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Machers' stories

A few hundred volunteers, who for more than 30 years of the JCF helped us in the organization of the Festival and in many other projects – comprise thousands of individual stories, memories, anecdotes and emotions… Below you will find a dozen of such stories – they give not only a more complete picture of the Machers working at the Festival, but also show the lesser known face of the JCF! Have a look!

Joanna Banaś

My interest in the Festival was not incidental. Since my early childhood my Mum would take me to many of the Festival events. When I accidentally learned that I might try to take part in these events not only as a viewer and observer, but to get a chance of direct participation by means of becoming a Festival volunteer, I knew that I had to try it.

And thus in 2011, I was a volunteer for the first time. It was the 21st Festival edition then. My first one, but, as it turned out later on, definitely not the last one.

Since the very beginning – which is practically from the interview – I landed in a completely different world. This was a challenge, undoubtedly initially at least connected with stress. Yet the atmosphere, created by the Festival people – with Janusz leading the way – made me forget the stress at once.

I knew that I was in a Good Place. The events in which I had the opportunity to take part during my first Festival were absolutely unique and new.

I started as a supervisor of the papercutting workshops, I helped with the walks of Kazimierz and other places closes connected with Judaism, with lectures and concerts.

I remember a concert of the charismatic Daniel Khan (I even handed him flowers with my knees weakening!), the Cantors’ Concert with Benzion Miller and Alberto Mizrahi.

At the very beginning of my adventure with the JCF, I had the opportunity to see very diverse types of events. At that time also, I met great people with whom I made friends for many years.

During the editions that followed, the Festival also did not let me down. Each year gave me new challenges which I faced with passion. I had the opportunity to learn in detail this machine perfectly operating for 21 years.

At the turn of each June and July, my world was the Jewish Culture Festival.

Grzegorz Mikunda

My adventure with volunteer service and with the Festival has been going on for about 8 years. It all started when I was still in the secondary school – with the presentation of two volunteering girls. Then, as I remember, I heard Boom Pam for the first time and I already knew that I wanted to take part in this all and co-create it.

The Festival kept changing all the time with volunteer service making its immanent part. When I came there, I was the youngest volunteer whilst the majority of people there were university students.

And now? The whole range! From secondary school students, through university undergraduates, middle-aged people and to end with seniors! This is a great thing – intergenerational exchange of experience. I am really glad that this was the direction that we went to.

Paulina Kowalska

I was in the first university year – and this was also my first independent year in Krakow, far away from home. I was attracted to the subject of the Festival – although I learned at school about Jewish culture, I wanted to know more.

I did not expect that apart from gaining knowledge I would also meet a group of fantastic and committed people who really love what they do.

For many years, I took part in various events as a volunteer. I have especially pleasant memories of assisting in the walks and listening how the guides talked with great passion about Krakow – each group could feel exceptional then.

After these long, many kilometers’ walks I would gladly go for a nap, but almost always other volunteers and I landed at an official concert and then at a less formal party in a friendly club.

And this moment when during the All Stars concert on Szeroka – standing there, tired after the whole week, I kept promising myself that I would return in a year. And I kept returning for the next ten years – with time, not as a volunteer, but as a coordinator.

Getting to know the Festival from inside was a great adventure – year after year, it seemed to me that little or nothing at all can surprise me, but each time I was wrong. We plan the things in detail – although sometimes I think that leaving some space for improvisation in this meticulously prepared plan makes us exceptional.

You can improvise only with the people that you know very well, being sure that you can rely on them.

Natalia Stanisławska

The Festival gave me a chance to develop. The skills which I gained here, such as the ability to work in a team, assertiveness, reliability and tolerance – these are only some of the competencies which I can use in everyday life. Thanks to the contacts with foreign Machers I have also improved my English.

Thanks to the Festival also I met my current partner who came for the volunteer service from Spain in 2017! So one can literally say that JCF connects people and cultures with one of the unchanging watchwords during all the events is Love and Unity.

Alicja Głuszek

For the first time I was a volunteer in 2004. It was then that I met the team consisting of Janusz Makuch, Katarzyna Wydra, Maria Bobrowska, Dorota Gruszka, Anna Cervantes, Marek Grochowski, Jacek Dymel. Then they were joined by Robert Gądek. This was a real dream team. The times of quick development of the Festival, and a growing number of events with increasing diversity.

I am the child of the Festival. What I do now is based, to a large degree, on my first years at the JCF, when I worked in the Festival office, at the guest service, coordinating the volunteer work, ticket sales and logistics.

Joanna Antonik

Friendships, experience, sense of a mission, dancing the whole nights, observing the Jewish life being reborn in Poland, work under the time pressure with an adrenaline rush, great concerts and emotional meetings – this was how the turn of June and July looked like for me each year between 2011 and 2018.

Volunteer work at the JCF taught me how to be committed and creative in fast problem solving; it also allowed me to be open to other cultures and experiences. I do not know any other Festival which could care so much for its volunteers. It is not only thanks to the selection of the Festival tasks, but also through the visits, trainings and integration meetings.

Sending the application for a volunteer service at the JCF was one of the best decisions in my life and I do recommend the same to you!

Anna Brożek

My adventure with the volunteer service at the Jewish Culture Festival started long before the term Machers was coined.

Before I turned 18 (this magical moment when as everyone known everything changes and nothing in fact) I was simply a joyful participant of the workshops for kids (drawing, dances, singing and first of all, a great introduction to the culture!), conducted by the charismatic Ethel Szyc. From the perspective of a young person, it was really fascinating and surprising for me that with all this chaos – because this would be the best description of workshops for kids, aged 4-16 – EVERYTHING was always in the right place. Colored crayons on the tables at the right moment, and when the moment for dances came – these crayons miraculously disappeared from the floor. How did it happen that in spite of the absence of the parents, all the kids were: 1. happy; 2.safe; 3. engaged and 4. (yes, yes! A very important thing as well ) – all of them have managed to use the toiled when needed!

If you still do not know who was this magical force that put everything in place, let me answer – the Volunteers.

It was therefore an obvious thing for me that I would join the group of Volunteers at the first possible moment – this was in 2010 and the jubilee 20th edition. Then the most beautiful adventure in my life began.

In a nutshell (really!): a lot of educational events, concerts, meetings with artists, hard work, learning and concerts all over again – all these could be counted in dozens within “my” 10 editions!

I will never stop repeating that the Festival means the people. These are the guests who fly over from the other side of the world. These are dancers, writers, musicians, rabbis, their wives and children. These are friends (Office, Backstage, Technicians), whom you see once per year and still have a feeling that you saw each other a week ago (and not a year ago). This is like the family. 

The Volunteers, or, officially for a few years: the Machers, who have this kind of power that they are not frightened by rain, storms, wind or scorching sun. Each event MUST take place! These are people driven by ideas – on the waves of these ideas, new undertakings are created – outside the official Festival period. The Workshops for Seniors and “Zmaluj to!” [“Paint it Over!”] are just some of the Projects in which I had the opportunity to be engaged or even to spin them up. Fantastic coordinators guaranteeing always essential support and assisting our development, as it would be hard not to for as long as 10 years.

I can openly say that my adventure at the Festival gave me the experience and competencies which I now use at my work – I recruit people.

Magdalena Bodziony

My own story with the volunteer work at the Jewish Culture Festival started in 2011. At that time I did not expect that volunteer service and people involved in it would become my second family, whilst Cheder – my second home.

I love recollecting that moment and the first meeting of the volunteers of the 22nd Jewish Culture Festival, held during the Purim holiday. For a 16-year old this was an amazing experience to be found in such a world. Yes, I was then 16 years old when I became a member of the Machers and for 2 years I was the youngest volunteer at the JCF.

My first Festival was for me exceptional and unforgettable – I learned then a lot. Then it was also very stressful for me and, at a start I wondered whether I really wanted to be a part of the Festival again, but my nature did not let me give up so fast. Thanks to my perseverant nature, my story at the Festival took 8 years.

I loved the annual meeting with Jeff or Deborah, who were always willing to listen what happened in my life for the past year and they always remembered me – it is really great that the artists see us and appreciate our work.

Each year I asked for a different set of tasks to be able to experience as much as I could.

Today I know that thanks to this experience I learned a lot during these eight years.

The Festival for me is a place where I grew up.

Volunteer work gave me a lot: I met great people and the culture which with every year opened a new page for me.

I also got to know myself better and entered the life of an adult.

Michał Jaczyński

Volunteer work at the JCF was a revelation for me. It showed me how little I knew about the culture of the community which lives nearby. It encouraged me to my own research. I could describe the time spent with the Festival in two words: friendships and music. I am grateful for this and I miss it a lot.

Weronika Suchodolska

I started my volunteer work at the JCF in 2011, when we were not the “Machers” yet, and the volunteers’ headquarters was just a small place in the back room of the Mikveh. Many things changed when Paweł Kowalewski became the volunteers’ coordinator. We moved to the school building and the volunteer program covered not only the Festival period, but also a whole lot of fantastic year-round initiatives. The Festival organized for us a lot of trips to the places connected with the Jewish culture, both local ones and abroad. I had the occasion to visit Supraśl and Budapest, but there were many more trips. The Machers even reached Israel.

In 2014 the volunteer project was extended with the year-round program of meetings and initiatives for the local community which I had a pleasure to coordinate. We conducted workshops for seniors, and collected local cooking recipes. Within the project, “Krakow’s Kazimierz – a Family Album” we collected the photographs of the quarter residents. At the same time, the other program within the volunteer service, “Zmaluj to” [“Paint it over”] was working, conducted by Joasia Antonik. The Machers created murals on the buildings damaged with hateful inscriptions.

With time, the group of the Machers was enlarged with the volunteers from abroad – in 2015 the Machers joined their forces with their Israeli friends from Yeshiva, and in the following years, the Festival started to accommodate volunteers from the entire Europe within the EVS program.

Toady the Machers’ team makes up a beautiful multicultural team of people who each year diligently engage in the assistance in the preparation of the Festival. Many of the former volunteers return to the JCF which seems to be the best proof that the KCF volunteer service is the experience that one would always hold on to.

Agnieszka Królikowska

The diversity of the Festival can be seen, among others in the Sambation project – an apartment occupied years ago by a Jewish family and, in 2018 made available during the JCF to an artistic collective, HaMiffal. I had the occasion to take part in restructuring this old flat into a completely new space, full of living art and to work with a magnificent team of artists and volunteers, and even have Spanish lessons (with a Spanish Macher) spending my time while waiting for the Sambation guests.

One of the most exceptional Festival experiences was the possibility of going to Israel with volunteers, at the invitation of Secular Yeshiva. We had an opportunity to visit, taste delicious Israeli food, pay a visit to Neta Elkayam in her home (and hear her sing – especially for us!), to see the sunrise in the old walls of Jerusalem, walk amongst Tel Aviv with Shai Tsabari and to swim in a kibbutz swimming pool and in the Dead Sea.

photos: Edyta Dufaj, Michał Ramus, Nastia Grinmann, The Machers

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