8th Shalom Polin Gdańsk Jewish Culture Festival at the UG - report

From March 31 to April 2, the eighth Shalom Polin Jewish Culture Festival took place at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Gdańsk. Organised by ACK UG Alternator, DKF Miłość Blondynki and the University of Gdańsk, the event brings closer Jewish culture and history - both traditional, orthodox and contemporary. Visitors could watch documentaries and feature films appreciated at festivals, talk to authors of award-winning books, learn the basics of Hebrew and Yiddish, or prepare (and taste!) the Israeli dessert malabi.

dr Piotr Kurpiewski fot. Zuzanna Litwinko

dr Piotr Kurpiewski,  photo: Zuzanna Litwinko

This year's festival edition was opened by the Vice-Rector for Students and Quality of Education, dr hab. Arnold Kłonczyński, prof. UG, who invited numerous spectators to a screening of the documentary The Bone of Light, directed by Wojciech Szumowski (2021). The film was followed by an online conversation with the protagonist of the production, mountain kayaker and Olympian Dariusz Popiela, hosted by the Head of the UG Department of Film and Media, dr Piotr Kurpiewski. Popiela is a co-founder of the Centre Foundation, as part of which he is implementing the 'People, Not Numbers' project, which restores the memory of the Jewish community from southern Poland who died in the Holocaust. The Olympian talked about the reactions he encountered when working on the restoration of Jewish matzevot and the Jewish cemetery in Nowy Sącz, as well as the state's role in historical education. The discussion with Popiela is part of the memory/post-memory theme, which repeatedly recurred during the author meetings and film screenings at this year's Shalom Polin.

Od lewej: Rafał Kowalski, Miriam Synger, Tomasz Pupacz, Wanda Dittrich

From left: Rafał Kowalski, Miriam Synger, Tomasz Pupacz, Wanda Dittrich, photo: Milena Szabat

'One of the key motifs of the 8th Shalom Polin is post-memory, the restoration of the memory of Jewish citizens and places that disappeared during the Second World War. The protagonists of Shalom Polin: writers, filmmakers, and athletes - all use their own language, or the language of art, to talk about the importance of nurturing the memory of those who are no longer with us. They are there, albeit intangibly, but history still reminds us of them,' - says festival curator and executive producer Tomasz Pupacz (Academic Cultural Centre of the University of Gdańsk Alternator). - 'Another common theme of the festival events is the image of Jewish women, those from the past, to whom Sylwia Chutnik dedicated her publication "A Question of Character", but also those from the present, represented for example by this year's festival guest, Miriam Synger, author of the famous book "Jestem Żydówką".'

Ishbel Szatrawska

Ishbel Szatrawska, photo: Milena Szabat

The post-memory motif can be embodied by a meeting with Ishbel Szatrawska, author of the drama 'The Life and Death of Mr Hersh Libkin of Sacramento, California', awarded the title Discovery of the Year by Empik 2022 and nominated for 'Polityka's' Drama Passport, which was transferred to the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Kielce by Łukasz Kos in March this year. The drama tells the story of Hersh, a Jewish immigrant who embarks on an acting career in Hollywood under the wings of the MGM studio. Ishbel Szatrawska works with memory on a daily basis at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Cracow. In the drama, she also wanted to deal with the theme of individual memory. 'Hersh forgets many things, wants to remember many things, to recall. She struggles with flashbacks. This is the post-memory current,' - says the writer.

Another artist, Rafał Kowalski, with whom we met on the second day of the festival, also brought his characters out of the realm of oblivion. Kowalski - a native of Płock, director of the Museum of Mazovian Jews in Płock, reporter - dedicated his latest book Iluj. A brilliant young man devoted it to the characters of two Jews living in Płock over the decades. Iluj... is the story of two brilliant men: the Płock-born Yiddish poet Zysze Landau and the writer Tzadik Abraham Landau. Kowalski connects their fates, nurturing the memory of individuals linked by name and genes who never got to know each other.

Od lewej: Rafał Król i Sylwia Chutnik. fot. Milena Szabat

From the left: Rafał Król i Sylwia Chutnik. photo: Milena Szabat

Two authors, in particular, spoke about Jewish history from a female perspective: Sylwia Chutnik and Miriam Synger—the first co-editor of the monograph 'A Question of Character. Female fighters from the Warsaw Ghetto' (Czarne Publishing House) talked about her latest publication devoted to women who fought in the Second World War. Fifteen authors drew up the women's portraits: writers, scientists and creators. 'It is an attempt at herstorical storytelling,' - said the editor. The guests of Shalom Polin not only had the opportunity to learn about the herstorical tale of the Holocaust but also, thanks to the kindness of the Czarne Publishing House, they could purchase Chutnik's book in advance.

The final guest of the festival was Miriam Synger - author of the semi-autobiographical novel about the everyday life of a Jewish woman in contemporary Poland, 'Jestem Żydówką' (Znak Publishing House). The author wonders with extraordinary honesty on the book's pages: does religion give freedom? Is being Jewish in today's Poland a curse or perhaps a privilege? 'I talk about feminism in the book because there is a place for it in Judaism, even Orthodox Judaism. It is an essential part of my life. Women are equal to men, which is very important to me.' The meeting with Miriam Synger attracted crowds of interested people who asked the author questions about Jewish culture, history and everyday life with considerable curiosity.

Two pillars of the festival

Film Książe i Dybuk

Screening of The Prince and the Dybbuk (dir. Elwira Niewiera, Piotr Rosołowski, 2017) photo by Milena Szabat

'Shalom Polin is very much embedded in two artistic areas: film and literature. The dialogue between these two fields of art is very characteristic of this festival,' - said dr hab. Arnold Kłonczyński, prof. UG.

This year, too, the festival's creators have prepared a rich and valuable film programme. Documentary and feature film screenings awaited those wishing to attend. Among the titles screened were: The Prince and the Dybbuk (dir. Elwira Niewiera, Piotr Rosołowski, 2017), a documentary telling the story of Michał Waszyński - a Jew who emigrated to Italy and became a star of the film industry there, as well as joining the ranks of the Italian aristocracy. The production, directed by Jolanta Dylewska, Marek Edelman... and There Was Love in the Ghetto, combines a transcript of an interview with Marek Edelman and acting plots depicting the tender side of life in the ghetto. On the last day of the festival, audiences watched Bianca Stinger's 2021 documentary, Three Minutes Suspended in Time, which shows an American writer's attempt to re-tell the story of the Jews of Nasielsk. The festival's crowning film was the comedy-drama Unorthodoxly (Eliran Malka, 2018), inspired by true events about establishing the first ethnic political party in Israel.

Jewish language and palate

Dr Wojciech Śledź

Dr Wojciech Śledź,  photo: Milena Szabat

However, Shalom Polin was about more than just encounters with film and literature. Participants were able to enjoy lectures, language and cooking workshops. Saturday morning began with the preparation of malabi, an Israeli dessert based on milk pudding and rose water. Under the guidance of dr Wojciech Śledź (Polish-Israeli Joint Heritage Society Moreshet Meshutefe), visitors learnt about the malabi recipe and tasted Israeli delicacies. Mgr Maria Ka Kawska and dr Martyna Wielewska-Baka introduced the audience to the basics of the Yiddish language and the Hebrew alphabet. Equipped with notepads and pens, the guests noted down the material while the lecturers answered numerous questions from the audience.

Dr Marek Suchar

Dr Marek Suchar,  photo: Milena Szabat

Lectures are also an important part of the festival. This year, we took a trip through the streets of the picturesque Jerusalem district of Rehavia, which is the dream of many Israelis. Dr Marek Suchar from SWPS University led us along the traces of famous and prominent figures who have lived in the neighbourhood over the past decades. Dr Martyna Wielewska-Baka, on the other hand, tried to answer the question of how the political scene has changed after the November elections in Israel and wondered why there has been talk of a crisis of democracy and the birth of fascism in Israel in recent months?

Success of the 8th edition of Shalom Polin

Shalom Polin

photo: Milena Szabat

This year's edition was well attended: fourteen events attracted more than eight hundred participants. Moreover, each author meeting resulted in highly engaged discussions, which shows what a vital initiative the Gdańsk Jewish Culture Festival is. It is worth mentioning the support the festival has received for several years. This year, Shalom Polin was held under the honorary patronage of His Magnificence Rector of the University of Gdańsk prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski, Mayor of Gdańsk Aleksandra Dulkiewicz and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Media patronage was provided by Trojmiasto.pl, Gazeta Internetowa CDN, Radio MORS and "Gazeta Uniwersytecka" Pismo społeczności Akademickiej UG. Partners of the event were: the Israeli Embassy in Poland, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN, the Kamera Dawida Foundation WJFF.pl, the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival, the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation, Gdańsk City of Literature, the University of Gdańsk Publishing House, the Czarne Publishing House, the Cyranka Publishing House, the Znak Koncept Publishing House, the Polish-Israeli Joint Heritage Moreshet Meshutefet Society, the Museum of Mazovian Jews in Płock, the Faculty of Philology and History of the University of Gdańsk, and the Against Gravity Distributor. 

Festival curator and production of the festival: Tomasz Pupacz

Public relations and social media: Milena Szabat

Hosting author meetings: dr Wanda Dittrich, dr Rafał Kowalski

Film crew: Janusz Wojtkowski, Ksawier Szczechowski, Paweł Herman, Karolina Żuk

Photo reportage: Milena Szabat, Zuzanna Litwinko

Audience support: Agnieszka Grzegowska, Zuzanna Litwinko, Jagoda Reszko, Paulina Kosmala, Julita Kopczyńska, Agnieszka Kowalczyk, Ania Podżorska

Technical support: Wiesław Cyganik

Technical crew: Kaja Yushchenko, Miron Hałagida, Michał Wenta, Julita Szuster

Animation and festival graphics: Krzesimir Jagiełło

Photos: Milena Szabat
Photos: Zuzanna Litwinko
text Milena Szabat / Shalom Polin, elaborated. MJ, photos: Milena Szabat and Zuzanna Litwinko