One Night in Krakow, Seven Synagogues

My first stop in Poland was Kraków, to attend JDC’s 7@Nite Festival. This annual event presented seven different programs (music, art, photography, multimedia) in seven unused and unique synagogues over the course of one evening. The theme of the night was Jerusalem – a city of many cultures and traditions. It started at 10pm with the celebration of Havdalah on the JCC rooftop by Rabbi Boaz from Israel and ended at 2am. I was amazed at the turnout, there must have been at least 800 participants in the overflowing yard of the JCC.

After Havdalah, we headed to the Tempel synagogue to hear a concert by Shtar – an Israeli Jewish hip hop group based in Jerusalem composed of Orthodox Jews. They rocked the house in a synagogue that was built in the 1860’s. After an hour of listening to their inspirational music we headed to the JCC for an exhibition of incredible photographs of Jerusalem prepared by the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw titled “Jerusalem – the Light from the East.”

The Kupa Synagogue which housed another exhibition was founded in 1643 by the Kazimierz Jewish district’s kehilla and was built in a baroque style with a square prayer hall inside. The interior was absolutely magnificent!

The Isaac Synagogue housed the local Chabad. Falafel was served while they played a Polish-narrated movie about Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Western Wall. The description of this stop was “Jerusalem is the center of the earth, the Temple is the center of Jerusalem.” Since we were so close to the center of the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz which is famous for the best Zapikankie in all of Kraków, we decided to enjoy the local Polish fast-food delicacy. To our surprise, everyone in line was holding a 7@nite flyer and clearly we weren’t the only ones in need of a snack as the Falafel ran out due to the sheer number of event participants.

The High Synagogue was built in the 1550’s in the Renaissance style. During the occupation of Poland in World War II, Nazis stripped the interior of all equipment. The ceiling and roof were destroyed. At present only the stone niche for the Aron Kodesh and the wall paintings uncovered early in the 21st century by art conservation remains. This synagogue had a virtual walk through the Old City, starting with a passage through the seven gates of Jerusalem. Additionally, there were photo exhibits of Jewish families that lived in Kraków from before the war.

Old Synagogue, is the oldest still standing in Poland, and one of the most precious landmarks of Jewish architecture in Europe. Until the German invasion of Poland in 1939, it was one of the most important synagogues in Kraków as well as the main religious, social, and organizational center of the Jewish community. There was a multimedia and interactive story about the real and mystical characteristics of Jerusalem. Ancient paintings, menorahs, and many more Jewish artifacts were on display.

The Popper Synagogue, built in 1620, housed a blank canvas that was beautifully painted with a colorful collage of theold city. This synagogue was one of the most splendid synagogues in Kraków. Its rich interior was destroyed by the Nazis and the synagogue ceased to function as a house of prayer.

The Remuh Synagogue, completed in 1557, was the smallest of all the historic synagogues in the Kazmierz district of Kraków. Additionally, it is currently the only active one. Since Jerusalem is the only city in the world known by more than seventy different names, they had the corresponding street names hanging from the ceiling.

It was so wonderful walking around the streets of Kraków with thousands of people celebrating the history of the Jewish people in Poland and the Jewish State of Israel. To witness such thriving Jewish life while realizing that we were less than a 2 hour drive away from Auschwitz where 1.1 million Jews were exterminated 70 years ago during WWII is nothing less than miraculous.

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