#REMEMBERCHEWRA

The building at Meiselsa 18, designed by the prolific Polish-Jewish architect Nachman Kopald, was opened in 1896 as the prayer house and yeshivah for the Chevra Tehilim Congregation (The Society of Psalms). During the Holocaust, the Germans devastated the building’s interior. After the war and until 2006, the building housed the “Krakowiacy” singing and dancing group.

In 2001, under the 1997 “restitution of Jewish property law , the synagogue was returned to the official Jewish Community of Kraków. In 2008 magnificent polichromes were uncovered on the interior walls, becoming the most important collection of surviving Jewish religious wall paintings in Kazimierz. In 2012, Beit Krakow, a Krakow based progressive Jewish community, tried unsuccessfully to obtain the building as a space for spiritual and artistic practice, education, and theatre.

Instead, the Jewish Community of Kraków leased the building to the Mezcal disco, who installed shelving against the wall paintings, and speakers in the site of the Aron Hakodesh (the Ark of the Torah). The condition of the frescoes deteriorated signifcantly. Meanwhile, in 2013, the building was officially registered with the city’s heritage department.

In 2016, the Jewish Community of Kraków agreed to let the Alchemia Bar & Restaurant open a bar/restaurant called “Hevre” in the space, where people are invited to enjoy drinks and food in atmospheric Jewish ruins. The creation of Hevre involved the deliberate destruction of the former site of the Aron Hakodesh to create a new door onto Bożego Ciała Street, including the loss of important historical ornamentation. It is unclear how and why the city’s heritage department gave permission for this to happen. 

In response, between 2017-2019 FestivALT has staged three protests/interventions at the sight of building, drawing attention to the owner’s desecration of one of the most significant pre-war Jewish buildings, and one of the worst examples of the ongoing exploitation of the neighborhood’s Jewish heritage. 

In 2017 we gathered in a nearby courtyard to start our 150 small interventions projectdetailing the historical significance of the building for the audience. Next, we asked everyone to enter the building with us and read or sing Psalms in Polish, Hebrew and English for ten minutes. This intervention was done in memory of the previous owners of the building the (Brotherhood of Psalms) who every day read the Book of Psalms from cover to cover. So for these ten minutes, we were able to interrupt the current use of the building and honour its historic function.

In 2018, for our #RememberChevra project, we met in the building itself to hold a public community conversation about the history and fate of the building. We reserved a row of tables and urged our participants not to order anything so as not to support the business of the bar. We sat and discussed the problems with the bar’s use and the commodification of Jewish space and memory in Kraków. 
 
In 2019 we held a discussion panel with Professor Edyta Gawron, Magda Rubenfeld Koralewska and a representative from the city heritage office about the history of the building, the politics of protest, and the complicated nature of urban memory. Immediately following the panel, we invited the audience to join us for our third intervention in which we constructed a life-sized wooden reproduction of the destroyed wall to stand vigil outside the former building. We attached a detailed explanation for the intervention, including the history of the building and the action of the owners. The structure remained in front of the building the entire summer.