An elderly Hasidic rabbi in a tall fur hat shuffled onto the outdoor stage at the Kraków Jewish Culture Festival on a Saturday night in June and proceeded to sing the Hebrew Havdalah blessings that mark the end of the Jewish sabbath. The crowd of thousands that had been rocking to electric klezmer and a Moroccan Jewish band from Israel stood stock-still and stared uncomprehendingly at the rabbi. No one around me joined in singing the melodies familiar to even the least observant Jew. “Do you know what Havdalah is?,” I asked a young blonde Polish girl standing next to me. She shook her head.
Within minutes, the crowd, which jammed the heart of Kraków’s former Jewish quarter, was once again dancing to amplified music at the closing concert of a week-long festival attended by some 30,000—the largest Jewish-culture festival in Europe. One of dozens of such festivals held in Poland every year, Kraków’s, like most others, is organized by Poles who aren’t Jewish.