How to be in several places at the same time, keep a cool head and composure when everything around is on fire, the telephone does not stop ringing and no help is coming? This is the ability which has been perfected by the Festival volunteer service coordinators. They are always somewhere in the shadow, working hard from dawn to late hours (or even small hours of the day?) – for the 10 Festival days.
They are at work long before the morning workshops begin. They finish their work a few hours after the last guests leave the Tempel Synagogue after an evening concert or the Alchemia pub after a night party…
Yet our collaboration cannot be reduced to the intensive Festival period. Our work starts already in winter, when we recruit volunteers, and each candidate is interviewed by two coordinators so that the objective choice is guaranteed.
In April, after the end of the recruitment process, the coordinators prepare a plan, guiding the volunteers through the entire period of preparations, leading to the culmination point, which is the JCF.
If you would like to know who has the best knowledge about the Festival behind-the-scenes, who will find the solution to any problem and all, and also who accompanies the Machers for the whole year – this is them: the volunteer service coordinators.
This year’s Festival outgrew even the most daring expectations of the entire team. We knew that forty volunteers from all corners of the world would mean one great adventure. And it went really like this: the diversity of cultures which we saw, made up one melting pot of all possible working styles, lives and experiences. This was an occasion to draw from one another; whilst, thanks to this, the Festival gained new and very bright colors and shades.
My first Festival that I worked for as a coordinator was quite unusual – first, it was a “pandemic” Festival; second – it was held after one year’s break; third – we hosted, for the first time, a group of volunteers from abroad who stayed for the whole month. I had some doubts about the project – as I had never taken part in such an undertaking before, not to mention in the role of an organizer. And although this month was quite intensive and stressful, it seems that both the volunteers and us managed to achieve something really important: not only to co-organize the Festival, but also to create some bond of understanding, get to know each other and develop new skills.
Being uncertain for a very long time, whether the project would take place or not, did not help either us or the volunteers. Thus the satisfaction is even larger when, a few weeks after the end of the project, I can still look back with joy at these few months of preparations and at their effect in a form of the most multicultural and multinational team of volunteers, bustling with life and good energy. From the coordinator’s perspective, I can say that there is nothing better than to see that, apart from the satisfaction in the tasks performed, also some extraordinary bonds and friendships are made within the team with which we work and for which we took responsibility and perhaps these binds are for life. This was my most important experience about the project which I ended with a whole lot of memories and good feelings experienced within the Kumzits project which I was responsible for, with dozen of kilometers covered biking in the rain, with numerous friends all over the world and with expectations what the next year would bring. Although this was a new, stressful and demanding experience, it was definitely worth taking the effort.
The work in a synagogue comprises a number of various tasks which are spread throughout an entire day – although the concerts are held in the evening. The day begins early so that the first technicians could be let inside; as the coordinator, during the Festival period holds the keys to the synagogue and knows which keys open which door. The technicians bring the instruments, set the stage and the lights. Often in the morning also the first (unexpected) guests arrive – the visitors – together with our magnificent guides.
This is the best time to get some breakfast and to see the rest of the Festival family. But … the next stage in the coordinator’s life comes quickly: the rehearsal. At that time, the coordinators and some volunteers (working in the green room and in the synagogue) may hear, for the first time, what will be performed in the evening.
Yet life is not only about pleasures – the rehearsal is also the best moment to count the seats in the synagogue, to plan the spacing of the volunteers, to think where more security officers might be needed. This is also the last call to grab something to eat (again!!!) before the concert, because later too much is going on, whereas – you know that one needs fuel to act.
And so it is! And we begin!
First thing: briefing with the volunteers. They guarantee that the entire event runs smoothly – like many others at the JCF. Nothing will work without them. There are at least 20 volunteers here, and with more demanding concerts – more volunteers are needed. Why so many? The answer revolves around the term which guides the majority of backstage actions in the synagogue – SAFETY.
The audience of a concert comprises about 500 people. This is a lot of people in a relatively small space of the beautiful, historic Tempel synagogue. The volunteers help to fill the synagogue space in a balanced way with the observance of all principles allowing to maintain safety – showing the way to the security exits, leading the audience to emptier sectors, helping the guests with disabilities and the VIPs to reach the seats designated for them.
The coordinator, apart from guaranteeing an efficient action of the volunteers, supervises also the work of the technicians and security officers, taking care of the comfort and safety of all the Festival guests.
In the synagogue there are a few groups of the technicians – their work makes the performances in the synagogue so exceptional. However – whether these are sound or light technicians – they should not get each other in the way and should not disturb one another – and here the coordinator is needed to know who, when, what and where will be doing and who will provide al the information with regards to the synagogue plan, all the entrances, electricity layout or even assist while loading the equipment.
Additionally, an important group of people working at each concert are the security officers – they provide the direct supervision over the safety of the guests and the JCF staff.
The coordinator consults the actions and spacing of the security officers with their chief so that everything should run smoothly. If something unexpected happens during the concert – it is the coordinator that has to take an urgent and appropriate decision.
But also… it is the coordinator of the synagogue that waits for the secret sign from Janusz Makuch, to switch off the synagogue chandeliers as a sign of the concert to start; and to see to the proper timing of lighting the candles on the menorahs at the Aron Ha-Kodesh, because without them Janusz will not enter the stage at all …
What can you gain from the work of a coordinator in a synagogue? The most important thing: the contact with people, volunteers, technicians, artists, security officers.
This is about getting to know many histories, and listening to the best music and sharing the memories and this magnificent energy.
photos: Edyta Dufaj, Karolina Moskała, Michał Ramus, Nastia Grinmann, The Machers