It was around July 2019 when I visited an old friend of mine in Krakow, Poland. I walked into the Isaac synagogue and was amazed by the small community because I could see that the community consisted of different kind of people, and each one had a different background. Some were even going through a conversion process, something that is very difficult in Poland because there is no Beit Din here who can perform such a conversion.
Anyway, I decided to move to Krakow in September 2019 and quickly found out that there were families here who were hiding there Jewishness out of fear for Anti-Semitism, this was especially the case in the times of communism. After the fall of the communism people started to talk again about their Jewish background and history, or in certain cases people discovered their Jewish roots by clearing out the attic where they suddenly found old pictures with people on it that dressed in a Jewish manner.
Such people often first go to the JCC (Jewish Community Center) in Krakow to get information regarding their questions that they might have. Initially I thought that the Jewish Community Center was only for people that were looking for their Jewish roots, but when I moved here I quickly found out that they were doing much more. Once I started to go to the JCC Shabbat meals on Friday evening I discovered that there were so many people that were somehow affiliated with Judaism. Some were not religious, others were Orthodox, and there were also people who consider themselves reform or conservative. For me this is the ideal Jewish community. You always feel extremely welcome in this community, no matter what your connection to Judaism is.
When I used to live in Israel I took for granted that I could go to a different synagogue and community every week. But here in Europe it is often the case that it will be very difficult to find a different active synagogue, unless one is willing to travel for hours. Moreover, it was an amazing experience to learn Torah from Rabbi Avi Baumol, and half an hour later listen to Jonathan Ornstein (Executive director) during the Shabbat meal. It was really great to be part of a community were people respect the different forms of Judaism, and different perspectives. Of course you will always have individuals who do not respect other opinions and values but such people are in the minority here.
The other great aspect of the Jewish community in Krakow is the love that people have for Israel. I always hear positive stories about Israel, and the people that are going through a conversion try to learn Hebrew, they even visit Israel and feel deeply connected to the land. I didn’t regret moving here, even though I will move to a different country again.
It is strange that during this COVID-19 crisis I finally came to the full realization how much this community meant to me. Sometimes you only appreciate the things, and the people when they are not around anymore, I learned this already when I left Israel but never thought that I would apply it to this small community here in Krakow. I definitely recommend everyone to visit and spend a week here, no matter what you affiliation to Judaism is, and to live here as a Jewish student is also amazing.
Yes, it is not Israel, the US, or Canada, but some people really start to appreciate their Judaism and Jewish roots again when they move here. Krakow is a place where Jewish life was almost wiped out during the Second World War and is now going through a revitalization thanks to the amazing people in this small community. I am proud that I was part of the minyan when I went to the Izaak synagogue, and I hope that this process of revitalization will continue.