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Krakow 2008

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Jewish Rebirth Ignites Krakow

- the Paideia Academic and Alumni Conference 2008

Krakow turned its most sunny side toward the Paideia alumni as they convened in the ancient Polish city for the Paideia Academic and    Alumni Conference June 26-29.

The Conference was planned to coincide with the opening of the Jewish Cultural Festival 2008, which filled Krakow with concerts, lectures, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours exploring the Jewish history of the region, now bereft of almost all its Jewish population.
The Conference thus became part of the rebirth and resurrection of Jewish intellectual and spiritual life in Eastern Europe.

The Alumni Conference was inaugurated by noted author and Holocaust survivor Fanya Gottesfeld Heller who in an emotionally touching speech shared some of her life wisdom with the participants.
Emotionally touched were also several of the invited speakers who visited the region for the first time. Many of who opened their talks by recalling stories of life-events told by parents and grandparents who once lived in the area.

Inspiring and intellectually challenging as always, Moshe Halbertal, professor of Philosophy and Jewish Thought at Hebrew University and chairman of Paideia’s Academic committee, opened the theme of this year’s conference: “Text, Translatability and Multi-Culturalism,” painting in his keynote speech a broad developing outline of Jewish intellectual history.
For Naomi Seidman, professor of Jewish Culture from Berkeley, USA, this was a first visit to Krakow and Galicia. Through the experiences of her family, she explored translatability and cross-cultural understanding, while Michael Berenbaum, writer and teacher in the conceptual developments of museums and adjunct professor of Theology at the University of Judaism, described the process of molding the (untranslatable) experience of the Shoah into an architectural form.

Moshe Idel, professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew University, also member of Paideia’s Academic committee, and a visiting professor at a number of prestigious universities in Europe and the US, emphasized in his concluding speech the unprecedented impact of one single book: the Bible.
Across cultures and continents and over millennia the Bible has kept its position as a centre of life, up until the last two centuries, but always edited and in translation, since the original words in fact were spoken.
The biblical texts were always “translated” into different cultural contexts. Rabbinic times put parts of the texts aside to emphasize others, shifting focus from ritual performance to those parts of the text that could regulate life.
Jewish mysticism on the other hand searched for answers other than those that could be found in the text. While the Middle Ages asked for intellectual answers: a cosmic order, without which there could be no philosophy and no metaphysics. “What is most important: what you do or what you think?” asked Maimonides. “But he was clever enough to hide”, noted Moshe Idel, “that he himself chose thinking.”

Presentations were also given by the Amalie Beer fellows of Paideia 2007-2008, covering subjects as diverse as “Zion in Hebrew Andalusian Poetry,” “Suicides among Jews in Belarus,” “Progress in the thought of Abraham Kook,” “Rambam – between Knowledge and Worship” in his “Docta Ignorantia” and an introduction to the life and work of the former Stockholm Rabbi Marcus Ehrenpreis. Presented by Simona Farcasan, Ksenia Hatalskaya, Artur Skorek Vukan Marinkovic and Fabian Svoborovsky.

The Conference served as an exceptional occasion for a good portion of the 150 individuals that now have graduated from Paideia to exchange ideas with each other, with academicians and with the local Jewish community. Enthusiasm and creativity radiated when the former students, from every corner of Europe, met to organize networks and discuss plans for the future, such as how to develop the Alumni Association, Paideia’s future education & research and how to contribute to the ever growing Jewish presence in Europe. The ideas were far too many to be dealt with exhaustively during the conference but will continue to materialize in the regional networks of the Paideia Alumni Association.

Written by Eva Ekselius