What you (probably) don’t know about "Shalom in Szeroka"?

When the 15,000 audience is focused on what is happening on stage, when they spin around and experience the adventure of their lives, around the stage, behind the stage, and sometimes on the stage things happen that are worth remembering. Although sometimes it would be better to forget them, such as the story of a parachute which served as roof at one of the first concerts and which tore under the pressure of water (of course there was a heavy downpour!), drenching everything and everyone on the stage ….

Sometimes there were problems that you never even noticed, but of course there are also funny, nice, touching moments which are worth remembering!

Listen and find out for yourselves!

Analogue World Championship

In 1992, a Nysa (old Polish mini truck) delivery van arrived and parked around the Shalom stage in Szeroka; it was full of audio cassettes from the 3rd Jewish Culture Festival which was just about to end! Yes! Two cassettes with music from the festival concert at the Tempel synagogue: Shlomo Bar, The Klezmatics, Adrienne Cooper, Shura Lipovsky, Jeff Warschauer and Deborah Strauss … Two thousand of them sold in a blink of an eye, we were completely stunned by the success and we never managed to do it again … :)

It was one of the festival miracles!

Stage diving

An inseparable element of fun at many outdoor concerts is stage diving. And in Szeroka? There, the flow of people between the stage and the audience is limited by a camera trolley that goes there and back along the stage. However, it didn’t stop Shalom’s one and only stage dive in history. Didn’t you notice? It was the most original dive into the audience ever! It was performed by the 77-year-old Raymonde Abecassis, who used the photographer Michał Ramus to beat the height of the stage and camera trolley, and after finding herself among the audience – she hugged everyone nearby.

Theodore Bikel: the sound of silence

The famous Jewish bard recalls, “There were about 15,000 people on the square and I asked them for absolute silence. ‘Listen to this silence, listen to it well. It’s the silence left behind by the voices that once could be heard here – the Jews who used to look out of those windows. These voices were forced to remain silent forever, now we must become their voices.’ And I sang a song that became the hymn of the survivors: Zog nit keinmol az du gayst dem lecten weg / Never say this is the last road. The eyes of hardly anyone remained dry, and mine were filled with tears.”

Anna Dodziuk in her book The Second Soul. About twenty Jewish Culture Festivals (that this quote comes from) writes about the same event, “When Bikel asked everyone to be silent, I was frantic because I thought he would fail and that the happy teens would continue jumping and shouting. But he actually silenced the dancing Szeroka Street. People remained silent until he finished singing.”

Festival Allstars vs. Small Stars

Everyone knows that the stage at Szeroka hosts the greatest Jewish music stars from around the world. But according to the principle of dor le dor (that is, from generation to generation), which is the festival’s motto, during Shalom there are also debuts! The most spectacular was the performance of Klezmer Small Stars, that is girls participating in klezmer workshops with Deborah Strauss. They used to attend her classes for many years and during the 21st JCF they performed on the big stage during the grand finale – next to the greatest starts of klezmer music! That’s what we call a good start, huh ?!

Restless rains

“It’s amazing: you stand on stage and see again how after a week of cloudless skies it gets cloudy and then it starts to rain about an hour before the concert. And the audience stands there, listens to the music and looks very happy,” Alan Bern tells Anna Dodziuk in the book.

And Deborah Strauss adds: “(…) when it was raining as always, a sea of umbrellas could be seen. I knew they were dancing there, but all I could see was a sea of umbrellas.”

And Sanne Morricke compared them to multicoloured popcorn.

Frank London, “(…) David Krakauer was on stage. It started pouring really hard and there was a power cut so the entire sound system went silent. I remember, I was at the opposite end of Szeroka at the back of the audience, David continued playing with the drums and the sound of his clarinet could be heard flowing through this space over ten thousand people. It was a beautiful moment.”

JCF's most sought after goods

Do you know what the most sought after commodity of JFC is? No, these are not tickets for the Cantors’ Concert at all, nor for Leopold Kozłowski’s concerts during the artist’s lifetime. So what is it then?

These are strictly limited admissions to the backstage of the Shalom concert in Szeroka. There is a tent there, in which the musicians wait for their concert: they relax, or have their last rehearsals before going on stage. Sometimes they can’t stop playing after leaving the stage and then things happen there that even the most daring Mash-upers would not have invented, astounding the keepers of the purity of Klezmer music.

Often amazing, improvised concerts, competitive to Shalom take place there, bringing together musicians that no one would dare to put on stage together. But only artists, organizers and volunteers are allowed there. No VIP badge nor any other identifier can soften the muscles of the security agents banning access to festival backstage.

A race with the rabbis

Havdalah has been held at Shalom for many years – a ceremony dividing the holy Sabbath time from ordinary time. The beginning of a new week. Several Krakow rabbis always take part in it. But to make this possible, preparations begin on Thursday evening.

The first step is to get their consent to participate in Havdalah by phone. The second is to determine where the particular rabbi will spend the Sabbath and where to pick him up before the ceremony itself to take him backstage. Not only a team of volunteers, but also security guards are assigned to each of the rabbis.

The volunteers shake with apprehension all Sabbath. Will anything change, will the rabbi forget, and change his plans for Shabbat when it is impossible to communicate with them, and Havdalah has its strictly defined time.

So just before the end of Sabbath, each group, consisting of volunteers and security guards, waits in the places arranged with the rabbis on Thursday and as soon as they appear in the door, a race begins through the streets of Kazimierz, paving the way through the dancing crowd, culminating with a beautiful ceremony to mark the end of the Sabbath on stage.

These are just some of the backstage stories from "Shalom in Szeroka" which you might not have heard. But at the same time things which we can’t even imagine as we focus on the concert probably take place on your side of the stage.

If you know any such stories and would like to share them with us, write to us and send us pictures. We’re very curious to know what happens on the other side of the stage! We’d like to know what your personal Shalom in Szeroka is like.

Shalom on Szeroka Street
Shalom – basic facts
Shalom – stories
Shalom – multimedia


photos: Edyta Dufaj, Andrzej Głuc, Paweł Mazur, Bogdan Krężel, Bartosz Dittmar
poster of the 3rd JCF designed by Piotr Kunce
quotation from the book by Anna Dodziuk
“Second Soul. About 20 Jewish Culture Festivals in Krakow.”,
published by Czarna Owca, Warszawa, 2010

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