When one thinks about Jews and Poland the first thing that comes to mind usually isn’t Jazz, or high fashion, or burlesque etc. A new and innovative project called People2People is seeking to change that dynamic by introducing us to a collection of interesting Polish Jews, and similarly interesting Jews with Polish ancestry.
The featured individuals are involved in such diverse fields as art, business, music, medicine, education, literature, entertainment and more. The project’s Web site is continuously updated with their individual stories. People2People was created by The Center for International Relations Foundation, an independent, non-governmental think tank which deals with international policy issues, as well as Polish foreign and European policy. Other partners include Rechters Agency, the Tikkunology Foundation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland and the Embassy of Israel in Poland.
The Web site also contains a memorial section that highlights the historical achievements and legacies of Polish Jews. It includes such notables as Jadwiga Grabowska, the creator of the most important fashion brand in post-war Poland, often called the Polish Coco Chanel; Krystyna Skarbek, an intelligence agent and the original James Bond; Irena Szewi?ska, a Polish athlete who set world records in female sprints and was a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame; and Fania Lewado, the proprietor of a popular vegetarian restaurant in pre-war Warsaw, now rediscovered by contemporary chefs.
“It is an unpredictable and astonishing journey”, says CIR’s President, Ms. Margorzata Bonikowska, PhD. “During these conversations we have uncovered a variety of definitions of the Jewish identity and of the Polish one. Common to these personalities is a sensitivity to the modern world and the will to improve it, drawing on the unique DNA created by the shared European heritage of both nations. These are people who can inspire others, not only from a Polish-Jewish perspective, but also from a broader humanitarian one. They embody the potential for the revival of contemporary Jewish heritage in Poland through the talents and the determination of people who operate in all walks of life – art, business, social activity and even fashion. Every one of these stories can easily be the subject of an entire book”.
I’ve already gone through several of the profiles and it’s fascinating on both an individual basis and from a wider perspective, as questions of what it means to be a Jew are tackled. I certainly wrestle with these questions all the time, but I am heartened by a viewpoint on Judaism that focuses on joy, life, achievement and more rather than on perpetual victimhood. The story of specifically Polish Jews presented here is particularly germaine and suitable. Make it a point to visit the People2People project Web site and prepare to be enthralled!