Sitting with Strangers

Walter and Ruth

Ruth is on her way to dance some Jewish dances at a big open square in Krakow.

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We are so early that no one is there yet. So we look for a place to plop (seemingly thousands to choose from) and are invited to a table of strangers who introduce themselves as film makers.

Ruth with Gabriela- the film maker Ruth with Gabriela- the film maker

They are making a film in Yiddish in which they tell a famous and quite dead Krakow poet and journalist about what’s going on in Jewish Poland today. We will see them do some filming later today.

Filming a New Yiddish Film Filming a New Yiddish Film

At a presentation on “Lucky Jews” the Polish practice of owning Jewish figurines holding coins or moneybags for good luck

"Lucky Jews" “Lucky Jews”

we meet a young Polish film maker who will clue us in to the latest in Polish Jewish themed docs.

Most bizarre of all is the…

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Szeroka Square

It’s actually a rectangle. But this square was really hopping last night. Somewhere between 20,000-
25,000 people filled the square for the closing concert.

Final Concert on Szeroka Street

Final Concert on Szeroka Street

We were given some good advice by Mike Hofkin’s cousin to reserve a seat at one of the adjoining restaurants so we didn’t have to stand for 5 hours. Five hours, he said. Holy Toledo! So for 140 Zlotys ($45) we reserved a table at the hotel Esther which turned out to be right by the stage.

It’s very difficult to describe the scene on the closing night of the Jewish Culture Festival. Most of the groups who played evening concerts came back for this closing performance. They are uniformly wonderful, playing jazzy Klezmer, funky Yemenite whatever, NYC Jewish wedding music on steroids, while we sit on the sidelines watching thousands of Poles, Jews, young and old gyrating to the music.

Polish benchmate gets into music

Polish benchmate gets into music

During the concert our friend from Czestochowa, Krystof Strauss and his wife pop by and give us another photo, this one of our visit to Czestochowa two days earlier. More photos are promised. Krystof moves with the high muckety mucks of Poland. He is constantly introducing us to ambassadors, mayors, kings and queens. We wish we could talk with them. Despite Ruth’s valiant efforts, our Polish is just plain lousy. This is one difficult language to master, even to approach. It’s all consonants. I was so proud of myself tonight (our last night) when I gave our taxi driver our address and he didn’t correct me with the usual guffaw.

Speaking of the Polish language, tonight was another farewell concert in the Temple Synagogue. Ninety five year old Klezmer musician Leopold Koslowski (subject of the film The Last Klezmer) played piano for an entourage of singers in a poignant farewell tribute. The master of ceremonies told joke after joke in Polish without translation. They must have been funny because everyone roared (except us).

It will be really good to get to Israel where I understand everything!

Sitting with Strangers

Ruth is on her way to dance some Jewish dances at a big open square in Krakow.

image

We are so early that no one is there yet. So we look for a place to plop (seemingly thousands to choose from) and are invited to a table of strangers who introduce themselves as film makers.

Ruth with Gabriela- the film maker

Ruth with Gabriela- the film maker

They are making a film in Yiddish in which they tell a famous and quite dead Krakow poet and journalist about what’s going on in Jewish Poland today. We will see them do some filming later today.

Filming a New Yiddish Film

Filming a New Yiddish Film

At a presentation on “Lucky Jews” the Polish practice of owning Jewish figurines holding coins or moneybags for good luck

"Lucky Jews"

“Lucky Jews”

we meet a young Polish film maker who will clue us in to the latest in Polish Jewish themed docs.

Most bizarre of all is the invitation we receive from our now dear friend Krystof Strauss from Czestochowa who is attending the JCF with his wife. He invites us to a screening of a film at the wrong address (we get to the correct one) but the film is in Polish anyway and we can’t watch it (no subtitles for us non-Poles). So we leave. In the lobby we are introduced to a Jewish couple born in Poland post-war who just had an “open invitation” Jewish wedding so that any Pole could come and join the celebration. This was a big deal, covered by the press. Oh by the way, they are film makers, live in NYC, and have a new film. They will send us a link. Und so weiter, und so weiter…….

On the Ancestral Road

Walter and Ruth

Sometime during the early 20th C. the Gryn family, Szlama Daniel, his wife Feigel and ten children moved to Czestochowa, Poland. Their first child, Abraham, Ruth’s grandfather was born in Truskolasy a small village. Later children were born in Przystajn an even smaller shtetl. Burials seem to have been In Kzrepice.

Four days ago we traced this route under the guidance of Jacob Czuprynski, tour guide, historian, genealogist, soccer player, and a mere 34 years old. Not Jewish, Jakub represents an interesting Polish or more correct Krakovian phenomenon of intellectual non-Jews becoming heavily involved in the restoration of the memory of Polish Jews. Extremely knowledgeable, Jakub seemed to know every Jewish site in every shtetl we passed. Was there a synagogue there? A cemetery? Was it destroyed? He just knew.

We started out in Czestochowa, then made a big circle through Krzepice, Przystajn, and Truskolasy and back to Czestochowa. In…

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On the Ancestral Road

Sometime during the early 20th C. the Gryn family, Szlama Daniel, his wife Feigel and ten children moved to Czestochowa, Poland. Their first child, Abraham, Ruth’s grandfather was born in Truskolasy a small village. Later children were born in Przystajn an even smaller shtetl. Burials seem to have been In Kzrepice.

Four days ago we traced this route under the guidance of Jakub Czuprynski, tour guide, historian, genealogist, soccer player, and a mere 34 years old. Not Jewish, Jakub represents an interesting Polish or more correct Krakovian phenomenon of intellectual non-Jews becoming heavily involved in the restoration of the memory of Polish Jews. Extremely knowledgeable, Jakub seemed to know every Jewish site in every shtetl we passed. Was there a synagogue there? A cemetery? Was it destroyed? He just knew.

We started out in Czestochowa, then made a big circle through Krzepice, Przystajn, and Truskolasy and back to Czestochowa. In Czestochowa we met Malgosia Malecka (Melgorzata or Margaret) who had spent hours locating the grave stone of Ruth’s Great Grandfather in the Czestochowa Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery is a jungle, heavily overgrown with no clear paths. It has not been mapped and it is huge. But she found it and led us to the site where we said Kaddish.

Gravestone of Szlama Daniel Gryn

From there, we went to Targowa 14, the site of David and Rochma Hoffer’s (my grandparents) home where we walked around a large courtyard and saw where their mezuzah was placed. Many mezuzot had been removed after the War but the Hoffer’s was still there!

Mezuza at Targowa 14

Mezuza at Targowa 14

We met Krzystof Straus there and he came prepared for our reunion from last year with 8×10 photographs of our family together with him at the Hasaq Memorial site. As Witek, his son who was with us last year suspected, the site is being prepared for new construction, making our Ner Tamid project integrating Hasaq barbed wire all the more poignant.

We saw how close their home was to the Nowy Rynek, the new market square, where Jewish people were rounded up for deportation. On one of those corners, my Dad’s family ran a grocery business.

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In Krzepice, we went to a cemetery where surely some of my Green family lay buried. We said Kaddish. Jakub, our guide, will send us a list of gravestones later.

Iron Headstones in Krzepi

In general, what we saw were towns with no Jewish life where there once was much. But just as we marvel at the survivors and their resilience, we witnessed with respect the strides that the Polish people are making toward a better life since 1989 and the end of Communism. The villages and towns were quiet, clean, and showing the care of their inhabitants.

After a good humored laugh at the painting of strawberries that my Eemah had hung on her wall (I projected that this painting had something to to with the derivation of Truskolasy, a forest of strawberries). It was the only kitschy art my Mom was guilty of and after a photo of Walter and me there, we started back to Krakow.

The Elias' in Truskolasy

While travel in Poland will always carry with it a turn to the past, it is the present and future where hope lives. There are many Shabbos Goys who care that the Jewish void left after the Holocaust, the murders in Krakow in 1945 after the war, the pogrom in Kielce in 1946, and the expulsion of 30,000 Jewish people who had remained in Poland commiting themselves to the rebuilding of Poland in 1968 accusing Jewish people of being disloyal, be filled. Some scholars say the Communist party used Israel, Zionism and antisemitism as a tool to rid the country of opposition to Communism. There is always a reason.

However, the biggest surprise and delight is the “surprise” third generation, the Gimel generation. These are the young people who feel for reasons of felt or acknowledged roots, or for reasons of meeting a Jewish survivor they care about, or for love and interest in Jewish customs and traditions…. Jewish life, a desire to nurture a revival of Jewish life in Poland. The JCC here which was established in 2008 has 50 volunteers, mostly not Jewish. They affectionately call themselves Meshugoyim. Along with a most vibrant JCC here, six major Universities have Jewish Studies Programs with history, religion, Hebrew and Yiddish class offerings.

The rest of Europe and the U.S. could learn from the loving acceptance, low barrier to the “pintele Yid” many are getting in touch with in themselves that the Krakow JCC nurtures.

This brings us to this morning when we went to a Jewish Arts session. Two young artists, Helena Czernek and Aleksander Prugar, the presenters, led a group of mostly American Carthage College students, Walter and me, some Polish young people and a smattering of our peers in making a Shabbat table setting. Without influencing our ideas by showing their art, they showed the most traditional examples of candle sticks, challah platter, wine goblet, challah cover and table cloth. Divided into groups of five or six, each group made a setting using cloth, wood, glue, wire, paper, cloth crayons, scissors, wire cutters etc. The results were inspiring. Everyone was so engaged. In short, we had great fun.

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A Challah Cover

Our Midwest U.S.A. Group

Our Midwest U.S.A. Group

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When we spoke to Helena and Aleksander, we learned of their work with Mezuzot.

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Another beshert coincidence, as we are so moved by the imprint of a mezuzah left on my Abba’s family home. They will be exhibiting their work in San Francisco and we must surely turn Corie and Ari and Ayelet and families and Sonia and Steve and ………. on to these artists. To be continued, we just need a date.

As you can see, it is the present and the future that now captures our hearts and minds. In tension with the past…yes. That too.

All Representatives Are Currently Busy

Have you ever tried to cash a check in Krakow, Poland? I did. We were running short of Polish Zlotys so I put my USBank debit card into a BankOMat (ATM machine) and got refused. After taking this as a personal affront, I trekked into 4 (count them) Polish banks to cash a check. “No, we can not do this” came the reply. Ok, let’s try CitiBank, at least they are American. I was put under the care of “Renata” an absolutely darling Polish woman who walked me from office to office (on four different floors with no elevator) until the tearful verdict was spoken, “No we can not do this.”
The absolute last resort was to call my own bank collect long distance. Since we are without phones, I borrowed a phone from the office of the Jewish Culture Festival. Of course it took 20 minutes to figure out the prefixes for calling the States. Then I called the US Bank number on the back of the card. The familiar words we all cherish resounded on my borrowed phone. “We are experiencing a heavy volume of calls, all representatives are busy” and they cut me off with a gentle “try again later.”
I defined later as two minutes and tried again. After waiting in the phone cue for another 25 minutes (don’t they have wonderful Musak) I actually spoke to a live person. She was quite surprised at how happy I was to talk with her. I passed the test of proving that I am who I am and then heard those immortal words once again. “All representatives are busy.” She had put me back into a different que. I was shocked that after only ten minutes, a different recording started announcing all my pitiful attempts at using my debit card. “500 zlotys at Tomasza Street 14, 500 Zlotys at Kamenicza 34”, and so on. Was this you Walter S. Elias I was finally asked. Yes, yes I replied by pressing the number 2 key. In a rather matter of fact tone the words I was waiting to hear echoed in my ears. “We have lifted the hold on your card.” I can spend money again. What a relief. I went to a BankOMat, put in my card, entered my PIN, and it worked. My heart was going pitter patter. Total elapsed time – 3 hours +
The lesson:
Never trust an American bank that you have notified of your travel plans. They don’t listen. They just love to play their big hit recording, “all representatives are currently busy.”
And poor Renata is probably still crying because she couldn’t help me.