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Towards Life: Reviving Jewish Life in Contemporary Poland
November 20, 2014


Crowd at the 24th Jewish Culture Festival Krakow, 2014.
Admission: General $12 | YIVO Members $8
Box Office: | (212) 868-4444

How can a culture flourish when its members are less than 1% of a population? This fall, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews unveils its core exhibition against a backdrop of nearly 20 Jewish festivals in Poland, and the proliferation of Jewish-themed art, Jewish Studies departments, bookstores, and Jewish-style restaurants. Yet Poland’s Jewish population is only 25,000. How do we interpret this phenomenon? Scholars Konstanty Gebert (European Council on Foreign Relations), Geneviève Zubrzycki (University of Michigan), and Samuel Kassow, moderator (Trinity College), and artists Katka Reszke (writer and filmmaker) and Piotr Paziński (novelist) discuss the needs of the Polish Jewish community, the reasons for Poles’ increasing interest in Jewish culture, and the complicated use of the word “revival” in connection to Jewish life in Poland today. For those interested, there will be a discussion following this program in the Great Hall.

Presented by YIVO, the Polish Cultural Institute, and Tablet Magazine.

This event is part of the YIVO Artists and Scholars Series Fall 2014, which brings together some of the most innovative thinkers and artists working on East European Jewish life today for conversation and collaboration. Other Artists and Scholars programs take place on October 30 and December 11.


Konstanty Gebert is an international reporter and columnist for Polish and international media; associate fellow for the European Council on Foreign Relations; and media consultant for the Media Development Investment Fund. Gebert was a democratic opposition activist in the 1970s, and underground journalist (pen name: Dawid Warszawski) in the 1980s. He has covered the Polish Round Table negotiations in 1989, the wars in Bosnia, the Middle East, and the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda. Gebert was also co-founder of the underground Jewish Flying University and the Polish Council of Christians and Jews, and founder of the Polish Jewish intellectual monthly Midrasz. He is author of eleven books, in Polish, about Poland’s Round Table negotiations in 1989, the Yugoslav wars, Israeli history, commentaries on the Torah, and a panorama of the European 20th century. Gebert has served as Visiting professor at UC Berkeley, Grinnell College, and Hebrew University.

Samuel Kassow is Charles H. Northam Professor of History at Trinity College, and is recognized as one of the world's leading scholars on the Holocaust, and on the Jews of Poland. Kassow was born in 1946 in a DP-camp in Stuttgart, Germany and grew up speaking Yiddish. Kassow attended the London School of Economics and Princeton University where he earned a PhD in 1976 with a study about students and professors in Tsarist Russia. He is widely known for his 2007 book, Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Indiana University Press) was elected a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, has won numerous awards, and has lectured widely.

Piotr Paziński is a novelist, essayist, translator, and editor-in-chief of Midrasz, the magazine of Polish Jews, edited in Warsaw. He has written two books on Ulysses including, Labirynt i drzewo (Labyrinth and Tree: Studies on James Joyce's Ulysses) and z Ulissesem (Dublin with Ulysses), a fictitious travel guide for Dublin, Ireland. In 2009 he published his novella Pensjonat (The Boarding House), which was shortlisted for the Nike Award and received the Paszport Polityki, the cultural award of the Polish weekly Polityka for literature, film, theatre, music and visual arts in 2009, as well as the European Union Prize for Literature in 2012. In 2013, Paziński published his second volume, Ptasie ulice (Birds Streets), a collection of three short-stories and one novella on Jewish collective memory overshadowed by the Holocaust. He has written articles on Judaism, Jewish culture and history; has contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines; translated short stories by S. Y. Agnon (from Hebrew) and most recently, Jews and Words by Amos and Fania Oz (from English); and edited and co-edited books for the Midrasz Library and the Austeria publishing house.

Katka Reszke is a documentary filmmaker, writer, and researcher of Jewish history, culture, and identity. As a writer and documentary filmmaker, she specializes in Polish-Jewish history and relations, as well as human rights, social justice, minority and gender issues. Her recent films (co-directed with Slawomir Grunberg) focus on Polish Jewish history and identity and include, Coming Out Polish Style (2011), Magda (2013), and It's Not a Fairy Tale (2012). Reszke is also the film editor of The Peretzniks (2009) and Castaways (2013). She is currently involved in the production of Karski & The Lords of Humanity (as Second Director and Co-Writer) and Trans-Reaction (as Co-Director). She has lectured at institutions such as the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Rashi Institute in Troyes, France. She has received fellowships from the Melton Centre for Jewish Education, the Mandel Foundation, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. In Poland, Reszke worked at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and at the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Geneviève Zubrzycki is Associate Professor of Sociology, Faculty Associate at the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, and Director of the Center for Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Michigan. She studies national identity and religion, collective memory and the politics of commemorations, and the place of religious symbols in the Polish public sphere. Her book The Crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland (University of Chicago Press) received several awards in the U.S. and recently appeared in Polish. Zubrzycki is now at work on a new book on the current revival of Jewish communities in Poland and non-Jewish Poles’ interest in all things Jewish.

Venue: YIVO Institute at the Center for Jewish History  |  15 West 16th Street - NYC   view map

For directions and parking information, click here.

All public programs are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of assistive listening devices are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals upon request.