Old men with sidelocks and stethoscopes, violinists in black suits and hats, humpbacks with big noses and prayer shawls. Such is the population not of Kazimierz, Krakow’s historically Jewish district, but of the knickknack and souvenir shops lining its cobblestone streets.
For years, these “lucky” Jewish figurines have been objects of fascination and revulsion for Jewish tourists to Krakow. As part of this year’s Jewish Culture Festival, an event which has been drawing Poles and foreigners to the city for 23 years, the Ethnographic Museum will host “Souvenir Talisman Toy,” an interactive exhibit exploring the many meanings of these figurines, opening a dialogue inspired by the confluence of tourism, superstition, nostalgia, and craft.
“Souvenir Talisman Toy” includes an utterly absorbing trilingual (English, Polish, and Hebrew) website that asks visitors to upload their photographs of Jewish figurines and respond to others’, posing questions like: “Are they religious figures?” and “How are they similar to antisemitic imagery?”
Now that Krakow is experiencing a “Jewish Jewish Revival,”with the deepening involvement of Jewish Poles (and Poles with Jewish backgrounds) in contemporary Jewish life, we’re starting to wonder: Will the flesh-and-blood and the wooden move out of nostalgia to create something new?