Response to the recent statement issued by Rabbi Boaz Gadka on July 5 on behalf of the Gmina Wyznaniowa Żydowska w Krakowie (Official Jewish Community of Kraków) in an effort to justify the rental of the Chevra Tehilim prayerhouse and respond to the recent media attention focused on FestivALT’s protests against how the building is being used.
Time & Date 16.07.2019 /
Original language PL / EN
In English with Polish translation
Project Remember Chewra Tehilim
The importance of the building is beyond dispute. An architectural jewel of the 19th century, the building’s religious wall paintings are among the most complete and visually stunning in all of Poland.
It is a known fact in Krakow that more than one active Jewish community has, in the past, petitioned the Gmina to rent the building for the purposes of Jewish activities, however, the the Gmina chose instead to rent the building to a disco, and then to a bar/restaurant which is now called HEVRE. The Rabbi uses Talmudic law to justify these decisions, writing, “The Tractate of Megila says that the sanctity of the synagogue can be bought for money before seven representatives of the Jewish municipality. We further read in this tractate that after the act of buying holiness you can even drink alcohol in such a synagogue.” The Rabbi also says that “Once the synagogue has been built, it can be used for non-religious purposes, but it must be activities that protect its dignity.” He also asks why there is so much protest over this building when there are several synagogues throughout Poland being used inadequately.
There are many former synagogues and Jewish religious spaces in Poland that are currently used as bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Though we may feel uncomfortable in some of these sites, we understand that often the current use of a synagogue is what keeps the building intact. In small towns throughout Poland, which do not currently have Jewish populations, it would make no sense to try and maintain an empty synagogue for a community that is no longer present to use it. In the case of Chevra Tehilim, that is not what is happening. There is a living Jewish community in Kraków that has asked for and would have benefited from the building being turned into a space for Jewish life, activities, and culture. And the current use of the prayerhouse has in fact led to irreparable damage to the building that was made with the consent of the Gmina: In 2016, at the request of the current tenants, the Gmina applied to the city conservator for a permit to destroy the niche that once held the Aron HaKodesh, the holiest space in the building, in order to make a new entrance on Bożego Ciała Street.
The Gmina has failed to “protect the dignity” of the building on at least three counts: first, by renting the space for commercial enterprises when it could have rented it for Jewish religious and cultural purposes as early as 2013; second, by consciously engaging in actions that resulted in the irreparable damage caused by the current renter; third, by using Jewish religious law to dissimulate the Gmina’s own poor decisions and destructive actions.
We at FestivALT therefore consider the Rabbi Gadka’s explanations to be insufficient and in fact further underscore the Gmina’s irresponsible approach towards Jewish heritage. We will continue to protest the building’s current treatment and scrutinize all activities connected to the building. FestivALT calls on the Gmina to hold a public meeting in which all interested parties can openly discuss the future of this important building. It is our sincere hope that in the very near future the Gmina will look to honor and respect this building by partnering with tenants who will protect what still remains.