Thursday, July 12, 2007

Light Unto The Nations?

We often cite Isaiah 60:3 which talks about non-jews being attracted to us as we act as a light unto the nations. I wonder if this is what Yishiyahu was talking about:

“Jewish style” restaurants are serving up platters of pirogis, klezmer bands are playing plaintive Oriental melodies, derelict synagogues are gradually being restored. Every June, a festival of Jewish culture here draws thousands of people to sing Jewish songs and dance Jewish dances. The only thing missing, really, are Jews.

“It’s a way to pay homage to the people who lived here, who contributed so much to Polish culture,” said Janusz Makuch, founder and director of the annual festival and himself the son of a Catholic family.

Poland's Jewish community fell on hard times during the Holocaust:

Probably about 70 percent of the world’s European Jews, or Ashkenazi, can trace their ancestry to Poland — thanks to a 14th-century king, Casimir III, the Great, who drew Jewish settlers from across Europe with his vow to protect them as “people of the king.” But there are only 10,000 self-described Jews living today in this country of 39 million.

The article goes on to address where the Jewish cultural revival among polish gentiles came from.

Sometime in the 1970s, as a generation born under Communism came of age, people began to look back with longing to the days when Poland was less gray, less monocultural. They found inspiration in the period between the world wars, which was the Poland of the Jews....

The revival of Jewish culture is, in its way, a progressive counterpoint to a conservative nationalist strain in Polish politics that still espouses anti-Semitic views. Some people see it as a generation’s effort to rise above the country’s dark past in order to convincingly condemn it.

It is fascinating to think of cultural appropriation as a progressive response to nativist, nationalist authoritarianism. It makes a lot of sense but it must be weird to show up at a mock Hasidic wedding or their Festival of Jewish Culture and be the only Jew.

This year, the festival had almost 200 events, including concerts and lectures and workshops in everything from Hebrew calligraphy to cooking. More than 20,000 people attended, few of whom were Jewish.

That 20,000 people, Jews or not, show up for a festival of Jewish culture really is an amazing thing. Is it because Poland has such deep wounds to heal? Perhaps because it's mostly free? Because klezmer is similar to other traditional Polish music? Frankly, I have no idea.



At 8/18/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

to me this weirdly echoes how pockets of european americans are really into native american arts and culture...


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