…continued, In conversation with Lindsay Goldberg
Lindsay you are emblematic to our generation’s desire to know more about Poland today. On what level, do you think people are interested in the trajectory?
Yes, I immersed myself in my journey to see if the understanding people have of Poland today is right or wrong. People assume Poland is anti-semitic, which I found the opposite to be true. Jewish communities in Poland are so vibrant, and all of the Jewish organisations and groups are bursting memberships. I feel that my generation, thinks the Jewish community is non-existent or devoid of any presence.
I have tried to see for myself, what is going on in Poland today and going back again has expanded and clarified my understanding. Judaism or Jewish life is not just on the surface for many of these people, their Jewishness is deeper than that. It’s coming from historical roots that are deeply connected to the past, despite the fact that the war shifted peoples identity in the region.
My generation forgot about the ones that stayed. Some people assimilated after the war because it became a communist country and others were raised thinking they were catholic, having to hide their Jewish heritage in order to survive. Parents integrated their children into Polish society, often putting their children up for adoption to save their lives.
It is clear that people who crossed borders to Ukraine or Belarus before or after the war – they are coming back.
Did you meet any characters along the way during your journey that you can talk about?
The Jewish life that I experienced over there, helped me understand the resilience of Jewish people, they survived and are not afraid to continue. When something is broken and heals itself, it gets stronger and these people have already experienced great loss. For them nothing is unstoppable, they are not gambling and this is a new stage of social and cultural evolution. today. It makes sense to me that people might go back, this country has such a long history of Jews living in there. From my point of view, I think the Jewish community will grow because of people migrating back to Poland, and with more people discovering their roots. The way that it’s going now Poland is thriving, more than other European countries.
Every encounter I had and person I spent time with, I developed a personal connection with.
Magda is a 36-year-old lovely woman from Poznan. I had plans to meet Magda before I knew anything about her religious identity. We are connected through friends outside Poland. Before my arrival I was told that Magda had just found out she had Jewish roots and our mutual friend thought that it would be an invaluable experience for both of us.
I took a train to Poznan from Gdansk and stayed with Magda. She was living in her parents house and showed me a photo of her great grandmother and her sister, happy together in the river from when they were young. She told me that her great grandmother on her mother’s side was Jewish, but converted to Catholicism a week before she got married.
I was sitting on the couch with Magda and we were searching on the internet to see if we could find more clues about her identity. Magda has a male best friend who was Jewish, and she has spent time living and travelling to London and abroad throughout her life, so Judaism isn’t foreign to her. She never was religious. They went to their family cottage out in the country to find more papers, searching for answers as to why her great grandmother converted to Catholicism.
For her there was always something missing in her life, and she thought this might be the missing link. After I left Magda, she was planning to go to the genealogy institute in Warsaw to find out more about her identity.
Hanna I met in 2013, she shared an amazing personal story of how she found a hamsa in the middle of the corridor where her locker was. She was 10 at the time. Not knowing this was a hamsa, she took the piece of metal/ jewellery home and showed her mum, and her mum said oh, you better look after that it looks very precious, maybe it’s gold! So she put it inside her special box. Then at around the age of 16 this hand appeared in her dream. In the morning when she woke up she asked her mum about this symbol, and this was when her mum confirmed her Jewish identity.
Hanna is a very special person. She is very involved with Jewish life and community. If it wasn’t for Hanna I wouldn’t have met some of the great people she introduced me to on this trip. Hanna also is in a relationship with a man from Israel who lives in Brussels who is also Jewish.
Jarosław is a brilliant musician, signed with the very well-known music label Tzaddik. He isn’t Jewish but he has a very close affinity with the religion and culture. His instrument of choice is the Piano accordion. Through this process he tries to bring back the lost voice that’s been muted during the war period, by creating a sound of what he believes Klezmer would have evolved to in this modern age.
Robert’s father is an architect and loves to paint, he is always painting landscapes and scenes from memories of his childhood. Robert’s mother’s father is Jewish. When Robert became interested in his Jewish identity, it sparked a new interest in his family history.
Robert’s maternal grandfather is buried in the local cemetery in Gdansk. I was fortunate enough to be invited with his family on the occasion of day of the dead, All Saints Day, to visit their relatives who had died. I went with his family and extended relatives. Robert’s grandfather is buried amongst non-Jewish relatives and there is no symbol telling anyone he is Jewish. He was a member in his later years of Children Survivors group and also gave a Spielberg testament – two things Robert shared with me. Having just come back from Israel few days earlier, he brought with him a stone to place on the grave of his grandfather. To him, this was a very sentimental and personal experience.
Almost every meal we would go to his parent’s house to eat. They live in a very humble apartment. His father speaks very little English, however a shared interest in the arts connected us. I felt very privileged to be invited inside his studio, where he paints. It was in the bedroom of the brothers, but they no longer live there, so it is his space for painting. Robert’s father only had few canvases, so always painted over them to improve or start over from scratch. Because of Robert’s interest, his mother and father are also more open to looking at their Jewish identity again. His brother, on the other hand, doesn’t have any inkling to go down that path, he is happy the way he is.
Gosia is a 37-year Polish woman, who spent two years in New York City studying photography at Parsons School of Design. She’s been to Burning man, and is just like anyone else. I invited her to come with me to the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) for the boker tov brunch one Sunday. She loved it so much that she decided she would return with her friends, having made new friends and new connections in this place.
For her religion isn’t her priority. She believes in equality and liked the fact that the community doesn’t question your religion and doesn’t value you any higher for that matter.
Does your work deal with the question: to stay or to leave?
These individuals are genuinely happy in Poland. I think for most of them, if they were to leave the country it would be for different reasons than their Judaism. The community there is rocking it, and people are so engaged and thriving to develop their newfound identity. They go to Israel for programs like Tag lit and come back to Poland inspired. It’s only few of them that go make Aliyah, and they do this sometimes to find a Jewish partner, or they have one, or they like the lifestyle. So far it’s safe for the Jewish community in Poland.
Many of the religious people there, feel like their purpose is in Poland. And even though it’s difficult to keep kashrut, they manage. There is kosher food, some things are expensive – but it’s the lifestyle they choose to live.
One place in Kazimiers Krakow, allows practising Jews to come to her café on Shabbat and have hot drinks, and pay for them after the Shabbat, because her daughter is connected to Judaism.