Friday, February 6, 2015

What’s Krakow like?

Rebekah replied, “Poland has become the cultural and spiritual center of the Jewish people. As I mentioned before, Zygmunt has protected the Jews in his realm. I don’t know if he’s aware of the scriptural promise that those who bless the Jews will be blessed, but he’s acting like it. Of course, Spain was a haven at one time too.” This made Heinrich say, “Even so, right now, it’s better than Germany.” Rebekah agreed, “That’s why we left.”

Heinrich, wanted to continue on the subject, so he said, “what’s Krakow like?”
Rebekah said, “Hmm, it depends on how you look at it. Rebekah began with a pause as she sorted out how best to present the subject, “Krakow is the capital and it sits in a valley straddling the Vistula river, surrounded by hills; it’s a beautiful setting.The most prominent part of the city is the Wawel Royal Castle. It’s surrounded by streets which lead to the huge central Grand Square. The walls that encompass the city are as tall as that tree there.” She pointed to a nearby tree that was at least 30 feet tall. “and as wide as this wagon is long.” It has over 30 towers and many gates. The walls are surrounded by a moat that is as wide as your yard. If you looked at the city from one of those hills you’d see many church spires rising above the roofs; two of the more famous are the Wawel Cathedral and the Basilica of the Virgin Mary. The Wawel Cathedral has the largest bell in Europe and you can hear its deep sound everywhere in the valley. Other attractions are the Town Hall Tower, and the Great Barbican.”

“Great Barbican!” exclaimed Heinrich. “Sounds like a circus act.” Rebekah replied, “Actually it’s a very imposing military structure with tall thick walls and 7 turrets. It’s shaped like several big cylinders with walls that are surrounded by a moat.

Then there are the schools and colleges. Jagiellonian University library and Krakow's Collegium Maius are the most famous. Copernicus was a student there. I’ve spent some time there too, because it has so many interesting things to see and its library is so good. But, the schools that matter most to Jews are the many Yeshivas. Even though Jews have more freedoms in Poland most of us still live in the Jewish quarter called Kazimierz. It sits on a peninsula on the river. Most of our synagogues and Yeshivas are there. The Jewish culture is so renowned that immigrants have come from all over Europe: Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Among those were wealthy men and physicians who received special tax exemptions from the King of Poland. 

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