For thousands of years Poland was home to many Jews. They were contributing members of society both in terms of economics and culture. In the ghettos (or Jewish Quarters) they built their synagogues, lived their daily lives according to Jewish Law, celebrated their life cycle rituals, and buried their dead. And then came World War II and the Holocaust and the Jews of Poland were no more. It is this piece of history that makes the Annual Jewish Festival here in Krakow the haunting and moving experience that it is.
For 18 years now, Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, Poland, has been the host of Europe's largest Jewish Festival. Jews and Non-Jews, Poles, other Europeans and Americans gather here for a week of culture, study and celebration. There are lectures, workshops and concerts for the general public to attend, some free and some for the price of a ticket. We arrived in Krakow on the last several days of this festival and while we did not take part in any of the smaller events, we did attend the big street concert held on Saturday night. The event was to begin at 6:00 and when we went to leave our home around 6:30 to walk down, it began to pour! It poured for about 1 1/2 hours and then cleared up. We decided to take our chances and walk over to see if and what was going on. Either the rain hadn't dampened anyone's spirit (no pun intended) or no one wasted any time arriving after the rains stopped, but by the time we arrived (only a 10 minute walk from our home), there were thousands of people filling the streets. After navigating the crowds with the girls on our shoulders, we discovered some smaller streets to cut down and found some breathing room. There was a big stage with musicians playing Jewish music, stalls selling food and people dancing in the streets. Avocet and Siena found some Polish candy to try while Marty and I tried these potatoes that smelled out of this world (and tasted pretty good too). Then it was back to the masses. We listened to the music for a little and then soon the girls began to dance with each other. It didn't take to much convincing to get them to join us as we joined the masses of people holding hands and dancing in big circles in the street.
They were young and old, women and men, people from anywhere and everywhere celebrating the music and culture of the Jewish people who not so long ago lived on these very streets and perished at the hands of other human beings. It was joyous, it was sad, it was moving and it was filled with hope. It is a memory that I will hold close to my heart forever.