For a second year, FestivALT will stage a peaceful intervention as an act of ongoing protest of the treatment of the Chevre Thilim building, which is now inhabited by a bar who destroyed the original Aron HaKodesh (Ark for the Torah) to put in a doorway. It has been tastelessly re-named Chevre as an exploitation of its original name. The intervention’s aim is to insist on the non-conformity in and around how we are using Jewish space and memory in Krakow for the sake of commodification.
SHORT RECAP OF BUILDING’S HISTORY
The building at Meiselsa 18, designed by the well-known Polish-Jewish architect Nachman Kopald, was opened in 1896 as the prayer house and yeshivah of Congregation Chevra Thilim (The Society of Psalms). During the Holocaust, the Germans devastated the building’s interior. After the war – unitl 2006 – the building housed the “Krakowiacy” singing and dancing group.
In 2001, under the 1997 law on restitution of Jewish property, the synagogue was returned to the Jewish Community of Kraków. In 2008 magnificent polichromes were discovered in its interior, the most important collection of surviving Jewish religious wall paintings in Kazimierz. In 2012 the progressive Jewish community of Krakow Beit Krakow 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, which installed shelving against the wall paintings, and speakers in the Aron Hakodesh. The condition of the frescoes significantly deteriorated. 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 and restaurant open the Chevre Cafe in the space, where people are invited to enjoy drinks and food in atmospheric Jewish ruins. The creation of the Chevre Cafe involved the deliberate destruction of the Aron Hakodesh to create a new door to Bożego Ciała Street, including the loss of important historical ornamentation. It is unclear how the city’s heritage departement agreed to that.
In 2017 FestivALT held an art intervention in the building to draw attention to the fact that among the two dozen prayer spaces of prewar Kazimierz, Chevra Thilim one of the most precious jewels, and currently also one of the worst examples of the exploitation of the neighborhood’s Jewish heritage.