I begin to blow, a majestic and full sound, the voice of joy and deliverance in the tents of the just” (Ps. 118) resounds ceaselessly in the Jewish Town of Kazimierz…
founder and director of the
Jewish Culture Festival
photos: archive, Bogdan Krężel, Bartosz Dittmar, Michał Ramus