Krakow’s Jewish community celebrated 10 years since of the birth of the city’s Jewish community centre on Sunday, marking a significant milestone in the life of a project opened by Prince Charles.
Representatives of supportive foundations and organisations, including World Jewish Relief (WJR), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland, joined community members and JCC Krakow executive director Jonathan Ornstein at Krakow’s Tempel Synagogue.
WJR has been involved in JCC Krakow since its inception, managing, overseeing, and funding its construction and contributing to its annual costs. “It sounded ambitious, it sounded daft, but there was a sense that if you build something here, you’ll have a real story,” WJR chief executive Paul Anticoti told Jewish News. “Jewish life in Poland is historically important, not just for its tragedy but for its thousand years of Jewish life – and it shouldn’t end.”
The JCC, which Anticoni described as “the main Jewish address in Krakow,” has undoubtedly changed Krakow’s Jewish landscape. Visiting parties from Britain and elsewhere, that once would only have visited Auschwitz only to return home, now see JCC Krakow as, Ornstein said, an accessible way to connect to the Jewish present. More practically, perhaps, it has become a venue for Krakow’s Jewish residents to access Jewish culture and knowledge and from friendships and connections.
“The most important thing is that this is a place of meeting: people from all generations doing all kinds of activities,” Zofia Radizikowska told Jewish News. Radizikowska, born in November 1935, survived the Holocaust with her mother by using fake documents. A member of the Children of the Holocaust Association, today she is JCC Krakow’s most active member. Before the JCC, “there was no place like this. Now everything I need, I have—and I don’t want anything more.”
In addition to fulfilling the original mission of housing a senior club for Holocaust survivors and children of the Holocaust, in October JCC Krakow opened its secular non-denominational preschool, which currently gives a subsidised Jewish education to fourteen local children aged between one and six. Supported by partners including the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and Taube Philanthropies, it is the first pluralistic Jewish preschool to open in the city in seventy years.
“We are a community. We support each other, visit one another’s families, and attend each other’s weddings. This is, for me, is [JCC Krakow’s] biggest value,” member Ewa Kodymowska told Jewish News. She also said that “with my kids in the preschool, I have started to study more deeply with them, and in this way, I feel closer to Jewish history and culture.”
“I feel happy,” Radizikowska said, to witness the Jewish revival among children and young adults in Krakow. “We are the past and they are the future. I look at them with a feeling of joy because it means the Jewish community in Poland will live. We will not give a victory to Hitler.”
JCC Krakow, which today has 700 members, having reached a maximum capacity at its existing site, needs to start searching for another site, Ornstein believes. “We’re actively looking for more space” – whether that means renting, buying, or otherwise – “because if we want to continue doing what we’re doing, we need to expand,” he told Jewish News.
“We’ve still got some way to go,” Anticoni said, in terms of making JCC Krakow self-sustaining. “We knew we couldn’t make a commitment in perpetuity, in part because we have to make some very hard choices about who we can and can’t help.” It is starting to resource itself and WJR’s annual contribution as a share of its running costs has declined—for the first three years, WJR contributed 100 percent of funding. Today it is less than ten per cent—though it remains for the charity a significant financial commitment. “We’re in it for the long term,” Anticoti concluded. “The ambition is to achieve more in the next 10 years than the last 10 years.”