Each month, we share a blog post about the Volunteer of the Month featured in our JCC 2017 calendar. The calendar showcases the young adults, most of whom are not Jewish, who spend their time volunteering at the JCC to help us rebuild Jewish life in Krakow.
This month, we introduce you to our December Volunteers, Agnieszka & Kuba! They both started out as volunteers and now are full-time staff members of the JCC.
1) Where are you from?
Kuba: I come from a small town in the northern part of Poland.
Agnieszka: I'm originally from Krakow - as we say, a true Krakowianka. I was raised in a non-Jewish family in the Jewish district of Krakow, Kazimierz, a place filled with pre-war synagogues and traces of Jewish life and heritage. Now Kazimierz is a modern renovated district where history meets contemporary living, a trendy neighbourhood, but when I was growing up it was different, very rundown. It’s been amazing to watch these streets change.
2) Why did you decide to volunteer at the JCC?
Kuba: My parents always wanted me to learn more about the world and other cultures. They taught me to treat others with honor and respect. That’s probably one of the reasons why I decided to major in Middle-Eastern studies at the Jagiellonian University. In 2014, I spent the summer in Israel interning at the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv. Upon return, I decided to become a volunteer at the JCC because I wanted to broaden my knowledge of Jewish history and culture.
Agnieszka: Growing up in Kazimierz, I became interested in Jewish history and culture. When I found out that for a thousand years Jews were a major part of Polish history, when I learned more about the Holocaust, I felt that something was missing from my history, my environment, my neighbourhood. I felt a void, I felt I would never be able to experience Jewish life here. But then I found out about the JCC, and that gave me the opportunity to meet and join the local Jewish community and help rebuild Jewish life, learn about Shabbat not only from books but by experiencing it with JCC members. And then I was lucky enough to get a job at the JCC!
3) What is your best JCC memory/the person you met/the experience you had?
Kuba: Volunteering at the JCC was an excellent way to meet many interesting people, to exchange ideas and opinions with them, and hear their views on a variety of subjects.
Agnieszka: My friend Olga found out about her Jewish roots when she was 12 years old. As a student, she joined the JCC, and for the first time ever she learned how to properly celebrate Pesach in accordance with Jewish tradition. Olga cleaned her house from chametz, and I was the one to whom she sold it! She’s never thought she'll be able to lead a Jewish life, and I’ve never thought I will be able to experience Jewish life in my hometown!
4) What is one of your favourite things at the JCC?
Kuba: Every day spent at the JCC was a unique and interesting experience that taught me something new. That, and the community itself, are the best things about this Centre.
Agnieszka: Being part of JCC Krakow’s Ride For The Living has been one of the most profound and moving experiences of my life. In 2017, during the 4th edition of the Ride, over 160 participants from all around the world biked 55 miles from Auschwitz-Birkenau to JCC Krakow to celebrate the revival of Jewish life in Poland. For the third year in a row, we were joined by Marcel Zielinski, a 83-year-old Holocaust Survivor who was just 10 years old at the time of Auschwitz liberation and had to walk back to Krakow searching for his family. He came back to Poland for Ride For The Living to retrace that route on a bike, this year - with his son and two granddaughters. I am still overwhelmed by all the love and support I have received during Ride For The Living, and I couldn't have been happier or felt more fulfilled. I am grateful to all Riders, my amazing JCC Krakow team, and everyone who has ever supported the Ride. I hope to see you all in 2018!