Just south of the bustling old town square in Krakow, Poland, is a district with deep Jewish roots.
The Jewish quarter of the city, Kazimierz was an independently governed town during the Middle Ages and a model for the coexistence of Jews and Christians for centuries. In 1941 the district’s Jewish inhabitants were forcibly relocated to the Krakow ghetto by German forces.
Today Kazimierz is a center of the Jewish community’s rebirth in Krakow.
I visited Kazimierz in July on a two-week tour of Europe. It was a moving and enjoyable experience. Below are some of my top picks for destinations to visit in the district.
Jewish Culture Festival
Every summer since 1988, Kazimierz has hosted Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival. The 2015 edition, from June 25 through July 5, presented a variety of Jewish programing. From concerts and city tours to Shabbat services and educational workshops, the festival provides many opportunities to experience everything Kazimierz has to offer.
I arrived in the city on a Friday just before the conclusion of the festival and took in a performance by klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer and his band, Ancestral Groove, at the Tempel Synagogue.
The 26th Jewish Culture Festival will be held June 24 to July 3, 2016.
Pil Peled’s ‘Judah’
For the 2013 Jewish Culture Festival, Israeli street artist Pil Peled created a larger-than-life wall mural in the center of Kazimierz. His work, “Judah,” shows a child with a lion’s head. The child represents fear and vulnerability, while the lion represents the Jewish struggle to survive and preserve our culture.
This mural caught my eye while I walked through the district. I was instantly captivated by its magnitude and striking symbolism.
Built in the 1400s, the Old Synagogue is the oldest synagogue building still standing in Poland. During World War II, it was devastated and ransacked by the Germans, and artwork and Jewish relics were looted.
Now it operates as a museum with a focus on Krakow’s Jews. Exhibits are separated into themes dealing with birth, prayer rituals, diet, divorce and death. The building is centrally located at the Kazimierz square, where many events of the Jewish Culture Festival are held annually.
Hamsa Israeli Restobar
Mostly devoid of Jews after World War II, Kazimierz became a center for Krakow’s beatnik bars and cafe culture. Much of that subculture still exists, but with the addition of Jewish-themed restaurants, bookstores and souvenir shops.
One shop I visited offered a taste of authentic Israeli fare with a trendy vibe, served up with a slice of polish hospitality. Open since 2012 and just down the street from the Old Synagogue, the Hamsa Israeli Restobar is perfect for relaxing with a hummus platter and an ice-cold Polish beer with friends.
Make sure to check out the garden in the back of the restaurant, where comfortable chairs greet guests amid contemporary Israeli music.