Polish Language Blog

Jewish Culture Festival – Festiwal Kultury Żydowskiej Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Culture, Places to visit

The Jewish Culture Festival is a major event which takes place in Kraków every summer.

The Kazimierz, the Jewish district of Kraków is perhaps one of the best known centres of Jewish culture in Poland. Jews have lived in Kraków for many years, as far back as the 10th century, though not always as citizens with full-rights. Nevertheless, they have always been an integral part of the city’s culturallandscape, contributing not only to the development of the city but also to its culture and character. Kraków, and especially the Jewish Kazimierz district, is often referred to as the ‘Polish Jerusalem’ thanks to the incredibly vibrant spiritual and cultural life of the Jewish community.  You simply could not imagine Kraków without its Jewish heritage, yet the city still feels the pain of loss – Jews accounted for a quarter of the city’s population before World War II.

What can visitors expect? The early festivals focused on history, on the culture of Ashkenazic Jews, on yiddishkeit. Nowadays, the festival is a showcase of contemporary Jewish culture in its entire richness – there is a place for both Ashkenazic and Sephardic cultures, but also for contemporary Israeli culture; there is a place for traditional culture but also the more avant-garde. It presents mainstream Jewish music, such as klezmer and synagogal, which is all very traditional but there is also rooms for contemporary fusions – with jazz, funk and rock. Visitors can expect interaction – of course they will be watching and consuming Jewish culture by attending the concerts, exhibitions, lectures, film screening and sightseeing tours, but that they will also be invited to take part in a series of workshops, giving them a chance of enjoy active participation and even make a contribution to Jewish culture. Best of all, the festival presents Jewish culture, not as a museum artefact, but as a dynamic, contemporary, developing phenomenon, yet one that has its roots firmly in respecting Poland’s Jewish heritage.

Where do visitors come from? Across Europe, or further afield? The earlier festivals attracted small audiences that were predominantly Polish, however this has changed a lot in recent years. The Jewish Culture Festival now attracts some 25, 000 visitors from all over the world. The majority of visitors come from Poland, of course, though we have guests from all over Europe, the USA and even distant countries such as Japan, Argentina and Australia. It has also attracted an increasing number of visitors from Israel in the past few years. For many of these visitors, it is the festival that attracts them to Poland in the first place.

Do visitors have to be Jewish in order to appreciate the festival? No – not at all. Most of the visitors are not Jewish – and this is the great phenomenon of the festival. Many Jewish festivals throughout the world tend to be dedicated to a Jewish audience, whereas they actively encourage non-Jews to come along and learn more about Jewish culture, and meet real Jews. By real Jew, what they mean is a real person with flesh and bones, and not just some stereotype. This is the most important part of the festival – real dialogue, real interaction and a real experience. This aspect of the festival is one that is appreciated by both the Jews and the non-Jews who come to the festival.

What is the future of the festival, and how will it develop in years to come? The festival will be always walkingside by side with contemporary Jewish culture. It will always showcase the directions that it takes, but will never forget its roots.

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)


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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


  1. Sergio Warnick:

    Great, I’d love to come see it next year when I’ll be living in Europe.