Invigorating Spirit

26 June 2023

It’s true that “The spirit blows where it will,” but this year the direction seems obvious. The invigorating wind blows us back to Szeroka Street where people of all denominations come together to cry “shalom!” once more.

Justyna Skalska: The theme of this year’s festival is air, symbolically closing the recent cycle recalling the elements. What is the broader significance of this motif?

Ula Nowak: The starting point was the word RUAH. Janusz Makuch, director of the Jewish Culture Festival, explains that it means air taking on one of three forms: breath, divine force and (Holy) spirit. On the face of it, the event has nothing to do with air, but when we look deeper, the element has always been present. In the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, RUAH is mentioned almost four hundred times, confirming its great symbolic significance. Breath brings life. Air is a communal space bringing life to us all, and nothing can ever change that. We strive to be as close as possible to this idea as we prepare the festival. We use words, images, movements and sound, since each of these elements is fundamental to the festival’s activities: lectures, film screenings, literary meetings, workshops, guided tours of important Jewish sites in Kraków, installations, performances, and – above else – music.

This year’s festival abounds in anniversaries. Who has particularly good reasons to celebrate?

The 32nd Jewish Culture Festival is held in the event’s 35th year. Our history dates back to 1988, which is the first and foremost reason to celebrate. But there are more: the state of Israel is marking 75 years since its foundation, Bester Quartet celebrates 25 years on the stage (the musicians perform an anniversary concert at the Tempel Synagogue on 2 July), and this year marks 45 years since the launch of one of the most important albums of the Mizrahi scene, recorded by Grazia Peretz and released by the Israeli label Koliphone. We want to bring this music to the forth at this year’s event. The ensemble Boom Pam, Jewish Culture Festival favourites, are also marking 20 years together. How could anyone forget their extraordinary performance at the Tempel Synagogue in 2016, when they were joined by the legendary Turkish vocalist, guitarist and activist Selda Bağcan! This year, they will be joined at Szeroka Street by other friends and outstanding musicians as part of their anniversary celebrations. We all have plenty to rejoice about: festival creators, artists and everyone who joins us in Kazimierz! Joy and happiness are at the very foundation of being human.

The music programme has always been one of the festival’s strongest points. Which concerts should we pay particular attention to this year?

As usual, we hope you’ll join us at the Tempel Synagogue. The extraordinary space welcomes two generations of klezmers – musicians who have made the genre more accessible and brought it to the fore of contemporary, avantgarde and improvised music. Performers include Michael Winograd & The Honorable Mentshn joined by Josh Dolgin AKA DJ Socalled; the following day we will hear Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg and the Sajzy Theatre Klezmer Orchestra. The festival also welcomes back the 18-strong Piyut Ensemble, founded in 2006 by Rabbi Haim Louk. The group specialises in performing Jewish liturgical poems known as piyyutim, arranged to strike a delicate balance between tradition and modernity. The festival closes on 2 July with a performance by Jarosław Bester with his quartet, celebrating their 25th anniversary.

As usual, we head to Alchemia where we’ll hear classic Yiddish music on vinyl selected by DJ Socalled. The project Lehavdil promises to be fascinating – a series of artistic endeavours where audiences will immerse themselves in an interactive sound performance prepared by Wojtek Blecharz, one of the most important Polish composers of contemporary music working today.

Let’s talk about the fascinating story of Grazia Peretz we mentioned above, which inspired us to bring Mizrahi music to our audiences.

She was a child star in the late 1960s and early 1970s, performing at Turkish weddings and taverns in Jaffa. She was an important proponent of music originating from folk traditions of the Middle East, and a regular TV performer at the peak of her career. Under pressure from her father, when she was just 16 she recorded a studio album featuring folk music of the Middle Eastern celebration style known as hafla. Turkish and Greek sounds defined Tel Aviv’s music scene of the period, while Grazia herself insisted the record include disco and synths. The album turned out to be a psychedelic fusion of Turkish folk and disco/rock, as well as being Grazia’s first and only record for Koliphone. Peretz retired from the music scene at just 18 years old, crushed by her early experiences. Grazia’s music is being rediscovered anew, and the album was reissued in 2013 bringing to a new generation of fans. This year’s festival also metaphorically marks an anniversary of the album’s original release, presenting a concert by MLDVA with guest vocalist Petra Nachtmanova. The musicians perform a repertoire recalling the sounds of Jaffa of 1978, the Koliphone label and progressive Mizrahi music.

We know plenty about the music aspects of the festival – so what can we expect from the literary, film and workshop sections?

As usual, the programme will be highly diverse. We will see films by the Israeli documentary-maker, social activist and journalist Yair Qedar. Authors invited to the 32nd Jewish Culture Festival include Jacek Tacik, Monika Sznajderman and Ishbel Szatrawska. Konstanty Gebert launches his book published to mark the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel. We have also prepared a wide range of workshops, including movement and dance classes GAGA/PEOPLE with Natalia Iwaniec and music workshops hosted by festival guests Yair Harel from the Piyut Ensemble, Frank London and Michael Winograd. As usual, we’ll host themed guided tours of Kazimierz and Podgórze. Gourmands are bound to enjoy a cycle of culinary workshops hosted by Bartek Kieżun, each culminating with a communal supper. The leading theme will be Jewish cuisine of the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean. There will also be workshops held at the Jewish Culture Festival marquee at the intersection of Wąska, Józefa and Jakuba streets, artistic installations, performances and media displays.

The most important element of this year’s programme is the return to Shalom on Szeroka Street. What can you about this special concert?

On 1 July, after a three-year absence of this favourite event, the public will hear the Israeli-Iranian vocalist whose concert at the Tempel Synagogue last year instantly became one of the festival’s most enduring memories. Boom Pam – one of the most important Israeli groups intertwining rock with traditional music of the Eastern Mediterranean – performs with special guests Neta Elkayam, Kutiman and Shai Tsabari. The combination may seem unexpected to start with, but we are certain the surprising sounds will delight us and reveal the most fascinating aspects of the contemporary Israeli music scene.

Return to Szeroka Street is especially important to us this year. The pandemic and all the uncertainties it brought took away our opportunities to celebrate the fact that we are all Homo ludens – we need to rejoice in one another’s company. All our important ideas and what we experience on the mental and spiritual levels should find fulfilment and expression through unbounded joy of togetherness.


Ula Nowak

Programme manager of the Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków, journalist, producer and curator of music events. Panellist of the Transglobal World Music Chart. She has worked with the J. Słowacki and Łaźnia Nowa theatres, the “New Tradition” Polish Radio Folk Festival and the OFF Festival Katowice. She has written for publications including Dwutygodnik,, “Gazeta Wyborcza” and “Jazz Forum”. Participant in the international music talent development programme “Keychange”. She hosts radio programmes on JAZZKULTURA and the Berlin-based

Attention! Due to very bad technical condition of the Tempel synagogue, we needed to move concerts to the Museum of Engineering and Technology at 15 Wawrzynca street.


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