Library > Reading Corner > Jerusalem Kugel on the Vistula

Jerusalem Kugel on the Vistula

The National Library of Israel had its debut event at the 27th Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, whose theme this year was 'Jerusalem'.


It's a Sunday afternoon in Kazimierz and Israeli chef and food writer Hedai Ofaimm is preparing a Jerusalem Kugel.  The oven in the hotel kitchen has stopped working and he needs to find somewhere to cook the kugel overnight so that it will be ready in time for Avira DeKudsha - a journey of Taste, Smell and Sound of the City of Jerusalem, and the National Library of Israel's debut event at the 27th Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, whose theme this year is 'Jerusalem'.  The ever resourceful Festival team comes up with an unusual solution – the kitchen of the 'Barka' a boat moored on the Vistula, which is the Festival party venue 'Teder', hosting DJs from Israel and Poland. 


 Photo: Bartosz Dittmar, Jewish Culture Festival

And this is why Hedai and Festival volunteers (known as 'Machers'),  helped by musicians Aviv Bahar and Hadas Kleinman, are carrying a large pot of oiled sweet peppery noodles through the streets of Kazimierz, echoing a time when Jewish children would run to the baker's oven to bring home the cholent (czulent) in time for the Shabbat meal.​


 Photo: Rotem Ben Hamo

And you may well ask - as many did - why the National Library is at a Jewish Culture Festival in Poland?  The NLI is on a journey of renewal, making our cultural treasures and extensive collections available to diverse audiences in Israel and across the globe.  Artists, musicians and writers are invited into our collections to be inspired to create innovative cultural experiences to be presented to new audiences at major Jewish cultural events, such as the Festival in Krakow. So our books and archives, which are carefully stored in the vaults at the NLI in Jerusalem, enjoy a new lease of life in Europe, in places where people can connect and engage with them. 


Festival goers came to the 'Cheder' café and heard Hedai tell the story of the 1948 Siege of Jerusalem and the resulting food shortages, whilst sampling Sfiga, an improvised Shabbat dish of stale bread and herbs; they savoured herring seasoned with mint whilst listening to the moral Tale of the Fish and the Rabbit and watched Hedai carve the glistening golden kugel to the story of Gedalia and the Besht (Baal Shem Tov).  Between each course, musical duo Hadas Kleinman and Aviv Bahar, enchanted the audience with a specially arranged soundtrack of Shabbat music from the NLI's music archives. Later that evening we raised seven toasts - 'Sheva Brachot' one for each day of the week - each served in seven NLI shot glasses,  with music to evoke the different communities who comprise the mosaic of the city of Jerusalem.


  Photo: Bartosz Dittmar, Jewish Culture Festival

At the Centre for Jewish Culture, we exhibited 'Yearning for Jerusalem' a sound-video installation created by Emmanuel Witzthum and Arik Futterman, a fusion of prayers of longing for Jerusalem, from the NLI's sound archives and  illuminated manuscripts from our Collections presented in an evocative surround-sound setting that mesmerized visitors.

    Photo: Szymon Makuch, Jewish Culture Festival


Bringing these events to Krakow, a centuries-old illustrious centre for Jewish life once known as 'The Jerusalem of Poland', just decades after its annihilation, and in the context of today's revitalised engagement with Jews and what it means to be Jewish in Poland,  is a powerful and complex undertaking.  Our collections take on new meaning when seen afresh through the eyes of others – especially people who are starting out on their Jewish journey.

The Jewish Community Centre (JCC) in Krakow has become a major hub for Jewish life in Krakow – providing a wide range of activities and classes in Hebrew, Jewish Halachah, Shabbat meals and even childcare services for the local Jewish community, many of whom are just beginning to explore their recently discovered Jewish identity. Alongside  the Jewish Culture Festival, the JCC puts on a complementary programme of learning and activities as well as hosting the largest Friday night dinner in Poland since WW2 (650 people this year!).

We brought Jerusalem Sofer Stam (Hebrew Scribe) and artist, Avraham Borshevsky to the JCC to demonstrate his work in 'kosher writing' and present examples from the NLI's collection of manuscripts.

 Photo: Caron Sethill, NLI 

One of the participants, Anna, had come especially from Katowice to Krakow to attend the workshop, so far she has practi​​ced Hebrew Calligraphy with YouTube, now she had the chance to meet and see a real scribe at work.​


 Photo: Bartosz Dittmar, Jewish Culture Festival

Krakow is an increasingly busy Jewish space with an ever growing number of Jewish organisations and initiatives, as evidenced by the fascinating array of new materials we collected there for the Library's Jewish European Ephemera Collection, documenting Jewish life in Europe today.

So the NLI hope to be back in Krakow next year with more innovative ideas for sharing our collections. 
Meanwhile, here's the secret for the perfect Jerusalem Kugel – cook it slowly overnight on a boat on the Vistula.

The National Library of Israel wishes to thank Janusz Makuch and all of the team at the Jewish Cultural Festival and ​Jonathan Ornstein and the team at JCC Krakow  for  their  great cooperation, support and warm welcome.
The NLI's participation at the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow is part of Gesher L'Europa. ​An initiative of the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe and the National Library of  Israel to create  opportunities for European scholars, library and archive professionals, educators, cultural and community activists working within Jewish settings, to develop mutually beneficial relationships with the NLI and to engage with the NLI's diverse and extensive collections. ​

  Photo: Bartosz Dittmar, Jewish Culture Festival