‘Being Jewish Has Become Hip and Fashionable in Poland’

Some Poles are so fascinated by things Jewish they give their children Jewish names and observe Jewish holidays.

KRAKOW – When Geneviève Zubrzycki began conducting field work in Poland more than 30 years ago, being Jewish was not cool. “People would hide their Jewish roots so well that often even their spouses and children didn’t know,” notes the Canadian-born sociologist from the University of Michigan.

Today,  nothing would make many Poles happier than to discover they had Jewish roots, she says.

“This is something truly extraordinary,” declares the scholar who has witnessed and documented this transformation from up close. “Being Jewish has become hip and fashionable in Poland.”

Zubrzycki’s recently published book Resurrecting the Jew: Nationalism, Philosemitism, and Poland’s Jewish Revival (Princeton University Press) sets out to explain the obsession with all things Jewish in certain parts of Polish society.

Her findings, based on 10 years of research and more than 100 interviews, were presented at a talk earlier this month at Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival – itself a perfect example of this very phenomenon. Launched 35 years ago, the festival – one of the biggest cultural events in Poland and among the biggest Jewish festivals of its kind in the world – is run by non-Jews and overwhelmingly attended by non-Jews.

“These people who are fascinated by everything Jewish in turn fascinated me,” says Zubrzycki, whose paternal grandparents came from Poland (she is not herself Jewish) and grew up in Quebec.

“For them, it’s about returning to an essence of Polishness that is not strictly Catholic.”

Some of her interviewees were so passionate about Jewishness, she relays, that they had even given their children Jewish names and begun observing Jewish holidays.

Others were simply hoping to make sense of old documents discovered in their attics, which they suspected were proof of their Jewish ancestry.

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‘Being Jewish has become hip and fashionable in Poland’ (Haaretz)  

Photo: Krakow Jewish Culture Festival (Mariusz Cieszewsk, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Poland)