Last week we told you about the really enjoyable and inspiring European Jewish seminar on volunteering we went to in December and, as promised, wanted to share with you the great volunteering work happening with the people we met.
Agata, who is the national award-winning Volunteer Coordinator from JCC Krakow, has so much to say about the great work they do with volunteers and about Jewish life in Poland, that we’ve split her piece into two parts. Make sure to subscribe (check out the little button to the right) so you don’t miss out on part two!
Agata, tell us about JCC Krakow?
The Jewish Community Centre Krakow offers social, educational and community activities to Krakow’s Jewish community. It was opened in 2008 by HRH the Prince of Wales who spearheaded the initiative and built with funds gathered by World Jewish Relief. The JCC seeks to enlarge the community by reaching out to the many residents of Krakow with Jewish roots who have no contact with Jewish life.
We strive to be pluralistic and inclusive, providing innovative, quality programming – from nursery schooling through to a Seniors club – in a warm, optimistic atmosphere. We celebrate all the Jewish Holidays at the JCC and hold a kosher Shabbat dinner every Friday night for about 70-80 community members.The educational program focuses on (among lots of other things!): language courses, introduction to Judaism, belly dancing, yoga and Israeli dancing. We very often organize film screenings, lectures and exhibitions of contemporary art and design.
We also engage with thousands of Jewish tourists visiting Krakow each year – primarily Auschwitz – who view Poland as a place of suffering, defined by anti-Semitism. The JCC offers a very different picture of today’s Jewish life, one of optimism, a secure community, eager to build upon the past without being imprisoned by it. The interaction with tourists, each of whom returns home with a far broader, more representative view of Jewish life in Krakow, is crucial for its survival.
How did you initially get involved with JCC Krakow? What is your role?
I’m one of the many non-Jewish Poles interested in Polish Jewish culture and its history. A friend of mine from a Yiddish seminar I took part in told me about the centre soon after it opened and I was soon volunteering on the reception desk! It’s the most fascinating place in the whole building because everyone passes through it.
I met people from all over the world: Jews from Israel and USA who come to look for the traces of their ancestors; survivors and children of survivors; Jews who left Poland in March 1968; Poles who are interested in the history of Kazimierz. All willing to talk and discuss the same question: Is there any Jewish life in Krakow? When they hear there is, they ask: So what does it look like today? And we show them!
After a while, I went from volunteer to Volunteer Coordinator responsible for building a team of enthusiastic volunteers. I recruit them, explain general rules of volunteering at the JCC, organise training courses, monitor their work and develop a system that motivates them. I also make sure the all volunteers take a turn at the reception desk. From my own experience, it’s the best place to learn about the Jewish community – really crucial for those young Poles who have just discovered their Jewish roots. I also help out with Shabbat dinners, the Senior Club and joint activities with Jewish Social Care in Poland.
How do volunteers fit into what JCC Krakow does? How many do you have?
We have almost 40 volunteers. 80% of them are not Jewish. The goal of the JCC is to build a Jewish future in Krakow and to educate about Jewish life, history and tradition. The JCC members, who also volunteer, take this extremely seriously. For some of them, volunteering is the first step into the Jewish community and helps to discover their identity. It is also a good way to build a link between generations. The JCC is also an important platform for cooperation and dialogue between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Krakow. Volunteering together gives people a chance to get to know each other and to learn from one another.