Confronting Institutionalized Anti-Semitism with Laughter

I mean, really, what else can you do?

One of the highlights/low points of shopping in the old city center of Krakow Poland is being confronted with little carved figurines of the traditional Polish depiction of a Jew: a hook nose Hassid counting gold. The Poles for their part simply explain that it's a symbol of good luck and abundance. Like when a merchant frames his first dollar, Poles will give a new couple or a new business a little Jew doll clutching a bag of gold as an expression of good fortune.




Uh huh.

So popular these little dolls that now they even have mass produced plastic versions with the phrase "Na Kase" (to the bank) emblazoned on them. I choose one of these, and a ridiculous local folk dress hat, as my souvenirs. I guess to be somewhat generous, to be anti-Semitic formally, you would need Jews around in the first place and that question has been handily settled, not but 30 km from the center of Krakow in fact. I highly doubt that I could get away with a displaying a drunk Mexican doll at my place of business, but actually I do recall buying such from a street vendor in Piedras Negras once. Whatever, it's still creepy and the only response I can muster today is laughter.

As it happens, the little plastic Jew I picked out bears more than a passing resemblance to reed man Alex Kontorovich. Backstage before the big concert, and single Grosz in hand, he deigns to pose with the doll for Lorin Sklamberg's camera. Witness:


A good likeness, no?

Well, we all gleefully gather around the display of Lorin's digital camera to see the results, when the Festival's staff photographer snaps this candid shot:


Can he know what we looking at? Can he know what is going through our minds, especially the fat dude in the funny local hat? Why are we laughing? To keep from crying maybe?

The folks who run the Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow who are putting on this shindig are wonderful. Moreover they have made amazingly great strides in reminding their countrymen of the integral and vibrant Jewish community that once thrived there for centuries. But as long as there's a picture of a Jew counting gold inside every Money Exchange counter ("Kantor," not Cantor, dig?) and you can buy these insulting figurines, and moreover you see no problem with it, then there's quite a bit more inner work to be done in Poland.

Amen.