A Guest for a Day

29 September 2020

Every summer, the Jewish Culture Festival brings visitors from all over the globe to Kraków’s Kazimierz district. The restrictions introduced due to the pandemic mean that this year’s events visited us in our own homes, thanks to the power of the internet. We talk to Robert Gądek, deputy director of the festival, about how the visit went and about plans for the future.

Karnet: This summer’s Prologue of the 30th Jewish Culture Festival is now behind us. How was its new format received?

Robert Gądek: One of the best things about our festival is the incredible atmosphere shaped by guests from all over the world. It brings a magical sense of community, respect and understanding – and everyone who has been to our events knows that these aren’t just empty words. That’s why it was so difficult to imagine how we could possibly hold the festival without real-life participation of tens of thousands of people. Would events even make sense in the online sphere, since the Kazimierz district is their integral part? We had a lot of concerns, but we realised that many people around the world were waiting for us, and we couldn’t possibly let them down. We thought that since they visit Kazimierz every summer, perhaps it was time to return the favour? And we had an incredible response! We visited the homes of almost 400,000 people around the globe via our website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. It’s as though our online events reached audiences of a dozen standard festival editions.

The most popular was the concert staged especially for us by Frank London with other artists on the roof of his Manhattan home. Recorded during the lockdown, we see Black Lives Matter demonstrations down below and helicopters hovering over the building, while the improvised scene brings together some of the finest Jewish musicians from New York performing pearls of Jewish music – the concert has already been viewed over 100,000 times! Another huge success were the Yiddish singing workshops with Jeff Warschauer; it was the event we were most worried about, since over the years their participants have become a true family. But when we started the first online workshop, we discovered that the ties between participants are easily strong enough to overcome huge physical distances and that cold computer screens can still transmit warm smiles! It turns out nothing can damage this true festival family we have built over the last thirty years – and we hold onto this thought as we enter events of the autumn.

So what can we expect in October?

Events kick off with an online concert by the Cracovian ensemble MLDVA (4 October). But it comes with a twist: material recorded at Cheder, one of the festival clubs, has been remixed by the Israeli DJ and producer Uri Wertheim, AKA Mixmonster.

This is followed by a series of online lectures and discussions (Rabbi Boaz Pash, Matti Friedman, Imam Abdullah Antepli and Yossi Klein Halevi), and we finish off with two (real life!) tours guided by Anna Kiesell and taking us to important Jewish sites in the Old Town and Kazimierz’s synagogues (24 and 25 October). There will also be a meeting with Israeli comic book artist Rutu Modan as part of the literary programme prepared by KBF and accompanying the Prologue. We will also be trying out exciting, brand-new activities on social media. Our Facebook and Instagram feature special content, we are launching a new promotional newsletter, and as of a few days ago we have also been posting festival podcasts on Spotify. And, together with Radio Kraków, we are preparing another special surprise for later this year, also on Spotify. More details coming soon!

Interviewed by Justyna Skalska

Robert Gądek – deputy director of the Jewish Culture Festival. He has been coordinating promotional and fundraising activities and producing the festival since 2005.

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